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The Nevada County Scooper sheds light on ‘issues of the day’ through satire

Tom Durkin
Special to The Union
A satirical website conceived to "illuminate the issues of the day", The Nevada County Scooper protects the identities of its owners, editors and writers.
Photo Illustration/Nevada County Scooper |

‘Teaching truth from fiction’

The problem with interviewing the editors of The Nevada County Scooper – once you’ve solved the problem of finding them – is getting straight answers out of them.

You never know if they’re putting you on or being dead earnest. With these guys, the truth is often two sides of the same coin.

As different as they are from each other, they share the same vision of making people think. They joke their job is to teach people how to tell truth from fiction.

The accompanying article is the result of months of email and Facebook exchanges, getting vetted by two Scooper writers, and finally getting an invitation to have dinner with Randall “Fink” Finkelstein and Lou LaPlante. Of course, I’ve sworn to secrecy as to their real identities, as well as to those of the writers I have met.

It’s important to realize, The Nevada County Scooper only exists in cyberspace. There is no there there. And because there is no there there, Scoopers rarely see each or even know each other.

The organization is held together primarily by email and snarky Facebook comments on each other’s stories. The Scooper crew does have a private, virtual breakroom where they share ideas, joke and an elite camaraderie.

—Tom Durkin

A Scooper sampling

Scooper fake news story on gun confiscation in Penn Valley

Snopes.com debunks Scooper story

The 13 Commandments for Good Scooper Writing and The Scooper Manifesto

First Halloween Parade

The crew of The Nevada County Scooper was popping virtual champagne corks in their virtual breakroom Oct. 12. They had just been busted by Snopes.com, the granddaddy of Internet fact-checkers.

On Oct. 8, The Scooper published an entirely false story and unbelievable picture about “Federal Gun Confiscation Unit Arrives in Penn Valley, CA.” It went viral.

Gun freaks freaked, believing the obviously false story was true. By Oct. 12, the story had made the Snopes national “hoax” list.

In little more than a year and a few months, The Nevada County Scooper has gone from amusing and annoying a few locals to amusing and annoying hundreds of thousands, from India to Australia.

“We’d like for Nevada County to become famous internationally via The Scooper. It would be nice if we could do that in a fun and interesting way, but if we have to do it by hoisting the dim and senseless on various petards, so be it.”Lou LaPlanteNevada County Scooper

“We’re big in the South,” reported Randall “Fink” Finkelstein, III (not his real name), publisher and chairman of the Scooper. “In fact, most of our traffic now is outside the state. People all over are reading about how awesome and weird we are in Nevada County.”

“We’d like for Nevada County to become famous internationally via The Scooper,” said Lou LaPlante (not his real name either), editor-at-large and president. “It would be nice if we could do that in a fun and interesting way, but if we have to do it by hoisting the dim and senseless on various petards, so be it.”

“We have a social media reach of 500,000 a month and growing,” Finkelstein said happily.

That reach could grow significantly with the Oct. 18 publication of “Nevada City to Host Nation’s First ‘Halloweed’ (cq) Parade”.

This story was in direct response to the Halloween Parade’s event organizer deciding to cancel the event this year. Early Facebook comments on the “Halloweed” post indicated some people actually believe the story while others are vehemently objecting to the fake news story because it could have “bad repercussions.”

Serious business of satire

“Don’t try to be funny” is the first commandment of The 13 Commandments for Good Scooper Writing. Finkelstein and LaPlante are quite serious about this.

“If we told them to be funny, they would mess it up,” LaPlante said.

“The humor is in the truth,” Finkelstein said.

According to The Scooper Manifesto: “The Scooper is a satirical website in scope and intent. Sometimes it’s funny; often it is not. … We’ve found that many people are confused by the satirical genre, often believing that it is supposed to be funny. Although that often is true, satire is primarily a medium of criticism that employs irony, criticism, juxtaposition and hyperbole to illuminate the issues of the day.”

Some Scooper stories are mischievous fake news. Others are real news spun to the point of absurdity or exposé. And some of the commentaries cut to the bone.

“It’s always been our goal to disrupt the news idiom,” Finkelstein disclosed. “If you’re noticing that more of late, that’s because we’ve hired some powerful writers.”

Nom de plumes are us

Everyone (except one) who writes for The Scooper writes under a secret, assumed name and Facebook identity. Several of them have incurred the personal wrath of prominent local citizens and groups.

“We’re masking, like Greek drama,” Finkelstein explained. “I want our writers to be both free to pursue topics that are controversial, but also we want to keep their egos out of the equation as well.”

“Some of our writers must protect their identity in order to preserve jobs and family life. Others not so much. Still other writers’ stories are published and we have no clue as to their real identities,” LaPlante added.

“We vet the stories, not the writers,” he explained.

Community praise – and blowback

Although The Scooper has skewered many prominent citizens and groups, finding someone who had anything bad to say about The Scooper proved to be a tough task ­— even people who one might expect to hold a grudge either failed to respond to inquiries or reacted like former Nevada County Supervisor Todd Juvinall.

One of The Scooper’s most-mocked targets, Juvinall wrote in an email: “I love The Scooper! Parody and sarcasm are part of life. America protects the right of both. I enjoy reading others’ take on me. I am a big mouth so I attract criticism.”

Likewise, Jim Hemig, publisher of The Union, has taken some heavy fire from The Scooper, but he said, “They like to poke fun at me, but usually, I just get a good laugh and don’t take it too seriously. Overall, I think they’ve brought humor to some of the news in our community.” But, he added, “I keep having to remind people that it’s a satire site.”

Former Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum has been ridiculed by the satirical e-zine for her penchant for conspiracy theories. She just laughed and said, “Personally, I’m thinking they’re aliens.”

While we couldn’t find someone willing to criticize The Scooper on the record, negative, even hateful comments abound on Facebook. For instance, typical criticisms include: “Poopoo on the pooper scooper. Garbage. … They are creepy trolls. … I’m so tired of seeing crap from that site. … This is just sick.”

On the other hand, KVMR community radio DJ Jerianne Van Dijk (7-10 a.m. Fridays) was effusive in her praise for The Scooper: “I look forward to every post. The Scooper usually has the edge on the comedy/tragedy of local politics … (and) national things as well. They just mess with your sense of almost reading the news. It’s a very cool bunch of writers! I love them!”

The Scooper has named The Union’s local cartoonist R.L. Crabb its patron saint, although he did not ask for the title.

After dispelling the rumor that he might be an undercover Scooper writer, Crabb said, “I don’t know who they are … (but) It’s good to have more satire in our local sphere of affluence (sic). They’ve ruffled a few feathers, which is a good thing in my book.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer-photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at tdurkin@vfr.net or http://www.tomdurkin-writer.net.

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