Readers bite on spoofs from ‘news’ site

Courtesy photo
Todd Carpenter launched The Diggerer on April 1. The site has gained popularity in recent weeks when readers believed its satirical news stories, including one about a statewide ban on drive-through windows, were true.
Courtesy photo
The Diggerer started on Todd Carpenter's other website, myWV.net, last year.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Legislature is not banning drive-through windows; Johnny Depp is not going to star as Jesco White in an upcoming movie; and Bigfoot was not spotted at a Beckley urinal.But Todd Carpenter, creator of the fake news site The Diggerer, is more than happy if you believe those things are true.The website's popularity has skyrocketed in recent weeks as the rumor about Depp and drive-through windows swept across Facebook and Twitter.The Diggerer had just 409 visitors on April 5. One day later, the site had 21,000 hits."I thought I'd been hit by some web bot that was going to destroy my server," said Carpenter, 47, of Putnam County.Then a co-worker approached him, pointing to his smart phone. His wife had sent him the story about Depp playing White. Carpenter was flabbergasted."I'd not talked to anyone about this," he said.Later that evening, he went to Best Buy in South Ridge to look at an Apple computer. He logged onto the Diggerer with one of the store's display models."The salesman said, 'Oh yeah, I heard about that,' " Carpenter said.When he explained the story was fake, the salesman suggested he visit another salesman in the store's television department.Carpenter said that salesman swallowed the story about Depp hook, line and sinker.Not knowing he was speaking to the man responsible for the fake story, the man told Carpenter a friend had come into the store with a purchase order from Depp's production company.The friend, the salesman said, was working as a bodyguard for the star while he was in Boone County studying up on the role.Carpenter didn't burst the poor guy's bubble."I went back to my car and I laughed as hard as I've ever laughed," he said.
Just a week after the Dancing Outlaw story, another Diggerer story about West Virginia legislators banning drive-through windows at restaurants started gaining traction online. The site's web hits jumped back to the 21,000 mark."If these people walk into the restaurant and order, it may be the only exercise they get all day. So I feel that forcing these people to walk to get their Big Macs may just be saving their lives," the fictional Sen. Buford Watson says in the story.Internet users, believing the Diggerer was a real news site, became incensed."All the things wrong with West Virginia and they fill (sic) it's more important to ban drive through windows. Last 1 to leave turn the lite out," Twitter user Chris Giampocaro wrote on Saturday.The Daily Mail's Vent Line received calls about the purported ban."This is not Europe. Real Americans cannot walk to work or ride a bike to work. And we have very short lunch breaks. Drive-throughs are an American idea. The Obamas need to stop trying to destroy the United States," one caller said.
Some residents even called the state Legislature's Office of Reference & Information.Drew Ross, deputy director, said operators there fielded about a dozen calls about the ban. He said one caller was a business owner, worried she would have to close her drive-through.
"(After that) we had a stock response ready," he said.The Diggerer started last June as a post on Carpenter's other site, myWV.net.Huntington illustrator Kathy Ferrell drew a picture of Batboy, the fictional "Weekly World News" character purportedly discovered in the Lost World Caverns near Lewisburg, eating a corndog.Carpenter used the drawing in a June 10, 2011 post called "Batboy: West Virginia's most famous citizen." The picture didn't look right on the page, however."It seemed right to frame it in a tabloid," Carpenter said.He racked his brain for a name for the fake tabloid and eventually came up with "Diggerer.""Like the Enquirer, but in West Virginia we dig for things," he said.In October, Carpenter decided to bring the Diggerer to life. A longtime web designer, he rebuilt the site three times before he was happy with its look. He readied the final version of Diggerer earlier this year, working under a hard deadline. Carpenter wanted to launch the fake news site on April Fool's Day.The Diggerer now has 72 stories, with new content posted almost every day.Though Carpenter contributes some stories, David Williams and Brady Robinson write most of the site's content. They write under the pseudonyms "Alligator Jackson" and "Arnold 'Scratch' Kelly," respectively.Carpenter pitches stories to his writers through a private Facebook group he set up for Diggerer contributors. He throws out story ideas with a few suggested jokes, and Robinson or Williams takes up the assignment and brings it to life.Carpenter acknowledges Diggerer stories have a conservative slant - one piece details a Democrat-backed voter rights campaign, aimed at zombies - but said he wants the site's politics to remain understated."If there's someone to poke fun at, we'll poke fun at anybody," he said.He said he has no problem mocking West Virginia's laws and politics, but doesn't want to mock West Virginians.One of The Diggerer's writers recently turned in a story about a certain West Virginia Powerball winner."The story was salacious and I said 'Nope, don't want to go that direction.' I don't want to personally attack anybody," Carpenter said.He said he's not too worried about pulling the wool over readers' eyes, though. He's also not concerned the website's traffic will drop as people realize The Diggerer is a fake news site."As Barnum allegedly said, 'There's a sucker born every minute.' "He said someone will always be fooled into thinking the site is authentic, and readers already in on the joke still can enjoy the goofy articles."I'd like it to be something West Virginia can be proud of, that we can make fun of ourselves," he said. "This website is uniquely West Virginia. We like to tell tall tales.""Sometimes the best laugh is one that's delayed. In West Virginia storyteller fashion, I just sit back and smile. And hope that the light will kick on soon."Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymailwv.com. 
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