Tuesday 14 April 2009

Who was really the fool on April 1st?

On April 1st, I committed a naughty act of disorderly defiance. Nothing like Bryan Law orchestrates, but nevertheless, attention-grabbing and designed with the sole objective of mirth.
I wasn't alone. I joined a chorus of other rebel pranksters around town, and across the country, in celebrating the great tradition of April Fool's Day.
In former publishing and editing roles, I've always embraced this opportunity to exercise some clever silliness. We seem to take everything too serious these days, so it's good to have a laugh, at our own expense. Blog followers like Jude and Fiona at Clifton, were quick to expose my prank, as they remembered my efforts last year, when I offered Kevin Byrne's 'unrecorded speeches' for sale. I also told a story about scanning customers eyes at Cairns Central shopping centre.
Anyway, I thought I'd give a little review of my prank, as there seemed some stories that needed to be cleared up.
This year, my bit of fun involved creating a Council-sized joke, aimed at catching out the media, and it got attention beyond my expectation.
I thought it would be fun, if the Mayor of Cairns woke up in the morning, made it to the office only to discover that she was launching her own book! I mean, what a pleasant surprise it would be. However, though Val was the object of my escapade, the media where squarely my target.
Blog readers only saw the Book launch announcement on CairnsBlog, however two hours earlier, at around 5am, a media release was sent out from a 'Sonja Anderson', none other than Council media officer.
In what became the basis of refusing me future invitations to media events, I meticulously copied a media release, right down to the style and font size. You can read it here. I even included a draft cover of the Mayor's new 'book':
"Cairns Mayor Cr Val Schier will launch her auto-biographical book this morning," read the 'Council' media release. " 'Changing the Guard - Why Cairns had to change' is Schier's second book, the first being a small collection of poems published by Tasmania’s Turtle Press in 1989. The book marks Cr Schier's first 12 months in office as the first female civic leader of Cairns, Queensland's northern-most city."
It went on and on, with the aim to trick the media into turning up at 10am for the official launch of a book that didn't exist.
"Photo and interview opportunity. When: 10 am Wednesday 1st April. Where: Cairns Regional Council, Ground Floor reception room."
At the very bottom of the release, I'd changed the Disclaimer to read: "does not accept any responsibility for those that don't get the joke.." Of course, no one ever reads the fine print.
I concocted the entire joke, a couple of days in advance, creating the book design around 11pm the night before. The story was wordsmithed, the media release written, a fake email account created, and all set to auto-pilot for a 5 am release.

Just after 6am, the early-rising Mayor spotted my handiwork on the Blog, and flicked me an email, "Just checked out your latest, Michael. You have been busy!!" However, she still didn't connect that the day was April 1st, and I suspect didn't take time to read the whole torrid tale.
A number of commercial radio stations ran with the story in the early morning new bulletins, all bar ABC I believe. At 10 am on the dot, along marched WIN and 7 Network TV news crews, along to Council, eager to get the scoop of the day.

There was Abigail and Kieran from WIN, and Amanda and Tim from 7 Local News. They stood waiting patiently in the foyer, eyeing each other up. "After awhile, we retreated to the car, I thought 7 had set us up, Abigail said later.
I asked to take a photo to record the day. "You won't make fun of us, will you?" Abby insisted.
However, I have to give WIN full credit, being the only journalist to actually admit in the story put to air that evening, at being caught out. "The Mayor was just as miffed as the media, until someone realised the poignancy of the day."
Whereas 7's report turned the table and said that the joke was 'probably on Michael Moore'. What the?
However, many missed the clever and complex goings on and the full effect of my joke. So, as a public service, I'll share the story.
"It was most interesting that when I got to work at around 10am after opening another event, no-one had caught on to it being an April Fool's day joke and were all speculating on what it was about and waiting for me," Val said as the events unfolded. "It was a very clever and elaborate hoax."
Val cheekily said she I could have added a few extra councillor comments, a reference to reactions from Councillors in my invented story.
"This was a very elaborate April Fool's joke. It's evidence of how many talented, creative and clever people we have in the tropical north," Mayor Val Schier told the reporters.
"It brought a smile to a lot of faces and brought both Channel 7 and WIN to the Council for the 'launch'," Val Schier wrote in the comments on CairnsBlog that evening. "Good to know that April fooling is still possible!"
However, Council's CEO Noel Briggs, was rather disturbed about the fake email that purported to be legitimate communication from Council. "Although we traced the release back to you, the fact that this could happen, was of real concern, and how it could be done," Noel said to me, as he caught me exiting the Council lift. "I mean, there's obviously a security issue and a hole in the system we need to address." I did tell Noel that a 14 year old at Cairns State High could do the same thing. "It's not something that any IT department could stop," I said.
Of course, and not surprising, media officer Sonja Anderson was far from impressed. She had the brunt of the joke to deal with that morning. When I saw Sonja a few days later, she snapped at me. "I shouldn't even speak to you for using my email address!" I think she was also still upset over my exposure of her travel writings late last year.
Even Councillor Alan Blake enjoyed the wool being pulled over everyone's eyes. "I love your April Fool's gag, it was great fun," he said.
So the joke really wasn't aimed at fooling the Mayor. It was to trick the local media, most of whom embraced the entry of Blogging into our local media landscape, unlike our city officials.
At the end of the week, in an attempt to say 'thank you', I popped up to the 3rd floor of Council's Spence Street office, waiting patiently, as the Member for Cook, Jason O'Brien was ahead of me in the queue, talking something about amalgamation.
I presented the Mayor with a nice framed memento of her 'book' to hang in her office and smile at, amid all the gloom that comes to her in-tray.
What a hoot the day turned out to be.
Photo credit: Jason O'Brien Parliamentary Photographer and Other Services, as may be Requested.

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