If your reputation rests entirely upon your ability to provide accurate, credible information to the news media, it can really put a damper on your sense of humour.

Every year CNW struggles to manage joke news releases issued by our clients on April Fool’s Day. Despite how it may seem, we’re not immune to the hilarity.

It’s all terribly funny until someone in the news media gets fooled and reports on the news as fact. At this point, the credibility of the issuing organization and the newswire provider both come under a harsh spotlight.

CNW’s sister company in the USA maintains a strict policy against joke news releases. “Running a story based on a fake release is not only a waste of time but it can have dire consequences, especially when it’s market moving news,” advises Brett Simon, Manager, Media Relations at PR Newswire. See their blog post here: Press Releases Are No Joke on April Fools Day.

Similar to PR Newswire, CNW has also held a strict policy of not moving joke news releases on April Fool’s Day or at any other time.

This has led to some harsh criticism by lighter-hearted CNW clients, such as WestJet and Virgin Mobile, whose April Fool’s Day news releases are in keeping with their corporate culture, and are arguably “expected” by news media covering those beats.

CNW’s straight-laced stand became news in itself in 2006 as Keith McArthur, then reporting for the Globe and Mail, wrote “Virgin Says CNW Just Can’t Take a Joke.

A challenge for CNW is in identifying what is acceptable and what isn’t. Some of our clients’ humour has been clever or subtle enough that joke news releases weren’t recognized as such by CNW’s busy News Centre team. Our team members are skilled editors and proofreaders – but they’re not trained in all aspects of all our clients’ businesses. Once in a while a joke news release would slip through and make it onto the newswire, unleashing cries of, “no fair” from clients whose attempts had been blocked.

This year CNW has decided to lighten up. Sort of. All joke news releases are welcome, however will be issued with the phrase “April 1 Alert” right at the top. We encourage our clients to be forthcoming with our News Centre associates to ensure their news releases are appropriately tagged. Naturally, all other rules still apply: the issuer must be an approved contact and the content must meet CNW’s standard copy guidelines.

Keep in mind, while CNW will issue your news release with an “April 1 Alert,” PR Newswire may not.

CNW has issued a media advisory informing news media of this policy change.

What do you think CNW’s policy should be around April Fool’s Day news releases?

 

Comments

Comment from Deanna White
April 1, 2011 at 6:45 am

It’s nice to see CNW monitoring joke releases and as you have said – some of them can be pretty clever – the policy will help distinguish them. I understand that some companies use humour as part of their culture – but in my opinion, that kind of publicity should be focused on buying ad space instead. In general, I think companies should stick to factual information when it comes to distributing news through the wire, although I think reporters and editors can generally connect the dots on their own.

Comment from Richard Bartrem
April 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hi CNW,

Richard Bartrem from WestJet here.

I recognize that CNW wants to be the purveyors of accurate and credible information. My question is how do you know every other release sent out over the course of the year is in fact, accurate and credible?

If a company reports first quarter profit of X or Y, CNW’s role is to disseminate that information to their distribution lists. As you said, “our team members are skilled editors and proofreaders – but they’re not trained in all aspects of all our clients’ businesses.” We work with CNW because they are very good at what they do. When it comes to checks and balances to determine whether in fact that information is accurate or credible, the responsibility lies with the company releasing that information.

I think the more important point here is that your news media clients WANT these releases. They want to play along and have some fun with their readers, listeners and viewers. In fact, over the course of history, arguably the best April Fools pranks have been played by media outlets themselves. One only has to check the media clippings to see that there is considerable coverage for all things April Fools. WestJet was contacted by numerous news outlets in the days leading up to April 1 wanting to know if we were planning something. They want to play along – everyone wants to play along.

In our humble opinion, respectfully submitted, if it’s not mean or hurtful, disparaging or meant to incite panic or fear then the world could use a little chuckle 91 days into the year.

Comment from Laurie Smith
April 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Some great comments!

CNW couldn’t agree more about the world needing a chuckle now and then. The dilemma is whether it is CNW’s role to deliver the joke. The position we’ve taken this year is that yes, we can deliver jokes, but we’ll identify them for audience members who may appreciate it.

Here’s a search result for the fun April 1 Alert news releases moved on the CNW Newswire this year: http://bit.ly/edHKFr

Best regards,

Laurie

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