Bad Joke

A poorly executed farce puts a small Denver paper on the map.

Until recently, the most popular pages on the North Denver News's website included a 2005 article on Sunflower Market's plan to open a store at the old Elitch Gardens site and information on how to submit your poodle for the paper's "pet of the month." That changed last week, when the monthly community publication published an online article describing how Bonnie Brae resident Thomas Martel had enlisted the help of surgeon Robert Fox Spars to surgically "whittle" his thumbs so that he could better use his iPhone.

"From my old Treo, to my Blackberry, to this new iPhone, I had a hard time hitting the right buttons, and I always lost those little styluses," Martel was quoted as saying. "Sure, the procedure was expensive, but when I think of all the time I save by being able to use modern handhelds so much faster, I really think the surgery will pay for itself in ten to fifteen years."

The item was so outrageous that tech and news sites around the world picked it up. By August 14, the original story at northdenvernews.com had racked up more than 88,000 hits, compared to the 300 or so garnered by a recent story about a northwest Denver murder. Some websites reprinted the story as fact, while others were skeptical, pointing out that neither Spars nor Martel appear in Colorado phone books. A few myth-busting bloggers suggested that Bonnie Brae was a fantasy location, since "Bonnie Brae" is Scottish for "good flatland," which obviously couldn't exist near the hellish mountains of Colorado. And some even doubted that the North Denver News existed at all.

Oh, but it does, and Guerin Lee Green, editor/publisher of both the North Denver News and the Cherry Creek News, sets the record straight. "The piece is actually very clever satire," he says, explaining that one of his writers penned the spoof after witnessing Green struggling to type on his iPhone. Although the News isn't in the business of pranking people, Green insists that the story was littered with clues that should have alerted readers to the fact that the article was fiction. For example, "Thomas Martel" is a reference to the eighth century European ruler "Charles Martel," aka "Charles the Hammer" — "You often hit your thumb with a hammer," he says.

Still, enough people were fooled that Green eventually posted an editor's note on the paper's website to clear up the confusion. He's still not sure why the make-believe story achieved such traction. "We've never had a good handle on why some stories get picked up and passed around and others don't," Green says.

In fact, he only recently discovered why his "pet of the month" page has had such excessive hits: "Penthouse has a pet of the month, and people are apparently Googling 'pet of the month' and not looking to see that they're clicking on North Denver News."


Scene and herd: August 13 marked the tenth anniversary of the debut of South Park, the animated series that turned a gaggle of profanity-spewing kids living in a Colorado mountain town into television and big-screen favorites. And ditto for the creators of the cartoon kids, Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

But they were just profanity-spewing University of Colorado film students struggling to make their first movie — Alferd Packer: The Musical — when Westword interviewed them back in 1993. As an anniversary present, we've resurrected the interview, which is now posted at www.westword.com.

 
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