Just before April 1, the Bakersfield Californian issued a retraction for an “item in Friday’s Outdoors column, by Steve Merlo.” According to the retraction, the portion of the column “Foreign trout species to be planted in Isabella Lake” was fabricated. The newspaper issued an apology signed by executive editor John Arthur.
According to Gawker-owned blog Deadspin, that section of Merlo’s column has since been “scrubbed” but Deadspin republished it on its website. The section quoted a made-up person whose “name is an anagram for ‘April Fools,” according to Deadspin.
We wrote to the Californian seeking more information about the incident and the newspaper’s fact checking. Arthur told us that he stands by his note retracting Merlo’s fabricated item. He noted that Merlo was a freelancer and that the newspaper won’t be using Merlo’s work going forward. Arthur added that “We trust our writers. Editors routinely question writers as part of the editing process, often in detail, but I don’t know too many editors who routinely ask their reporters if their material is fictional. Luckily, the issue usually doesn’t come up.”
Forbes also ran a fake story that was apparently an April Fools’ prank, My Fox Boston reported.
The Forbes story, “Romney Drops out of Race, Endorses Santorum,” was only live for “about a half an hour,” according to My Fox Boston, but the article got attention in its brief published span. Jim Romenesko noted that the article was taken down “after it showed up on Google News as a legitimate news story.”
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According to My Fox Boston, Forbes’ Len Burman. who wrote the report, called the story “kind of baffling” and said he intended his post to be satirical. And the Washington Post reported that Burman “says he put the date — April 1, 2012 — at the bottom of the article” to flag the satire-esque possibility.
Short Form Blog noted at the end of the Forbes republishing that “Remember everyone, satire only works if it’s funny and doesn’t make your publication look stupid.” Gawker noted that “Nowhere did it say this was a prank: although it should be obvious to most, we live in a country where actual people believe Onion headlines.”
The Washington Post added that after the prank story was unpublished Burman ran a follow-up about the unpublishing but that story was removed too.
We have written to Forbes for more information and will update with any response.
UPDATE: 4/4/2012: 4:50 PM EST: Fixed typo in headline