Students develop online satirical news site

Becca Raffel and Kate Marinkovich

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“Your No. 1 source for Paly News,” reads the statement at the top of “The Daily Pillage,” a satirical news site run by Palo Alto High School upperclassmen. The site surfaced in the past month, quickly gaining popularity among Paly students.

Founded by junior Emil Ernstrom, the site began as a result of a conversation with a friend, he said.

“I was talking to a friend, and he said something to me that made my mind think, ‘That would make a great Onion [a nationwide satirical online newspaper] news article,’” Enstrom said, referring to the popular satirical news site.

Inspired, Ernstrom brought the idea to his friend junior Will Robertson. Considering the idea “a fun experiment,” Robertson joined Ernstrom and together they developed the content for their website, Enstrom said.

“The original plan was for this to be confined to Paly-specific humor,” Robertson said. “Eventually we may start thinking about branching out to wider topics, but not yet.”

The lack of a satirical news publication like the Onion at Paly surprised Ernstrom.

“I wondered why Paly had nothing like the Onion,” Ernstrom said. “We have so many publications at our school, yet the fact that there wasn’t any humour/satire publications surprised me.”

Robertson and Ernstrom hope for other students to join in with them.

“I wanted to allow for this to spread and allow for others to express themselves creatively through comedy,” Robertson said.

“We are still early in our development and need all the help we can get,” Ernstrom said. “At the moment, I am hoping that the Pillage may eventually become a legitimate publication here at Paly,” Ernstrom said.

These aspirations could fall short because of legality issues. The Student Press Law Center  warns against issues inherent in writing satire. The issues brought to light with such a satirical intent are similar to when publications pursue April Fools issues — both present the possibility of being sued for libel or defamation if the words are taken to be true, according to the SPLC.

Ernstrom addressed the need to fix this, along with the fact that writers of the articles are not named on the site, if the Daily Pillage is to become an official publication.

“We are going to have to make some adjustments to our system, most likely ditching the idea of anonymity and probably adding some sort of disclaimer to let people know that we are not really a news source,” Ernstrom said.

Robertson also admits to the potential problems in publishing under the premise of news.

“We were warned, however, not directly, of the dangers of libel and the potential for what we publish to be taken seriously, which has certainly shaped our outlook for this publication,” Robertson said.

Despite the sentiment that the site should be changed to avoid misunderstandings, so far the site has remained the same.

“We are probably going to have adjust our system for publishing and processing articles in order to prevent misunderstandings and other issues,” Ernstrom said.

Despite potential legal issues, the site can help relieve a school atmosphere that may be short on humor, according to Robertson.

“From my perspective, the school is a little too dry,” Robertson said.

At the end of the day, the main goal of The Pillage is to entertain Paly students, regardless of potential issues that could be involved in the site, according to Ernstrom and Robertson.

“Since we are not really trying to be journalists or reporting news, or goals are pretty simple, Ernstrom said. “Primarily, it is to be entertaining.”

And, so far, with headlines such as “Paly Graduate Receives Streaking Scholarship from Harvard, Pursues Lifelong Dream of Professional Streaking” and “Gunn Four Years Away from Nuclear Weapons, Satellite Image Reveals,” one could argue that their intent has been successful.