Rock City Times’ satirical story of the 5-year-old Rock Springs (Drew County) girl who broke the world record for the largest deer ever killed on the opening day of deer season sparked a 639-comment internet debate. If you believed the the story, don’t feel too bad. Many people did.
They also believed the stories about the arrest of two Little Rock weathermen who got into a fight about a rain forecast, the angry mother of twins who threw flaming diapers at late night fireworks shooters, Walmart’s plans to install surface-to-air missiles on store rooftops to shoot down Amazon drones, last week’s arrest of 876 people in El Dorado after a fight broke out over the last loaf of bread in Arkansas, and the man who lapsed into a coma after eating 413 Red Lobster biscuits.
These stories are the brain-children of Greg Henderson, the man behind Rock City Times, a satirical Arkansas news site that bills itself as “Arkansas’ 2nd most unreliable news source.” The first, he says, is subjective. “I like to let people decide who they think is the most unreliable news source,” Henderson said. “I am just happy being #2.”
Henderson, who works full time for a company that builds publication websites, has always loved satire and thought it would be fun to do something that was satire but set up like a local or state daily paper. The result was Rock City Times, a project that he admits has grown bigger and faster than he expected.
He actually started the site in 2012 but wrote for only a month or so before picking it up again in March 2013.
It was in March that he got his first “decent sized story” in terms of page views and popularity. It was the story of the homeless advocate arrested for failure to properly mistreat the homeless.
“I ended up doing my first TV interview over it,” Henderson said. “I got around 2,500 views that month and I honestly thought that was probably as big as this thing will ever get.”
He was wrong.
Today, articles on Rock City Times average about 15,000 page views and the site should clear 3 million views by the end of the year. He has been interviewed or mentioned by just about every major media outlet in the United States and a number of highly prestigious international publications.
“Every now and then I step back from it and I am completely blown away by what has happened,” he said.
Like stories from The Onion, some of Rock City Times’ stories are reposted by mainstream media as real news stories.
“The Red Lobster biscuit story is probably the craziest in terms of this,” Henderson said. “The story did fairly well, then got reposted as true by a major British tabloid. It made the rounds internationally as true. Then the story ended up being more about the tabloids not checking their sources than anything else.”
Henderson, who has a political science degree from Ouachita Baptist University and master’s degree in applied communications from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, lives in Little Rock with his wife, the former Brandie Free.
Brandie, a graduate of Drew Central High School and the University of Arkansas at Monticello, grew up in Rock Springs. She was the inspiration for the Rock Springs deer story.
“I had planned on something to start off deer season,” Henderson said. “My inlaws have a deer camp in Rock Springs that they run every year, so I thought it would be fun to set the story there. My wife has told me stories about how she would always go out with her grandfather hunting every year (and he) would fall asleep while hunting. It set a good part of the back story for that article.”
Henderson says more people are beginning to realize the stories are satire.
“It is shifting,” he said. “It seems like more and more people get it now. Some posts lend themselves to being understood better. I would say 90 percent of the people got the Walmart missile story. The people who do believe it, or do not understand it and question authenticity, seem to be the most vocal on the comments. I would say though that over half the people understand what is going on.”
Henderson is currently working on a content partnership that he believes will further establish Rock City Times as a primary (faux) media source.
“In July, I formed an LLC, Rock City Interactive, to be an interactive publishing group that RCT is under,” he said. “I really want to continue to grow RCT, in fact I am working on a content partnership or two that I think could help establish it even more as a primary media source (although fake) in the state and hopefully across the country.”
Next year, he hopes to release another successful publication under Rock City Interactive. “I am working on a non-satire business publication that I think could be successful,” he said.