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See above a screenshot of the fake story. We have added "April Fools" in red and highlight. (Credit: County Line, April Fool text added)

Wisconsin’s County Line newspaper published a fake story for April Fools’ Day, ABC-affiliate News 18-WQOW reported. The article claimed that Disney was buying the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail, according to WQOW.

According to Mondo Times, the newspaper is a weekly newspaper with a circulation of about 1,750 copies.

However, because of the fake story, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources sent a ” news release, assuring the public the trail was not being sold, after several news outlets picked up on the story, and concerned citizens called the DNR and their local legislators about the sale,” according to WQOW.

County Line editor Karen Parker told iMediaEthics by e-mail that “an area radio station with 12 affiliate stations” reported the story as real, and other news outlets reported on the prank itself.  According to Parker’s April 4 follow-up post on the prank, that outlet was Magnum Radio, which “later had to run a retraction.”

The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that “other news media” re-reported the hoax story but didn’t identify which media outlets did.

See here the fake story, published March 28.  The story notes “(Happy April Fool’s Day! Article was edited March 30 to include this greeting.)”  According to the Lacross Tribune, the print edition of the phony story appeared on the front page with a jump “to an inside page, where a block of type spelled out ‘lirpa loof,'” or April fool.

Newspaper editor Karen Parker explained to iMediaEthics by e-mail that the both “the print and on-line version contained April Fool spelled backward (Lirpa Loof) prominently in the original version.  The ‘April Fool’ was added to the on-line after our phone began ringing off the hook” as a “clarification” for readers.

In a follow-up post, the County Line published a March 30 post with the Department of Natural Resources’ press release noting that the story is fake.  County Line editor Parker also published this April 4 follow-up post about the prank and its unexpected “viral” status.

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Parker explained in that post that she had the story taken down after the Department of Natural Resources called about the prank and told her that Magnum Radio “read the story on all of its outlets (there are 12).”  She wrote that she later re-posted the story after a request from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Parker noted that this is an example of how un-skeptical readers can be.  She advised:

“The American public is gullible. We just proved that, didn’t we?  Before you swallow whole, ask yourself these questions: Who, what, when, where, and why? Where is the evidence? You might have noticed  a few of those crucial questions were unanswered in last week’s April Fools’ story. If it doesn’t seem right, look for sources to corroborate a news story.”

Jim Romenesko wrote about the fake story March 31, noting that the newspaper’s editor, Parker, said she runs a prank column each April Fools.  Parker told iMediaEthics by e-mail that the newspaper’s run an April Fools story “30 years, off and on. Mostly on.”

Media Bistro’s 10000 Words blog called it one of the “worst news-themed April Fool’s Day Pranks of 2012.”

Other noteworthy phony stories on Media Bistro’s list included Forbes‘ fake story (since removed) “Romney Drops out of race, Endorses Santorum” (see our story on that here), and Penn State student outlet Onward State’s fake report that its former editor (who resigned earlier this year over the website’s wrong tweets about Joe Paterno’s death) had died.

We also wrote this month about the Bakersfield Californian‘s retraction of a portion of a fishing column that was fabricated.  Read about that retraction here.

We have written to Magnum Radio station WPDR for comment and will update with any response.

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Wisconsin Newspaper Ran Fake Story for April Fools, Says Radio Station Hoaxed

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