Out in the great outback, two men in Akubra bush hats have cracked it: They have monetised fake news. And they are making millions in Australia crack up with satire on the news of the day. For years, these two fake journalists, who go by the fake bylines Clancy Overell and Errol Parker, have stayed in character, making public appearances and engaging with fans as the editors of a gritty, rural newspaper called the Betoota Advocate.
The newspaper does not exist. But it carries wonderful stories on a website by that name, all of which are fake. Samples from yesterday’s headlines: “New Study Attempts to Understand the Type of Human that Drinks Southern Comfort”. And, “Designated Drivers Advised to Steer Clear of Nan’s Rum Balls”.
The Advocate bills itself as Australia’s “oldest and favourite newspaper”, which may be an exaggeration, but its popularity is undeniable. Which is a sign of the times. Immersed in a global bath of motivated fake news, Australians are rushing to it to get a refreshing dose of the real thing — good, clean fake news. With over a million page views every month, the Advocate is leveraging its popularity, which must amount to a fair pile of ad traffic, to promote a beer, Betoota Bitter, and a clothing line, Betoota Outfitters.
It remains to be seen if the Advocate, which is to Australia what The Onion is to the US, can resist being mainstreamed. It would be paradoxical for a publication whose core competency is to blur the boundary between the real and the unreal. None of its news exists. Only Betoota exists, the smallest town in Australia. It is a ghost town in Queensland, whose last permanent resident died in 2004. Good heavens, even Betoota does not exist! But fortunately for Australia, the Betoota Advocate exists.