The Strange History Of The Weekly World News

"The most creative newspaper in American history." 

"The Beatles of fake journalism." 

"A tabloid that screamed in joyous horror for 28 years." 

These are quotes from the Washington Post, describing the Weekly World News. For close to three decades, WWN was a staple of grocery store checkout lines, a beacon of grayscale hope in a dreary landscape, serving its piping hot, all-caps message to a public ill prepared to accept the truth, with headlines such as, "HILLARY ADOPTS ALIEN BABY!," or "SPACE PROBE FINDS DINOSAURS ON MARS!," or even "TERMITES EAT THE EIFFEL TOWER!"

If the Weekly World News ever felt like the stunted vestigial twin of more popular tabloids, there's a good reason. The publication only existed because the National Enquirer upgraded their printing press in 1979, moving from black and white to color. With the old press just sort of taking up space, The Enquirer's owner, Generoso Pope, put the old printer to work pumping out a cut-rate tabloid which, in its formative years, wasn't much different than other celebrity gossip rags. WWN's ex-editor Derek Clontz recalled in an interview with the Washington Post that "Circulation didn't top 200,000 until then-editor Joe West named my brother Eddie managing editor and gave him sweeping powers over content and presentation." The paper's new direction, from then on, was quite clear: "If we get a story about a guy who thinks he's a vampire, we will take him at his word."

The Weekly World News Lives!

During the eighties, the tabloid wrote stories around a seed of truth: I.E., someone got hit by lightning and survived? Get an interview, but maybe fudge the numbers on the estimated voltage. But as time went on, WWN slipped further and further into the soothing creative embrace of what professional writers refer to as, you know, making stuff up. "It wasn't like overnight we decided to start running fiction," writer Joe Berger told the Post. "We just added a few facts to a story and got away with it, and it went on from there."

With facts out of the way, The Weekly World News hit its stride. If journalism was the fourth estate, then WWN was the weird box of chotchkies at the fourth estate sale. The Atlantic reports that, at its peak, the paper was selling 1.2 million copies, and dyed-in-the-wool journalists were leaving their jobs to come and write stories about Bat Boy.

In 1999, a regime change brought a shift in direction. WWN's new owner brought in comedy writers to replace the old guard, and the tabloid's Zucker-esque straight-faced tone took a turn for the winkingly goofy: think The X-Files, by way of The Onion. As print media withered on the vine, so did WWN, and the final issue was published in August of 2007. But like Elvis, Bigfoot, and Hillary Clinton's love for P'Lod the alien, Weekly World News can never truly die. It's still out there, albeit in a purely digital format that doesn't leave toner all over your hands.