Is weird news dumbing us down or engaging us?
Samples included

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Has the world gone crazy, or does the preponderance of strange stories on social media and tabloid-style websites just make it seem that way? Is all the weird stuff drawing attention from important stories?

The answer to both questions is “no,” according to the experts. Readers still pay heed to serious news even as they seek out the lighter stuff, according to a new report by the Media Insight Project. The report’s conclusions burst the myth of the media “bubble” — the notion that no one pays attention to anything beyond a limited sphere of interest, like celebrities or college hoops or Facebook posts.

“This idea that somehow we’re all going down narrow paths of interest and that many people are just sort of amusing themselves to death and not interested in the news and the world around them? That is not the case,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, which teamed with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research on the project.

Katy Culver, associate director of UW-Madison’s Center for Journalism Ethics, says people are more engaged in exchanging information than ever before.

“There’s always going to be prurient interest,” Culver adds. “We all care about things that are unusual. We’ve always told these stories — not on Facebook or Twitter but over the back fence.”

Culver says she’s more concerned about the growing polarization of journalism and the magnitude of information people are exposed to today. She fears the “very fragmented” and “frenetic” environment of the Web might cause reader comprehension to fall as people are bombarded with so much information and not enough time to absorb it.

“There’s value in humor — value in our need to be entertained,” she says. “I would be much more worried about things like Fark if The New York Times stopped reporting on the NSA.” Fark.com is a veritable wiki of the weird.

In our nod to interest in the bizarre, every issue of Wisconsin Gazette includes a feature called WiGWAG, which we subtitle as “news with a twist.” It’s a collection of snapshot stories from a wide variety of sources that have amused us over the previous two weeks. Some of these items are what Culver refers to as “click stories” — articles designed to draw Web surfers to a particular website.

Of course, many of the most outrageous stories circulated on the Web are fabricated. For instance, the intentionally bogus World News Daily Report recently featured a story about a fossilized dinosaur egg that mysteriously hatched in a Berlin museum after being exposed to the heat from a malfunctioning boiler. Another WNDR story ran under the headline: “Femen activists accused of stealing Putin’s sperm.”

In their zeal to get a click or be the first to report a catchy item, mainstream news sources sometimes report the fake stories as real; later, they have to suffer the embarrassment of issuing a retraction.

Our goal with WiGWAG is to give snippets of real stories that strike us as either ironic, LOL funny or just plain outrageous. We find many of them are just as revealing about our culture and politics as our more in-depth reporting.

So, since April Fool’s Day is observed while this issue is being distributed, and since we have the approval of a journalism ethicist, we decided to go all-out in this issue and indulge our funny bone. We hope the following oddities tickle yours as well.

Solidarity?

The owners of a Wichita, Kan., Subaru dealership found a less draconian way to deal with unions than Gov. Scott Walker did. When the dealership’s workers went on strike, holding a giant sign in front of the business that said, “Shame On You, Subaru of Wichita,” their managers saw an opportunity. They placed workers next to the protesters holding a sign of the same size and font that added, “For Having Unbeatable Prices.”

Green begets green

During the first month of recreational marijuana sales, Colorado’s licensed dispensaries generated more than $14 million, putting about $2 million of tax revenue into state coffers in the process. The medical marijuana sales for January generated an additional $900,000 in sales tax, for a total of $2.9 million. Including fees, the figure jumps to $3.5 million. In other words, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could easily balance the budget for real, instead of just moving the debt to another year and pretending. It’s not like half the Wisconsin population isn’t already high as a kite.

Pregnancy test saves man’s life

When a man discovered one of his ex-girlfriend’s pregnancy tests in his cabinet, he decided to take it. That test may have saved his life. When the test proved positive, he posted the results on Facebook as a joke. But one of his more medically savvy Facebook friends responded, “If this is true, you should check yourself for testicular cancer. Seriously. Google it.” He took the advice and saw a doctor, who detected a small tumor in his right testicle. The joke may well have saved his life.

Lip balm frenzy

One of Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres’ comedy bits was soliciting money from the celebrity audience to help pay a pizza delivery man. But when best supporting actress winner Lupita Nyong’o reached into her clutch for money, she started a retail frenzy by accidentally dropping a blue-and-white tube of Clarins HydraQuench lip balm into the collection hat. Suddenly the hashtag “lupitaslipbalm” started appearing everywhere, sending sales of the French beauty brand soaring. According to a Clarins press release, the HydraQuench lip balm “almost sold out across the country over night.”

Ahh, liberal Hollywood

Public Policy Polling takes the pulse of America on a wide range of issues. After “the academy” awarded the best picture Oscar to 12 Years a Slave, the left-leaning firm turned to the voters and found that 52 percent had no opinion about the selection — no thumbs-up, no thumbs-down.

But among those who cared about the honor going to 12 Years a Slave, there was a partisan divide. Democrats liked the selection. Republicans did not.

