From Ballard dessert shop turf wars to Seattle police using nerf guns, The Needling, (Seattle’s Only Real Fake News source) informs Seattleites about the satirical happenings of our strange and wonderful Emerald City. Starting just this past year, The Needling is featured in this month’s Seattle Magazine and is gaining a passionate local fanbase. We talk with the founder about how this publication came to be, and why they chose to remain anonymous.
Welcome to the Lonely Arts Club! As the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Needling, what was the catalyst for starting a fake news website dedicated to Seattle?
I have a background in journalism, but there was always a part of me that wanted to play with satire. After several years of being a reporter, I was very ready to make fun of all the news formulas and cliches while still poking at society in a way that gets people thinking about it in new, funny and brutally honest ways.
I think especially now, with negativity overwhelming our newsfeeds, it can be such a huge relief to see something that’s a joke. If you’re not careful, these long newsfeeds of awful and serious developments can fill you with heavy despair, which isn’t helping anyone. A funny headline can help you snap out of that mode so you don’t get mentally and emotionally trapped in it. A well-placed joke reminds you that it’s okay to laugh, you know? Some awful things are happening in the world, but there will always be awful things happening in the world. Always have been. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take some time to laugh and play. In fact, I think you absolutely need to if you want to stay resilient through difficult times.
On our site, there’s a mixture of having fun with silly jokes and poking fun at people in power. Sometimes people in power are doing things that aren’t so great, and it’s fun to find a creative way to point that out.
There are a lot of artists that prefer to remain anonymous. What is your reason for anonymity?
First, I studied how some satirical publications like The Onion make an effort not to heavily highlight their Editor-in-Chief or editorial staff. They try as much as possible to let that satirical news brand stand on its own. Secondly, a lot of what we’re putting on our website is collaborative. We may have one person who pitches the headline, which is the main joke or concept, but the headline and written post for it can always be punched up and workshopped together by several people.
I also think the humor is protected by not connecting it with a certain personality. For now, I’m enjoying seeing how readers judge and appreciate the joke in a headline on its own merit without factoring in who wrote it. Honestly, sometimes I wonder whether the reception of some headlines would change based on whether people knew if it was written by a woman, a person of color, a “non-native” Seattleite, or a software engineer. People can make a lot of conscious, unconscious and ignorant assumptions of people who fit certain categories and I’m not interested in seeing any of that ignorance displayed more than necessary. There is no category of people who aren’t funny or who don’t deserve to be funny, and the data we have on how our pieces have performed proves that.
This brings me to the next point: Has anyone ever thought one of your headlines was real?
Oh, man. Yes.
We’re having fun, but we’re also getting a very real look at the bleak state of today’s media literacy rates. There are some posts where, okay, I’ll give it to people: The world is so crazy right now, that I could see why they’d believe one of our articles is true. Like the one we posted about Pike Place Market: “Citing ongoing confusion, Market officially changes the name to Pike’s Place.” I Photoshopped an image that showed the neon “Public Market” sign changed to “Pike’s Place,” and that created quite a splash. So many people really believed it actually changed! And I guess that means that so many things are changing in this city, some people don’t know what’s real anymore.
We were surprised, though, at the number of people who also believed our headline “Fremont Troll Priced Out of Fremont, Moves to Tukwila.”
I thought just the photo alone of the troll in an Applebee’s parking lot would make it pretty clear that it wasn’t real, but there were a lot of people who thought it was.
That means your Photoshop skills are on-point. You’re making your website look so professional and streamlined that people are terrified of what’s happening in this city.
Here’s the thing about people who really believe those headlines: It’s really clear that most of them don’t actually click on the headline to read the article or go to the website. It says at the top of the website, “Seattle’s Only Real Fake News.”
It’s interesting to see the comments on the posts. They can be really angry when they get fooled. For people who get fooled, I hope it’s a lesson that even when you’re not looking at our content, you shouldn’t automatically believe everything you see. You need to do more than just read a headline and immediately react as if what you just read is true. You need to assess where it’s coming from and if it has any credibility. If nothing else, we’re highlighting the habit of how ready people are to react to information on social media instead of thinking about it in context and assessing it first.
Self-awareness is a big highlight of the Lonely Arts Club. What does having humor about this city mean to you? Why do you think this is important?
There’s a lot that I love about this city, but at the same time, as someone who didn’t grow up here, I see that people take themselves way too seriously here. I think it adds to the “Seattle Freeze” feeling. There does seem to be a rigidity in Seattle: “This is what this is, this is what it should always be, this is who deserves to be here” and I don’t respect that rigid mindset. I would love to shake it up by making fun of that mindset and the hypocrisies often tied to it as much as possible.
Take yourself less seriously – for your own sake and for your city’s sake.
We also use this platform as a coping mechanism for things that are frustrating about living here. We have a pretty diverse set of writers. Some are from here, and others are originally from across the United States. There’s sometimes a bit of that “outsiders perspective” getting channeled into this. I thought more people would bristle at that perspective, but it looks like plenty of people, including people born here, are enjoying it.
Have there ever been things you’ve wanted to post but didn’t out fear of backlash?
There are some headlines we’ve held back because the subject matter is so pointed. The article is going to have to be extra good to justify how pointed the headline is. There are some that we’re hanging on to so it’s done just right.
We always have to keep punching up and, ideally, making an effort to make a clever point. You’re not just taking a cheap shot at someone and hoping a bunch of assholes are clapping along with you.
In comedy, if you’re going to say something really pointed, you better make it worth it. You better prove that you’re making a pretty legitimate point underneath it all. Otherwise, you’re just an asshole.
What do you want people to take away from your project?
Something that I really want to amplify this year is that although we have a steady cast of writers, I want everyone in Seattle to feel like they are welcome to submit headlines and ideas. I want this to be something everyone can feel safe to play with.
Experienced comedians and comedy writers — I love them and they’ve contributed great stuff to us. But there are also a lot of teachers, construction workers, stay-at-home moms, you name it, who are fucking funny too. I want to welcome them to come up with headlines when they’re inspired to and submit them. Anyone can play along with us, even if it’s just in the comment section.
I hope this website reminds people to have more playful moments in their daily life. We want people to know that enjoying and/or submitting to our website is one more way they can have more of those moments.