Wednesday, August 8, 2007

'Fake News Was My Day Job': Weekly World News Revisited

There's a funny piece in the Los Angeles Times Opinion pages today about a comedy writer (Mark Miller) who worked for Weekly World News. As previously mentioned, the paper is discontinuing publication in print form. Here are some snippets from his column:
"When my career as a stand-up comedian and sitcom staff writer started winding down, I took on a number of freelance comedy-writing jobs -- writing jokes for Jack-FM stations, for other comedians and for Cracked magazine. My Cracked editor went to work for the WWN and invited me to contribute stories. Before long, I had five or more stories in each issue. Fake news was my day job. Imagine my mother's pride: " 'France Makes Hanky Panky Mandatory' ... my son wrote that!" I was, at first, confused about whether I was supposed to write true offbeat news, general satire or complete fabrication. So I asked. The response was loud and clear: "complete fabrication." Yet each piece was written as if completely real. So when, for example, Bigfoot got married, launched his acting career and became involved with Kabbalah, each story got a dateline, quotes from "sources" and "experts" and followed a typical Associated Press structure. In fact, much of the original staff came from mainstream newspapers. The standard? It had to seem true. "Half the readers realize the stories are tongue-in-cheek; the other half believe they're all true," my editor explained. "You have to write the stories to satisfy both groups." ...While most of the supermarket tabloids constantly recycle one another's celebrity gossip and diet plans, the WWN went unashamedly for the bizarre, unbelievable and tasteless. For any creative writer, the gig was a gold mine. Inspiration was everywhere. One day I wondered just exactly how snug is a bug in a rug? Shortly thereafter, I sold "Researcher Determines Snugness of Bugs in Rugs" to the WWN. Photoshop was the graphic department's best friend. On their pages, Elvis lived, Bat Boy rode atop subway cars, and space aliens shook hands with world leaders. Explorers discovered Noah's ark, the Garden of Eden, Jesus' sandals and the world's fattest cat. They had just as much fun with the less spectacular news items. For one of mine, "African Tribe Worships Barbra Streisand's Nose," they created a gigantic stone statue of Streisand's head in profile to show off her famed schnoz and surrounded it with spear-toting natives in loincloths. ...One thing's certain -- waiting in line at the supermarket will be a lot less fun." You can read the full piece here.