Spoof news site 'becomes official' after Facebook and Twitter success

Southend News Network website Image copyright Southend News Network
Image caption Southend News Network's website has been publishing spoof local stories since October

A spoof news website has been recognised as an "official media outlet" by a council after it gained thousands of followers on social media.

Southend News Network's stories include a mother demanding a £50 spend on gifts for her son's birthday and a restaurant introducing a £5 breastfeeding charge.

Its creator said he "never thought" his site would be officially recognised.

Southend Council said it was better to "have fun" with the spoof stories rather than get annoyed by them.

Other fake stories published on the site since its launch last October include school pupils being taught by cats because of a teacher shortage and the Dartford Crossing being closed because of "thousands of Kent residents trying to enter Essex illegally".

The local authority said it had received calls from concerned residents about some of the stories, including one about trick or treaters needing a council permit at Halloween.

Following a meeting with council officials, the spoof news site has been added to the authority's media database and is treated similarly to more traditional local newspapers and broadcasters.

Image copyright Southend News Network
Image caption Councillors met with Southend News Network's anonymous creator to talk about working alongside each other

The site's anonymous creator, who prefers to be known by the nom de plume "The Chief Reporter", said he had been inspired by satirical news sites such as The Onion, The Daily Mash and The Poke.

"My stories are tapping into the types of things people get wound up about. I like a heated, healthy debate," he said.

"Some of the things I write, I could actually see happening in real life. It's how people feel about their own town, their own lives - it taps into that and builds on it."

The reporter said Southend Council had "recognised we're building up town's public profile" with the site, which has more than 6,000 Facebook likes.

Adam Keating, a media manager at the local authority, said interacting with Southend News Network allowed the council to build on its own social media profile.

"Although their stories might not be correct, they've built up a following we could also engage with," he said.

"People have been commenting on the posts with real issues, and we've been replying with facts about 'the truth behind the spoof'.

"The media landscape is changing, and we're treating Southend News Network in the same way we would other local news sites or community groups."

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