Everything online journalists need to protect their legal rights. This free resource culls from all Reporters Committee resources and includes exclusive content on digital media law issues.
From the Fall 2004 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 21.
Satire, caricature and parody are forms of art that rely on blurring the line between truth and outrageousness. Below are suggestions some taken from opinions in New Times v. Isaacks, decided in September by the Texas Supreme Court, and the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell of things to include to help make it unlikely that a reasonable person would believe the story to be actually true. The context of the entire story is important, so no single suggestion is guaranteed to protect from liability. It is also not necessary to include all of the suggestions below.
Use of an irreverent tone will signal that the story is not straight news.
Consider the context of the publication the story will run in, including whether the publication has a history of satire or parody. The Wall Street Journal should be more careful than Mad Magazine.
Consider the location in the publication. Is it in the news section, the opinion page or an advertisement?
Use of an unorthodox headline will alert readers from the beginning that the story is not straight news.
Unbelievable or outrageous items in the story, experts or groups with names that are ridiculous or have a silly acronym, and quotes that are unbelievable, illogical or over-the-top may all signal that a story is not stating actual facts.
Instead of using the names of actual people, consider using fictitious names that are close to or suggest real people.
In the story, consider referring to the actual incident you are parodying. Publishing the parody soon after the actual incident while it is still in the public's mind provides a clue that the story is commenting on the actual event.
Use of a disclaimer may help, but will not necessarily avoid liability, especially if in small print at the end of an otherwise believable story.