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The issues with April Fools coverage QT 11

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April Fool’s issues are fake news and can damage student media’s credibility.

Yes, some find them acceptable, but their negatives far outweigh their positives. The ultimate question is are they worth the risks?

As a publication that strives for authentic, storytelling journalism for your community, breaking that convention for a satirical, or even mean, publication is counter to the principles good journalists should strive for. When you break the conventions and principles for which you are known to produce satire, you may be opening yourself up to charges of libel, obscenity, or even disruption. Satire is incredibly hard to do consistently well and correctly, and it is best left to the professionals who have far more protection.

 

Guidelines: April Fools issues have little to no journalistic value and do not advance the brand of student media. As a result, students should not publish an April Fool’s issue.

Question: Are April Fool’s issues and satire worth the risk? What is the journalistic value of publishing April Fools materials?

Key points/action: If your goal is to publish factual stories with impact and significance, then publishing April Fools material and other fake news may not be your priority. To publish information you know is false might lead to other legal and ethical issues, but if your media are designated public forums, that would be your choice and your responsibility.

Students publishing information they know is not true would be well advised to have a good grasp of legal and ethical journalistic standards.

Professionals have mastered the art of satire and comedy as a form of news reporting, but does that mean we should be trying to teach it in high school? Publications like The Onion have shown us satire can tell stories at the same time that they entertain, but can we effectively teach students to master the same skill

Stance: There are no quick and easy absolutes. Students need to balance their free expression rights with their mission and social responsibility to truth, accuracy and verified reporting. School publications put themselves at great risk when they publish April Fool’s issues and/or satire.

Reasoning/suggestions: Publishing something knowingly false raises significant legal issues of libel and malice and the newly concerning fake news plague. Decisions to choose a path that brings your student media into conflict with serious legal and ethical issues would have to fulfill essential media missions and goals.

Professional publications engaging in satire do so with a clear brand. Most of the public clearly recognizes the convention of the medium, and that gives it much more protection. Your student publication does not have the same brand.

As a publication that strives for authentic, storytelling journalism from your community, breaking that convention for a satirical publication is counter to the principles good journalists should strive for. When you break the conventions and principles for which you are known to produce satire, you may open yourselves to charges of libel, obscenity or even disruption. Satire is incredibly hard to do consistently well and correctly, and it is best left to the professionals who have far more protection.
Resources:

April Fools’ negatives outweigh positives, usually don’t fulfill techniques of satire

And now for something…untrue

Publishing satire

SPLC article: The joke is on these college editors — offensive April Fools humor can backfire badly

Related: These points and other decisions about mission statement, forum status and editorial policy should be part of a Foundations Package  that protects journalistically responsible student expression.

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