April fools – and why the press refrains from it

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The press used to come up with wild stories on April 1st, but in times of fake news it's no longer that easy. Which April Fool's jokes made the media headlines and why they are doing without them today.

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen: Replaced by a skeleton on April 1st

How did the April Fool's joke actually come about? That's why myths abound. The legend persists that it could have something to do with the change in the calendar in 1582. At that time, 20 years after the Council of Trent, the Julian calendar was abolished and replaced by the Gregorian. This is what Pope Gregory XIII wanted. Now the new year should start on January 1st. However, those who had missed the deadline for the change continued to think that April 1st was the first day of the new year. And so became the target of ridicule – the April Fool's joke was born.

But other theories also persist. April Fools' Day jokes are still making the rounds to this day, mostly witty swindles that are resolved with an “April, April”. Even the media dared to step in, like the BBC did on April 1, 1957. Its flagship program, Panorama, ran a three-minute film showing a family in southern Switzerland allegedly harvesting spaghetti from a spaghetti tree. As spaghetti was a relatively unknown product in the UK at the time, many viewers turned to the BBC for advice on how to grow their own spaghetti trees.

When April Fool's jokes get misunderstood

< p>A lot of messages go viral on social media these days. The risk is that jokes can be taken at face value and even make headlines around the world, hurting the media, which is increasingly unjustly accused of spreading fake news. Or vice versa, that their April Fool's jokes are confused with reality.

April Fool's joke or real: who sees the ” Invisible Man” at Madame Tussaud's in London?

In 2017, the Internet platform “Futurism.com” published an article with the headline “Pluto was officially classified as a planet” and on top of that added the change in status of the International Astronomical Union. Despite being an April Fool's joke, this “message” was picked up by other websites without any fact checking. When the dictionary publisher Collins declared “Fake News” Word of the Year 2017, various newspapers worldwide abandoned the tradition of publishing April Fools' Day jokes.

Editorial offices bid farewell to the April Fool's Day tradition

Magnus Karlsson, editor-in-chief of Swedish daily Smalandsposten, said on the paper's website that he didn't want the newspaper's brand “damaged with a potentially viral and bogus story”. “We work with real news, also on April 1st,” he wrote. In the meantime, many well-known “joke biscuits”, including Google, have renounced the April Fool's joke tradition. Since the pandemic year 2020, a lot of misinformation has circulated with the discovery of the corona virus.

Nevertheless, we can't resist listing a few pranks that made headlines on April 1st:

The Fake Island “San Serriffe”

1977: Know the way to San Serriffe?

The Guardian reported April 1 on the 10th Independence Day of the tropical island of San Serriffe, a semicolon-shaped paradise near the Seychelles. The seven-page report was accompanied by a map of the archipelago showing towns, ports, and areas, all of whose names were puns of typefaces and typefaces.

1993: For Procreation's Sake

Westdeutscher Rundfunk reports a decree from the city of Cologne, according to which joggers are only allowed to run through the city's parks at a maximum speed of 10 kilometers per hour. A higher speed would not be conducive to the squirrels during the mating season.

Real or original?

2009: Fake panda furore

The Taipei Times said, “Taiwan-China relations suffered a major setback yesterday when revealed that the Taipei Zoo's pandas are not what they appear to be.”

2016: No Nudity Please

National Geographic, noted for his nature documentaries, announced via Twitter in 2016 that they would no longer publish photos of naked animals.

Adaptation from English: Sabine Oelze