“Prince George begins boarding school.” “Facebook launches Schadenfreude button.” “Scotland not allowed to use British oxygen.” “Wood burning stove brings authenticity to middle class man’s life.” Just a few of the “stories” that The Daily Mash has broken this year.
The spoof news website is now Britain’s biggest humour website with two million unique visitors a month. Much shared by procrastinating office workers on Facebook and Twitter, their pin-sharp daily newspaper satire covers everything from politics (“Ed Miliband is unpaid intern”) to sport (“FIFA isn’t corrupt, you are, says FIFA”) and lifestyle features (“Craft ale pub has 988 very similar types of beer”).
The reason The Daily Mash works is that it skewers British newspaper journalism with just the right balance of asperity and accuracy. And the reason for that is that is staffed by a team of former newspaper journalists. Paul Stokes, a former business editor of The Scotsman set it up in 2007 with Neil Rafferty, a former political correspondent for The Sunday Times. They worked together on the short-lived Scottish newspaper Business AM in the early noughties and had become disillusioned with the press. Inspired by the success of the satirical current affairs site The Onion in America, they saw a gap in the market for online spoof news in the UK.
A story about England failing to qualify for Euro 2008 – its headline: “Scotland dies laughing” – was their first big hit. “It just went mad”, recalls Stokes. He doesn’t see The Onion as a rival. “We’re parodying the British style so we do short, funny stories that are punchy and to the point. The Onion is parodying American newspaper style so it is much more wordy and lengthy. You admire the complexity and intelligence of its stories but you don’t always laugh. Ours are 150 to 200 words maximum, all jokes.”
To start with they ran The Daily Mash like “a newspaper in a parallel universe,” says Stokes. “We’d have a morning news conference to decide on which jokes stories we wanted to run that day.” Today the site is put together virtually – Stokes is in Whitley Bay, while the editor, a former BBC journalist, Tim Telling lives in Bristol. He oversees a team of eight regular writers who are based around the country, from London to Stoke-on-Trent, and who produce around six stories a day.
“It’s comedy on an industrial scale”, says Stokes. “We’re a very old-fashioned publishing business that just happens to be on the internet.” The busiest time for the site is 9.30am “when people come into the office, switch on their computer and put off starting work”, says Stokes. There are peaks and troughs all day, until 5pm when the clicks tail off significantly. “We’ve worked out from clicks that most office workers do about an hour’s work a day,” says Stokes.
Their revenue comes from advertising and, crucially, merchandise. The Daily Mash annual, Random Acts of Foul-Mouthed Cruelty, has just been published. A compilation of the most clicked-on of the year’s stories, Psychic Bob’s astrology, problem pages and fake adverts, Stokes calls it “the Daily Mash you can read in the toilet without endangering your laptop.” It joins the annual, endearingly old-fashioned, Christmas annual rush. This year as well as Private Eye, Viz and the Beano, The Onion also enters the fray with a collection of “Iconic Covers” from its magazine.
The Daily Mash’s effort will be a popular stocking-filler, at least for one demographic. The site’s users are 70% male, mainly in their late 20s to mid 30s. “Educated, affluent, professional people”, says Stokes. “They should really be doing other things with their time.”
The Daily Mash Annual 2015: Random Acts of Foul-Mouthed Cruelty, published by Hamlyn, £10 www.octopusbooks.co.ukReuse content