Next time you're pushing a shopping cart through the checkout line at the supermarket, you might notice an old friend is missing. Remember the Weekly World News with its screaming headlines that brought a wry smile to your face?
"SANTA FOUND FROZEN IN CHUNKS OF ICE"
"100'S OF FISH WITH HUMAN LEGS WASH UP ON FRENCH RIVIERA"
"ELVIS IS ALIVE!"
For 28 years the nation turned to the pages of the Weekly World News for titillating tales of the bizarre and the wondrously wacky. Now the publication, headquartered in Florida, is closing its doors.
We brought together three veteran staffers who worked at WWN during the best of those years. Sal Ivone gave up writing news for the New York Daily News to write from an alternate universe at the Weekly World News.
"It was a creative cauldron," said Ivone. "Being part of a team that … basically reinvented the universe every week."
Joe Berger abandoned a career as a reporter in Washington, spending 20 doing fake news.
"It was one of the greatest work experiences of my life," he said. "It was every reporter's dream job. It was a fun job. It was a kind of job where you could go and relax, and you were working with people who were smart and bright. … There were days we would go to work and laugh and laugh and laugh."
The third member of the publication team was musician-turned-writer Bob Lind.
"I wrote, made up stories and had a wonderful time," he said with a wry smile. "There were days when I'd leave that newsroom and my face hurt and my stomach would hurt because I was around funny people."
The paper was brought to you by the same company that publishes the all-knowing National Enquirer.
It wasn't printed in color, but it never lacked it. And at its peak in the 1990s it had a large and loyal readership, selling more than 1 million copies a week.
"When we thought about our audience," said Ivone, "it was a woman. … She's doing her laundry in the laundromat. She's got a little bit of time to kill. She has 50 cents in her pocket. She just bought her kids a snack and she's bought herself a treat. And she wants a few laughs and she wants to be delighted. She wants to be transported."
"There was a whole cult in college who would buy the paper," said Lind. "One person would buy the paper. He would bring it to the dorm. Everybody would read it."
WWN may have looked like a publication assembled by crazed amateurs, but talk to these guys and it's clear that nothing in its zany pages was mere accident or buffoonery. There was method in their madness as they reported on the wanderings of Bigfoot and the latest sighting of Elvis.
"We wanted to make sure that … we didn't push it so far that the reader couldn't possibly believe it," Berger said.
But with headlines speculating on vampire sightings or the existence of two-headed zebras — who could possibly believe that?
"We had a zoologist saying that, that it was possible," said Berger with a blank face that conceals a mischievous smile. "He would explain how this was possible. We'd 'find' a scientist somewhere who would explain that it was a mutation and — and, of course, there could be a two-headed zebra."
Berger says the publication made efforts to "find" a scientist or an expert to support its stories. His playful tone makes it very clear that in the WWN newsroom there was no difference between "finding" and "fabricating." And no apologies either.