Sam Emmerson was on her way out the door when she spotted a headline on Twitter that gave her a start.
The offending tweet suggested a new City of Hamilton policy would require the citizens to shovel the snow in front of their houses by themselves.
“I was reading this and thinking, 'Oh, my God, are you kidding me?' ” says Emmerson, who works for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
She messaged the author of the tweet, who stood firm behind its authenticity, then — just doing her civic duty — shared the link Twitter-savvy city councillors Jason Farr and Sam Merulla
It wasn't until later that another user let her in on the joke: The story was a gag.
Hammerton (not his real name. Did you figure that part out yet?) started the project in mid-December. Though his blog has been called the Hamilton version of the fake news site The Onion, the McMaster alum derived inspiration for Hammer in the News from the CBC Radio One satire program This is That.
“I'd heard it maybe a year before, and it tricked me the one time,” the 29-year-old, who works as a business analyst, recalls.
“I was in the car and I thought, 'This can't be true.' And then it didn't register until mid-December. I listened to it again and I thought, 'You know, it'd be perfect for Hamilton to do like a Twitter handle and just pump out fake news headlines.' ”
And pump them out he has, sometimes in the dozens per day, many with links to posts on his blog. (The website, it should be noted, a crude design and hardly resembles anything that a professional new organization would put out. For example, Hammerton drew the page's logo with a magic marker.)
One of the more outlandish stories he's concocted involves a horse named Snuffles that saved a statue of Queen Victoria in Gore Park from getting beheaded.
And who could forget that gem about the proposal to surround the Royal Connaught in a steel case.
But some of his other stories bear more believability, especially those that riff on real Hamilton headlines. (Truth can be stranger than fiction, so they say.)
“The easiest ones are the stories around issues at City Hall right now — snow removal, demolition of buildings, stuff that people are pissed off about at the moment. Because those ones get the most reaction.”
Such headlines also inspire the most kneejerk responses, he says, especially when consumed in a hurry through Twitter.
“That's the beauty of Twitter. Users instantly respond without fact-checking.”
Hammerton says that by earlier January, his blog was getting about 1000 hits per day, up from dozens only weeks before. He's signed up to take a web development course so he can give his site a more sleek-looking (and hence, more convincing) appearance.
He's told close family and friends about the venture, adding they've been very supportive.
“They've said it makes sense. They've said it's a good outlet for me because I take on projects.”
And that's how he characterizes Hammer in the News — as a hobby, not a venue for enlightened social commentary.
“I'm happy when issues come out and I can contribute in an indirect way. I'm getting more knowledgeable about things that are happening in Hamilton.
“But I didn't do it to benefit society,” he chuckles. “I do it because I'm bored and because it's funny.”