Drunk as a dog

A Maltese terrier who lives in Australia celebrated St. Patrick’s Day early. Charlie was saved from certain death during the first weekend in March after veterinarians got him drunk on vodka. He’d arrived at the Animal Accident & Emergency in Melbourne after lapping up the sweet liquid used in car radiators and brake fluids and developing ethylene glycol poisoning. That compound causes kidney failure when ingested. The only antidote available in Australia is alcohol, which alters the chemical reaction and stops the process. Charlie had a tube placed through his nose to his stomach and, over about 48 hours, was given successive doses of vodka. Charlie’s owner said the pooch was falling down drunk and vomiting, but fortunately survived. We wish Charlie the best and hope he didn’t consume Russian vodka.

Trip from Wal-Mart

Tampa police are investigating a report from a Florida family — a man, his girlfriend and her two daughters — who said they were sickened after eating a bottom round steak from Wal-Mart laced with LSD.

Authorities said the entire family, including the pregnant girlfriend, went to the hospital after eating the tainted meat. Doctors induced labor and the woman gave birth to a healthy boy.

The incident fueled a series of online and water-cooler discussions: Doesn’t LSD lose its oomph when cooked? Is that what’s up with the smiley face? Why are people still patronizing Wal-Mart? And What Would PETA Say?

Upskirt photos pass legal muster

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court dismissed charges against Michael Robertson, who was arrested by Boston transit police for taking upskirt photos and videos on the subway. According to the justices, the law only protects women from being photographed when they are naked in dressing rooms or bathrooms. “A female passenger on a MBTA trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not ‘partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing,” the court wrote.

Wardrobe malfunction

After her recent Milwaukee performance, Miley Cyrus took to Twitter to admit to her fans that she’d been unable to complete one of her costume changes in time and had to run out onstage in her undies when her next song began to play. Of course, no one noticed. The only thing that was missing from her get-up was a pair of cutout chaps.

We’ll stay with Facebook

The Urban Institute recently released a report claiming that MySpace is one of the busiest sites online for pimps and prostitutes. The study relied on interviews with pimps, traffickers, sex workers, child pornographers, and law enforcement officers in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, and, of course, Washington, D.C. (see Netflix’s House of Cards).

Give back the ruby slippers

A woman, presumed to be a wicked witch, swiped a replica of the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz that were on display in the lobby of a Staten Island hotel. A security camera in the hotel caught the thief red-handed snatching the $2,000 pumps, but she’s yet to be found. We suggest sending out the flying monkeys.

To serve and to protect

A German court recently said the Berlin police department cannot keep a prospective recruit off the force just because she’s had breast implants.

The woman tried to join the force in 2012 but was rejected. She was told that she couldn’t be hired because her breast implants prevented her from wearing a protective vest or riot gear.

So the woman went to court, where a doctor testified on her behalf, saying the protective gear would not cause greater health problems than it causes women who don’t undergo such procedures.

In the translation

We at WiGWAG walked out of the theater after seeing American Hustle and couldn’t stop talking up actress Jennifer Lawrence and her portrayal of Rosalyn, “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.”

We even sent friends to see the film, which is titled American Dream in Israel, American Bluff in France, Great American Scam in Spain and Trickster in Turkey.

Hollywood hits get shown on screens around the world, but not under the Hollywood titles.

In Turkey, Erin Brockovich was Sweet Trouble.

In China, The Full Monty was Six Naked Pigs.

In France, The Hangover was Very Bad Trip.

And in Germany, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall was The Urban Neurotic.

Bachmann: Kochs level playing field

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., went to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. — well attended by high-heeled, suited and moneyed Republicans — and complained that liberals get all the money.

“So I just thank God that there’s a billionaire or two on our side,” Bachmann said during an interview at the conference.

“All the billionaires seem to be on the radical left, so I’m glad that we have a couple on ours,” she said, with a nod to the Koch brothers.

Bachmann said she thinks rich conservatives would give more if they weren’t intimidated, especially by gay bullies.

And yes, WiGWAG is wondering if she dined on bottom round steak from Wal-Mart before the interview.

Waking to a whiff

Oscar Mayer announced in March that it has created a bacon-scented iPhone app. The Madison-based company says its Institute for the Advancement of Bacon built the app, which produces the sound of bacon sizzling in the pan and, with a device that plugs into the phone’s headphone jack, emits a scent of bacon.

Naughty in Nottinghamshire

The British tabloids report that the parish council in Gotham has had it with Batman fans swiping the village’s signs for souvenirs.

Three times in four years the “Gotham” sign along the road to the village has been stolen in the dark of night.

The theory is that the thieves are Batman fans, not jokers. “I think it is people taking them as souvenirs or collecting memorabilia — but it is infuriating,” said parish council chairman Mike Shepard. “We are now sign-less on that road into the village.”

Some in the village have suggested adding a pronunciation to the sign — it’s “goat-em” not “goth-am.”

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