Betoota Advocate takes small town news beyond Australia

A sign outside the small Australian town of Betoota, which has a population of zero Image copyright Betoota Advocate
Image caption The Betoota Advocate has built a huge online following despite its humble origins

It has a sense of humour as dry as the Australian outback and all the journalistic integrity of Borat.

The Betoota Advocate, a satirical website posing as a country newspaper, made its low-key debut two years ago.

Perfectly imitating the tone and style of a small town paper, it has brazenly courted confusion between satire, genuine news and advertising.

The publication facetiously claims to be "Australia's oldest newspaper" and to be based in a remote western Queensland town - Betoota - where the last remaining resident died more than 10 years ago.

Its popularity, however, is winning over a real audience that rivals some mainstream news and entertainment websites.

Some of the website's stories have found viral success, including one article which gleefully baited gun-loving Americans.

Other stories - including one about the parking inspector who fined himself - have been reported as fact by mainstream media.

Editor-at-large Errol Parker and editor Clancy Overell - not their real names - put Betoota on the map after dabbling in media and advertising.

"It's exactly 87km [54 miles] due east of Birdsville on the edge of the picturesque but very brutal Simpson Desert," Mr Parker said.

"There's almost no reason why you'd ever go to southwest Queensland unless you were going to the Birdsville Races.

"That's the only tangible reason that a normal well-adjusted person would go down to the Queensland desert."

Image copyright Betoota Advocate
Image caption Clancy Overell and Errol Parker, the two writers behind the Betoota Advocate

The thin line between truth and fiction is wilfully misrepresented by the two writers and one publisher behind the website.

They received praise from a brewery executive for an unpaid article which falsely claimed Australia's most popular beer had gone undercover to win a craft brewing competition.

And despite appearing to be mostly harmless fun, threats of legal action from organisations mentioned in articles are not uncommon.

At the time of writing, the website directs complaints to the fax machine listed for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

The best of Betoota's headlines

With a rising profile, they've conducted guerrilla-style interviews outside Parliament House with controversial senator Jacqui Lambie and billionaire politician Clive Palmer.

They helped eccentric country MP Bob Katter shoot a controversial ad and "spent a night on the cans" with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce - known internationally for threatening Johnny Depp's dogs.

More recently, their "Make Betoota Great Again" campaign mischievously encouraged Australians to list the ghost town as their official residence in a national census.

Arguably what sets the satirical website apart from the competition is a genuine connection to the bush and their larrikin jokes.

"There's a certain sense of humour that you can feel out there I think and you can be a little bit politically incorrect," Mr Overall said.

"We say things like that where obviously someone's going to get pretty hot under the collar but it's never punching down, I don't think, and that's the key to it."

Image copyright Betoota Advocate
Image caption The Betoota's satire has gotten more blatant as its audience has grown

Although it's an operation that feels more upstart than start-up, the Betoota Advocate broadly follows the footsteps of Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) and Barry Humphries (Les Patterson).

With a book compiling their best stories due for release in October, the editors are hoping more and more people will get come to know their small town paper.

As for the serious business of satire, the editorial team have expressed a desire to retain long-term creative and financial control of the project.

Australian media commentator Paul Barry compares the website to a home-grown version of The Onion and argues that the main threat the website poses is to the reputation of some reporters.

"Many journalists don't check. Simple as that. And they're gullible," he said.

"There's not too many who have been caught by Betoota, but those who have been caught have not made any calls or other checks to find out if the story is true."

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