April Fools’ Fun Begins: Penn Student Paper Tricks Readers with Emma Watson Grad School Story

The Daily Pennsylvanian managed to prank a portion of the Internet yesterday with the publication of its annual joke issue. In its most buzzworthy piece, the student newspaper satirically revealed that “Harry Potter” star Emma Watson was planning to attend the University of Pennsylvania for graduate school.

As the lede sentence exclaims, “The Sorting Hat has spoken — Quaker!”


Umm, yeah, not so much. As you can clearly see above, the headline to the story online sports a gigantic, all-caps “JOKE ISSUE” disclaimer. A similar heads-up runs as an editor’s note at the article’s close. But a number of readers and at least one major media outlet overlooked or didn’t understand the designation.

Vanity Fair posted an entire Watson-going-to-grad-school story only hours after the DP joke issue dropped. The piece is now cringeworthy and giggle-worthy, sporting a glam photo of the starlet and pockets of star-baiting, breathless prose.

A portion:

“Did you think graduating from college, becoming a high-profile U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, and landing the role of a real-life Disney princess was enough for Emma Watson? Ha! Think again. The actress will continue to do her bookish alter-ego Hermione Granger proud when she attends graduate school at University of Pennsylvania. … Between her action turn in ‘Colonia Dignidad,’ and her all-singing, all-dancing princess in ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Emma has a lot on her plate. But her continuing commitment to her education proves that Watson is more than just a Beauty, she’s a brain as well.”

The updated headline, alas: “Emma Watson Is Not Headed to Grad School.

The whole satirical shebang apparently caused enough of a stir that Penn officials felt compelled to set the record straight. A tweet from the school’s official Twitter account confirmed Watson was not relocating to University City in the fall and reminded its 58,000 followers to check their calendars.

Could the date be partially to blame for the audience confusion? The DP dropped its joke issue a full week away from April 1st, meaning the unofficial holiday’s foolhardiness may not yet be on most reader’s minds. One commenter beneath the Watson piece writes with impassioned churlishness: “Each year, the DP has a massive stroke and forgets that April Fools’ Day is on April 1st (and not some arbitrary day of their choosing) and then acts like the petulant child that cried wolf when a real news agency (Vanity Fair) picks up their story.”

As DP staffer Jim Khan explains about the date discrepancy in a note kicking off the joke issue, “Although the DP used to publish a gag issue on or about April Fools’ Day, the issue was moved to Washington’s birthday [February 22] in 1962. Through a series of haphazard and random events, the DP has settled on a time loosely referred to as ‘sometime in March or April, or whenever we remember to commemorate the crusading DP editors of days gone by.'”

The paper also plays the Watson story mostly straight and seemingly serious, with the main satirical breadcrumb being “the fake all-too-British name of Watson’s ‘publicist,’ Kingsley Pennyton.” 

Bigger picture, this Watson faux fun continues a long-held student press satirical tradition of fooling readers into thinking a celeb will be attending, working or speaking at their school.

As I previously posted, in April 2013, The Quill fake-reported that Oscar-winning screen legend Meryl Streep would be taking a break from acting and instead serve as a visiting instructor at Brandon University, a mid-sized school in the Canadian province of Manitoba. Out of nowhere, months after the article appeared, the Canadian citizenry and media outlets latched onto it, briefly believing it was true.


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