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An interview with kings of satirical online journalism, The Daily Mash

Today’s headline on the BBC about Myleene Klass’ recent outcry about mansion tax reads: “Myleene Klass tax jibe raised in Ed Miliband v David Cameron clash.” Over on The Daily Mash, their headline reads “Dodgy bastard who sold garage to Myleene Klass goes into hiding.” Satire is hard to do. A lot of people have never got it right, and in terms of journalism you could say that only Private Eye and Viz were truly successful, in that they 100% got away with it, and still do.

Online there are a few sources for sarcastic, satirical and very funny news outlets – The Onion and Click Hole to name a few – but for me none do it with the same downright insolence and wit as The Daily Mash. We wanted to speak to them about why they’re spending their days writing news parodies, the loopholes in libel law and how the hell they’re getting away with it. Here’s co-founder Paul Stokes…

Who are you?

We (Paul Stokes and Neil Rafferty) are former newspaper journalists. Between us we’ve worked on papers including the Sunday Times, The Daily Record, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Mail and been fired from most of them.

How would you describe The Daily Mash to someone who had never seen it before?

The Daily Mash is like the Press Association news service operating in a wonky parallel universe. It publishes half a dozen very funny spoof news stories every day and is the UK’s most popular original humour website.

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The Daily Mash

How was The Daily Mash born?

The Mash was born in 2007. Both of us had left newspaper journalism, I’d just been sacked again from my position as an opinion columnist on a Sunday newspaper. We wanted to launch a satirical news magazine but didn’t really know how to go about it. So we decided to launch a satirical news site where we just made it all up, even though we knew nothing about the internet and how it worked. We did no market research or market testing, we just put it up and people liked it. We now get a couple of million people visiting a month.

Tell us about how the site works, and who works on it

The site works by displaying words arranged in a sequence which makes people laugh, alongside pictures, some with stupid captions. It is edited by Tim Telling, who is another former journalist, and he deals with a team of about eight or nine freelance writers.

“We did no market research or market testing, we just put it up and people liked it. We now get a couple of million people visiting a month.”

Paul Stokes, The Daily Mash

What’s the atmosphere like in The Daily Mash HQ, how do you go about selecting content and putting it up?

There is no real Daily Mash HQ, but if there was the atmosphere would be poisonous. The site is put together from a series of kitchen tables around the country. We try to meet up as infrequently as possible, as when we do I have to buy all the drinks. Tim, or whoever is editing that day, selects the content. All the writers pitch in ideas by email either the day before or on the day and Tim picks out the funniest ones and they get written up and published.

Why do you think the Daily Mash is imperative to society?

It isn’t.

How important is humour in online publishing?

To us, very. In general terms humour is important to online publishers because it is very viral, people like to share things that make them laugh, and which they think will make other people laugh.

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The Daily Mash

Does anyone ever get pissed off with your articles? (“Bono to do shit in your sock drawer” for example)

Yes, we were once threatened with a libel action by a very famous entrepreneur who appears on the television after one of our characters wrote a blog claiming, among other things, that his entire business was an elaborate ploy to get back at women. We got a very nasty letter from a major firm of libel lawyers but we wrote back and pointed out that it was very clearly made-up. We never heard back. Libel is not really an issue. The test is whether any reasonable person would believe what we write to be true. Obviously it isn’t. In the last few months a Maplin PR has asked us to take down a story which said that Maplin was the new place for men to meet for gay sex, but we didn’t. And one of Nigella Lawson’s people asked us to take a story down as it was untrue and contained swearing. We told them we wouldn’t. If we took down every story on our site that was untrue and contained swearing there would be nothing left.

“In the last few months a Maplin PR has asked us to take down a story which said that Maplin was the new place for men to meet for gay sex, but we didn’t. If we took down every story on our site that was untrue and contained swearing there would be nothing left.”

Paul Stokes, The Daily Mash

Does anyone think it’s real news?

Sadly it does happen. We got a violently abusive email from a chef once when we ran a story headlined “Being a chef actually pretty easy” saying that it was really hard work. Most of the people who seem to think what we write is true are North Americans, mainly Canadians.

What does publishing on the internet allow you to do that print cannot?

Quickly print words on a screen, instead of on paper, which takes longer. But we do print words on paper too, we have a book out this Christmas called Random Acts of Foul-Mouthed Cruelty. It would make a magnificent present for anyone’s gran.

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Behind the Screens
The “golden era” of independent publishing has seen an awful lot written about magazines; their enduring influence as well as the challenges facing the industry. Sometimes those discussions have overlooked the amazing things happening in online publishing so in November, we plan to rectify that. For the next few weeks we’ll be speaking to the people who have been beavering away at making the internet a very pleasant and addictive place to visit, finding out their secrets and asking them why they do what they do.