Nearly all of Norway’s major newspapers and several other media outlets seemed strangely void this year of stories meant to fool readers on April 1. Some fear it marks the end of an era, while several papers insisted on keeping the tradition alive.
“The risk of harming the paper’s credibility (by intentionally printing a story that’s simply not true, as a joke) is quite low,” Gard Steiro, editor of Bergens Tidende in Bergen, said during a morning debate on NRK Radio. He called the long tradition of April Fool’s stories in Norwegian media “fine, completely okay and relatively harmless.” His newspaper’s website BT.no claimed the troubled local football club Brann was selling its stadium name to BT itself.
‘Alter beer’ and a wine surplus
Steiro added that when his newspaper once decided against publishing a trick story, “readers reacted.” They apparently missed being fooled, or trying to not be. Other media outlets that continued the tradition on Wednesday included newspapers Vårt Land and Adresseavisen, and radio station P4. Vårt Land, which caters to a rural and Christian readership, wrote, for example, that local churches in Norway’s Bible Belt along the southern coast (Sørlandet) would start offering “alter beer,” in order to attract more people to nighttime services.
The stories that have fooled readers and listeners over the years are legendary, and the best were said to be those that prompted readers to do something. In 1950, for example, Aftenposten reported that state liquor monopoly Vinmonopolet had a surplus of red wine at its warehouse but too few bottles. Consumers were urged to show up at their local outlets with buckets and bottles of their own to help relieve Vinmonopolet of its surplus, and they did, and long lines formed outside the stores.
NRK fooled readers years later when it reported that Beatles star John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were flying in after ending their Amsterdam sleep-in for peace. In 2007, Norwegian biathlon star Ole Einar Bjørndalen went along with a joke that he was leaving the homeland to ski for Belgium, in an effort to raise awareness for the sport in the low-lying country. Even his own father fell for that one.
Major papers opted out
The April Fool’s media tradition was also carried out in countries including Sweden and Great Britain, while it was unheard of elsewhere. Now it may be dying out in Norway, with neither Aftenposten, VG nor Dagbladet publishing April Fool’s stories this year, while business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) dropped them years ago.
Lars Helle, editor of newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad, said he thinks it’s because of the huge growth of media outlets and competition in recent years, and round-the-clock news. Helle thinks it was easier for state broadcaster NRK to fool readers, for example, when it dominated the media in Norway and had no other broadcast competition. The main newspapers also had much larger market shares, whereas now the market is far more diffuse and international, not least regarding online news.
And maybe some of the jokes in recent years “just weren’t very good,” the editors mused. Helle said Stavanger Aftenblad refrained from a publishing trick story this year as well, not least because “what’s in the newspaper is supposed to be true.”
NRK claimed, “for the record,” it had also dropped any April Fool’s stories this year, and expected to be believed.