NEWS: Local humor hoaxes hit hard

 

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When a snowstorm shut down Atlanta earlier this month, an article reported that Georgia’s governor had temporarily legalized marijuana, so citizens could relax during the debacle. The article was passed around quite a bit on social media. But of course it wasn’t true.

It was the work of James Hodgson, 39, who started the Atlanta Banana two years ago, an Onion-like news parody site. The success of national satire brands like the Onion, the Daily Show and Colbert, has inspired a handful of local copycat sites, including Hodgson who cited them as his inspiration.

Greg Henderson the editor of the fictitious Rock City Times in Little Rock was tired of the oversaturated media market in Arkansas. This may sound strange for people who still confuse Arkansas with Alabama, but Henderson was a PR man.

“If you’re in a little town in Arkansas of 15,000 or 20,000 people, the number of stories is pretty minimal, so you’re doing junk reporting,” said Henderson.

He’s been successful in part, he thinks, because the Rock City Times gives voice to opinions that local media can’t always express in such small markets.

“You can’t make fun of a local politician because they do have influence in a very tiny community,” said Henderson.

A business reporter in northwest Arkansas – where the headquarters of Walmart dominates – wrote an anonymous story about Walmart installing missiles to shoot down Amazon’s flying delivery drones. He was poking fun at Walmart’s lack of online strategy.

But Henderson said the company did something strange: it reposted the story on its own twitter feed and responded as if it were true. The retail behemoth decided, like many a politician who has appeared on shows like Colbert, that it’s better to be in on the joke, even if it’s at their own expense.

 

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