Your Site Sucks! ... Just Kidding

By: Steve Outing Parody editions of newspapers -- often produced by a competitor -- have a long tradition in newspapering. But for McClatchy Newspapers' Sacramento Bee, which has been parodied in print by the local alternative newsweekly News & Review for several years, the joke has now taken to the Web. The Bee's Web site now has an evil twin,

Parodies are an amusing sideshow on the Web -- e.g., Microsoft's Slate online magazine has been the victim of parodies, including Stale; see also The Onion for a funny news parody -- but up until now a major newspaper has not been the victim of a parody site. (... At least, as far as I can tell. I asked the several hundred assembled newspaper new media folks on the Online-Newspapers Internet discussion list if they knew of others, but no one could come up with another example.) is the work of the staff at the News & Review in Sacramento and the alternative newsweekly's lone "Web guy." For the N&R, the annual skewering of the Bee is just another "cover story" for the print edition -- taking up half of the April Fool's edition. This year, however, planning began months ago to also lampoon the Bee's substantial Web operation, and the N&R reserved the domain name.

Rick Jaramillo, who heads up the N&R's modest new media operation and joined the paper only four months ago, says that the content for the site was mostly from outside writers and N&R staff, repurposed from the print parody edition. Jaramillo created the site itself, and added various online elements to poke fun at online features of

Inside jokes

While the writers parodied well known Bee writers -- e.g., TV columnist Rick Kushman becomes "Rick Cushjob" and his photo is of Mr. Potatohead -- Jamarillo threw in items like a home page navigation device with buttons that spell out "We're Losing Millions Online For No Known Reason." The site features barbs aimed at a prominent local land developer, with intimations about his cozy relationship with Bee executive editor Gregory Favre. Fauve -- Gregory Fuhrer in -- is featured in a piece headlined "We're Not Dinosaurs, Dammit!"

"It was a tremendous amount of work to put up the site, and to think about it," says Jamarillo. He didn't dare borrow code or graphics from the site, even though the parody site looks just like the real thing. Instead, he created elements and pages from scratch, he says, including creating a Java news ticker that looks just like the Bee's.

While the site went up on April 1, it probably won't come down for a while -- no definite date has been set -- and in any event will remain in the Web archives of the N&R site. Initially, when Web users went to the N&R's Web address, they were redirected to -- which featured a banner ad for the N&R site which linked to normal N&R Web pages.

The project was kept fairly secret, with outside writers doing much of the humor writing and most of the staff kept in the dark about the project until one week before publication. "We didn't want the Bee to scoop it or undermine it," Jaramillo says. The N&R did do some lead-up promotion, placing advance ads with the slogan "What's That Giant Sucking Sound?"

While Bee workers apparently didn't hear about the Web site in advance, word eventually did leak out, and Jaramillo says that his server logs noted that someone from a Bee domain did find the private directory where the parody pages were stored and was attempting to figure out the password to get in on the night before the pages were released on the Web. Whoever it was didn't succeed in cracking the passcode, Jaramillo says.

Like many print parody issues, the N&R's Bee satire proved more popular than the normal editions of the paper, and Jaramillo says that traffic to the Web site was up substantially -- though the numbers are still modest. He says that 3,000 separate IP addresses have been recorded as accessing Perhaps not surprisingly, the most frequent visitors to the site have been Bee and McClatchy employees.

Reaction from the Bee was, as you might expect, mixed. Apparently no one from Bee management contacted the N&R about the parody site, though Jaramillo says the paper has received a fair amount of comment -- pro and con -- from Bee staffers, including what looked like form letters.

The victim responds

Ralph Frattura, who heads up the real Web site, expressed good humor about the parody. "We knew it was coming, and we expected it to be funny," he says. However, he complains that there weren't many laughs there, and mostly he just found the parody Web site to be "mean." Frattura says there also wasn't much of a reaction, and claims that mine was the first media inquiry he fielded about the site.

You might wonder why the N&R would ridicule the Bee's online presence, since the alternative paper has only a small-scale Web operation. Indeed, the SuckBee site makes fun of the Bee and its parent company for their substantial investments in online media. In a brief note on the home page is this note: "Maybe we are stupid to go around knocking others (even the "big guys," even on April Fools' Day) when we ourselves can be knocked so easily, i.e. our own Web site-in-progress is still just a fledgling babe, etc. Well, all we can say in our own defense is ... so SUE us! We have no self-control! WE SIMPLY COULDN'T HELP OURSELVES!"

And speaking of suing, even if Bee executives felt like it -- and there's no indication they do -- parody is generally protected under free speech laws.

Titanic in the Internet news era

Denver Post feature writer Claire Martin came up with an interesting story premise: How would the Internet-influenced media of today cover the sinking of the Titanic if it happened today and the events and casualties were the same as on April 15, 1912? Her article (which include an interview with me on the topic) can be found online.

I must admit to wishing I'd thought of this idea myself, so I put forth Martin's question to the Internet news experts who participate in the Online-News Internet discussion list. Many of the journalists and industry observers in that group responded with funny and predictably cynical suggestions -- like the wag who suggested that TV anchors would board long-range helicopters and broadcast from the deck of the ship as it sank, and the Fox network would rent a submersible for a live-broadcast view of the ship's descent. But in the discussion are some insightful, more serious comments about how the Internet has changed how the media overall report on major news events.

To read the Online-News discussion thread on the Titanic, go to the list archive and look for threads titled "Titanic 1998."

More on URLs in print

Following up on a recent column about the policy that some newspapers have about prohibiting Web addresses (URLs) in printed classifieds, Pat Washburn of the Press Herald Online (Guy Gannett Communications) wrote in:

"I don't know if other newspapers are doing this, but here in Portland, Maine, we make newspaper readers go to our Web site to see related links to news stories. Advertisers can put their URLs in ads, but if a reporter or online producer generates links for a story, they go only on the online version of the story.

"A little blurb at the end of the print version says 'FOR MORE on (say) the Irish negotiations, see Press Herald Online:' On the news menu, a notation after the story summary says, 'Only online: Ireland links.' That notice is linked straight to the list of related sites, to help speed navigation for the person following up on an in-paper promo."


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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