Fools Rush In

Local media lemmings fall for April 1 gag

According to KSTP and the Star Tribune, the affable goof Jack Tripper is moving to Minneapolis, just like Mary Richards so long ago. Last week, the two local news outlets reported that ABC was remaking a version of the '70s sitcom to be filmed locally. Trouble is, there wasn't a shred of truth to it.

The folly started when a downtown Minneapolis newspaper, Skyway News, ran a story in its March 29 issue claiming that the Warehouse District would be the site for a Three's Company remake to air on ABC. In a blatant Onion-esque news parody, the story was part of a four-page annual April Fool's edition, a tradition the paper began in 2002.

Still, despite the fact that the paper changed its moniker to Slyway News and offered other obvious clues that it was a joke issue (like a real cover on page five), the fake item was featured on KSTP's website and its Thursday midday newscast as a real news story. Then, in a fine display of pack-mentality journalism, the story was plucked from the KSTP site and featured in the Metro section of Friday's Star Tribune.

Landlocked Minnesota has always wished its streets were half as filled with celebs as those of its nemesis, Vancouver, B.C. And now spotlight-hungry Minnesotans could sink their teeth into this nugget: A real TV show will take place on our city streets! The farce revealed an Achilles' heal of local media outlets, which are so hungry for anything Hollywood that a story like this is reported with overzealous glee.

Scott Gillespie, the Strib's managing editor, says it's unusual for the paper to run stories, even if they appear as "fact" on another news site, that haven't been verified. But somehow this one managed to escape the obligatory fact-checking system unscathed. "I do not remember the last time we did something purely from kstp.com," he says. "I really don't know what happened."

What's worse, KSTP, an ABC affiliate, "quoted" ABC without checking with anyone at its parent company: "ABC says the new series, tentatively dubbed '3c2,' will feature two women and a man." The Skyway News, however, repeatedly joked that it came from an ABC-TV plot summary, and not directly from any source at ABC. But KSTP, so quick to pimp ABC and its shows (some call this "synergy," others call it "desperate") immediately pounced on the absurd story.

Chris Berg, KSTP's news director, blames the error on a young reporter. "We discovered [Friday] morning in reviewing our story that a young staff member wrote the story and assumed it was accurate," he says. "She did not do all the due diligence we expect." Berg declines to say whether the station was firing the "young reporter," citing personnel issues.

By Friday afternoon, KSTP had posted a fairly non-conciliatory correction, pointing fingers at the Skyway News and that pesky April Fool's Day. But Skyway News editor David Brauer says KSTP and the Star Tribune are to blame. "If you had picked up our paper, you would have figured out it was a joke pretty quickly," he says. "Why they didn't fact-check it, that's the question."

Gillespie offers a mea culpa: "When you get to April 1, you have to be doubly careful." And when newsies rush to nail a scoop, they might want to check for banana peels on the way.

Click here for the KSTP screen capture

Click here for the Star Tribune screen capture

This story appears with numerous links at cpblotter.com

 
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