You know you've executed the perfect April Fool's Day prank when it's a week later, and people still don't know it's a joke. Case in point: the amusement park proposed for the Shipyards property "reported" by members of the WJCT 89.9 news team.
Programmer and News Director Karen Feagins said staff members were discussing the launch the station's new website — news.wjct.org — when they realized the go-live date was April 1.
"NPR has a tradition of doing [fake] stories on April Fools' Day, so we thought it would be fun to do one of our own," she said. "And it would help get people to our new website."
The team agreed that the story had to be believable and on a topic that local residents would be interested in. The amusement park idea came out of a brainstorming session with Feagins, senior reporter Kevin Meerschaert and First Coast Connect producer/online editor Sean Birch.
In addition to creating a fictional amusement park developer — Houston-based Funtime Inc. — and "CEO Jack Gilliam" (voiced by WJCT Senior Vice President of Content & Operations Anthony Padgett), the cunning crew tweaked the name of the mayor of Natchez, Miss., and also "quoted" him on a similar project in his city (which doesn't exist either).
But it was the participation of the real Florida Sen. Aaron Bean and the real Jacksonviile City Council President Bill Bishop that truly made the story believable, Feagins said.
"We are so grateful they were wiling to play along."
The online version included a mock-up of the Next Level Roller Coaster (a nod to one of Mayor Alvin Brown's signature phrases) with cars designed to look like the JTA Skyway, complete with a "Funtime Inc." logo on the image (created in Photoshop by Birch).
While Feagins was surprised that the story spread so far (even being pitched in TV newsrooms, I heard), she's said she's happy that folks took it in the spirit in which it was intended.
"We take our news seriously," she said, "but not ourselves."
On a personal note: I dedicate this post to Johnny Miller who mocked me to no end about falling for another local April Fool's Day joke, courtesy of Intuition Ale, right before he asked me if I heard about the new amusement park.