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Think carefully before publishing April Fools’ Day content

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By Megan Fromm, CJE
JEA Educational Initiatives Director

Let’s get straight to the punch line here: April Fools’ Day editions are a bad idea. Why? Well, the Student Press Law Center’s Frank LoMonte provides solid evidence that many joke publications are never received quite as they are intended.

Instead, student editors and advisers often find themselves defending poorly worded jokes or misinterpreted parodies. When all you have to lose is your credibility as a media outlet, the stakes are too high to take this risk.

Still, many student media staffs love the idea of using satire and parody to break the mold, lighten things up or engage their audience on a different level. So, if your students insist on producing April Fools’ Day content, take some steps to demonstrate best ethical and legal practices along the way. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Is the content produced clearly labeled as satire/humor/parody? If a reasonable person could mistake the content for actual news, you’re asking for trouble.
  2. Stay away from comedy or jokes that use violence as a theme. In today’s school climate of zero tolerance, even an obvious joke that includes violence could be grounds to punish a student. As LoMonte writes, “there’s no such thing as a ‘hilarious’ rape joke.”
  3. Consider the message you’re sending readers by publishing April Fools’ Day content. Is your entire publication dedicated to the day, or just a (well-labeled) page? Have you shirked your journalistic responsibility while trying so hard to develop comedic content? Is this really what scholastic journalism is about?
  4. Does your staff thoroughly understand libel law and the implications of defamation?
  5. Finally, encourage student editors to answer simply and honestly whether an April Fools’ Day edition is the hill they want to fight (and potentially die) on. In other words, with all the other battles facing student journalists, do they want to spend their time and effort defending this particular decision?

April Fools’ Day editions are notoriously bad news. In fact, SPLC attorney Mike Hiestand commented in 2006 that there is “a reason why April 2 is often the busiest day of the year for us at the Student Press Law Center.”

So, proceed with caution. Because if you don’t, chances are the joke’s on you.

 

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