If the purpose of satire is to bring about change by exposing societal folly, then the Daily Currant has lived up to that purpose, if only inadvertently so. The 8-month-old satirical news site pokes fun at global politics, technology and entertainment with a brand of anti-Onion humor that is perhaps too subtle for its own good. And yet in mocking such subjects, the website has managed to shine a much-needed light on the failings of the American media -- a worthy target for satire if there ever was one.
Major media outlets have mistaken the Daily Currant’s stories for legitimate news on multiple occasions, most recently last week when the Drudge Report aggregated an article about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg being refused a slice of pizza as retaliation for his proposed soda ban. Drudge’s blunder follows similar missteps by the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and China’s 21st Century Business Herald.
Daniel Barkeley, the Daily Currant’s 29-year-old founder and managing editor, said he wasn’t surprised by Drudge’s error, seeing how similar mistakes have happened before. But while he acknowledges the increased attention Daily Current receives after such high-profile snafus, he insists that the website is not trying to deceive readers.
“We’re not particularly thrilled when this happens,” he said in a phone interview. “Really, there’s not much benefit to us. We get all this criticism and we’re asked a lot of questions that we really don’t want to answer.”
Barkeley said high-profile incidents like the Drudge error largely just invite press inquiries from journalists asking questions that have nothing to do with the Daily Currant’s creative aims. To that point, a brief look at the Daily Currant’s in-house copy reveals no shortage of overt references to its satirical mission, from its tag statement (“The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record”) to its About section, which states unequivocally that all of its stories are “purely fiction.”
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Barkeley first launched the Currant as a thesis project while he was attending EDHEC Business School in Paris. Having lived abroad, the Los Angeles native and current Detroit resident said he wanted to create a satirical news site with a global perspective. While he understands that comparisons to the Onion are inevitable, he said he “set out to do something very different” than that well-established brand.
With headlines like “Obama Instantly Backs Off Plan to Close Guantanamo” and “CNN Head Suggests Covering More News for Ratings,” Daily Currant articles are decidedly more ambiguous than a typical Onion piece, which often evokes belly laughs on the basis of its headlines alone. But Barkeley said that’s the point.
“You actually have to read our articles to get the joke,” he said. “We want our humor to come across through stories and character, not just in the headlines like they do in the Onion.”
That readers are accepting Currant stories as fact may say less about the Currant itself and more about the reading habits of attention-bereft Internet users, who are all too quick to tweet a story with a link and brief comment before they’re off to the next distraction. Barkeley said he always knew the Currant’s subtlety might fool some inattentive readers, but he’d assumed it would end there.
“We never imagined that professional journalists would be sharing our stories and linking to them without verifying them,” he said. “The first time it happened, we were shocked.”
Of course, it’s entirely possible -- as Politico’s Dylan Byers suggested on Friday -- that mix-ups over the Current’s legitimacy point to a failing on the part of its humor. “The Daily Currant isn’t funny,” Byers wrote, and he has a point. How skillful a satirist can you be if you’re fooling people into thinking you’re playing it straight? Barkeley, for his part, has an answer for his critics.
“It’s okay,” he said. “There are a lot of people who get what we’re trying to do.”