The Hoot: FAU's Version of The Onion

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The Hoot is a new independent publication at Florida Atlantic University. On March 21, the site published a story headlined “FAU Student Government Legalizes Recreational Marijuana on Campus.” An FAU Board of Trustees member was quoted linking marijuana use to AIDS, and the school’s dining hall was hailed as the country’s first on-campus dispensary.

Publisher Andre Heizer, a sophomore, and editor Nick Palmieri, a recent alumnus, figured students understood that The Hoot is a fake, satirical news site that parodies student life at Florida Atlantic University. They were wrong.

“Is this a joke?” one student asked on Facebook.

“This can’t be real,” typed another.

“This must be fake,” a third commented.

The story was shared over a thousand times and attracted 30,000 page views. Eventually, readers realized that The Hoot is the campus version of The Onion.

“This one guy messaged us, ‘Are you telling me that I can light up on Monday?’” Heizer recalls. “We were like, ‘No, you can’t do that. You 100 percent will be arrested.’”

The Hoot launched last November. A staff of a dozen students and recent alumni publish three fake news stories a week. They don’t make any money off the site yet, but Heizer and Palmieri explain that their goal is to have fun and put out content that students can relate and chuckle to.

“Most colleges like UF, FSU, and UM have a bigger sense of community. FAU is a newer school with less school tradition and history,” Heizer says. “Our main mission is to bring people together through comedy about our campus and, of course, make them laugh.”

Heizer and Palmieri are high school friends and attended FAU together. Heizer studies communications and Palmieri recently graduated with a degree in film. Both would discuss the absurdity and humor in everyday campus life: gripes with parking, a mediocre football team, and a professor spewing conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook shooting.

“Everyone had different groups and I thought this is a way to connect through humor. There were also so many things to make fun of,” Heizer says.

In November, Heizer and Palmieri unveiled their site on Tumblr. They attracted a spirited crew of improv comedians and theater majors as writers. On November 22, their first story was headlined: “FAU Football Barely Loses This Time.” The story gained traction after FAU barely lost to UF in a game that was forced into overtime. Slowly, their Facebook page attracted more likes. In January, staff started an online fundraiser for the $325 they needed to buy their domain, thehootfau.com, for a year. They quickly gathered the money.

“We’re satire. We have to be independent,” Palmieri says. “If not, we would be regulated by the school and not be able to poke fun at what we want to.”

As is the case at other satirical news sites, authors publish without bylines. Heizer and Palmieri hope more students interested in satire will write for the site and use clips to build experience. They currently have a staff of about a dozen but hope to recruit more. The Hoot also publishes stories about life postgraduation and would welcome recent graduates to start writing, too. 

“If we have the same people writing over and over, there will be the same kind of humor,” Palmieri says. “We’re trying to cycle in more writers. A new perspective and new humor has the potential to reach a new audience.”

A few of their favorite stories so far: “FAU Football Receives $3 Billion in Chipotle Gift Cards,” “Breaking: Student Finds Parking Spot,” and “New Dating App ‘No Homo’ Allows Bros to Experiment Sexually.”

Nearly 700 people like The Hoot on Facebook, but Heizer and Palmieri want to increase their audience. They report that since the March recreational marijuana story, their reach has more than doubled. In the future, they plan to be financially independent through ads and even publish a print edition. In the meantime, Heizer, Palmieri, and other The Hoot staff enjoy eavesdropping on students who are debating whether a story is real.

“Through comedy, you can make a point that otherwise people wouldn’t listen to,” Palmieri says. "Not every story makes a big point, but when we do, it's a lot more effective than just trying to talk about it."

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