The Onion

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The Onion
TypeParody newspaper
FormatPaper, radio, and internet

OwnerOnion, Inc.
HeadquartersNew York City


The Onion is a parody newspaper published weekly in print and online. It features satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news as well as an entertainment newspaper and website known as The A.V. Club.

The Onion's articles comment on current events, both real and imagined. It parodies traditional newspaper features, such as editorials, man-on-the-street interviews, and stock quotes, as well as traditional newspaper layout and dry, AP-style editorial voice.

A second part of the newspaper is a non-satirical — but still humorous — entertainment section called The A.V. Club that features interviews and reviews of various newly-released media, and other weekly features. The print edition also contains previews of upcoming live entertainment specific to cities where a print edition is published. The online incarnation of The A.V. Club has its own domain, includes its own regular features (including the syndicated weekly sex advice column Savage Love), A.V. Club blogs and reader forums, and presents itself as a separate entity from The Onion itself.


[edit] History

The Onion was founded in 1988 and originally published in Madison, Wisconsin by two juniors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson; they sold it to colleagues the following year. The Onion's success was limited to the Madison and Milwaukee areas until it began its website in 1996. In 2000 as the publication had broken through to the mass market, The Onion was approached by Comedy Central for a buyout that would broaden the scope and reach of The Onion's brand of satire into other forms of media. While the editorial staff was enthusiastic about the move, the deal was ultimately scuttled by then-owner Peter Haise when his negotiations with Comedy Central fell flat and alienated Comedy Central's management. Despondent over the botched deal, the editorial staff threatened to leave en masse for New York City with or without The Onion affiliation. In a compromise motivated to keep the company alive, in early 2001 the company relocated its offices to New York City.

The paper's founders went on to become publishers of other alternative weeklies: Keck of the Seattle weekly The Stranger and Johnson of Albuquerque's Weekly Alibi.

[edit] Distribution

The Onion's printed edition is distributed free in Madison, Milwaukee, New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver/Boulder, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, and sold in bookstores worldwide, including the United Kingdom. The print edition is available by mail through paid subscription.

[edit] Regular features

Regular features of The Onion include:

  • "STATshot", an illustrated statistical snapshot which parodies "USA Today Snapshots"
  • The "Infograph" (a.k.a. "Infographic"), with a bulleted list of items on a theme.
  • Point-Counterpoint
  • Guest opinion pieces and regular columnists
  • Cynical horoscopes
  • "The ONION in History": a front page produced in the look of newspapers of an earlier era, from the book "Our Dumb Century"
  • "In the News" photograph and caption with no accompanying story (such as "Frederick's of Anchorage Debuts Crotchless Long Underwear", "National Association Advances Colored Person", and "Owls are Assholes")
  • "American Voices" (formerly called "What Do You Think?"), a mock vox pop survey on a topical current event. There are six respondents for each topic who seem to have been chosen intentionally to represent a diverse selection of ages, races, and socio-economic classes. Although their names and professions change every week, photos of the same six people are always used. One of them is often described as a systems analyst.
  • A deliberately inane, preachy and melodramatic editorial cartoon, which began running on October 5, 2006 and is updated once a week. The cartoon is drawn by "Kelly", who draws himself at the bottom right corner of each strip, spouting a small extra comment to add to the conservative message of each cartoon. To add to the melodrama, a weeping Statue of Liberty is frequently depicted in the background of the cartoon.

The website was redesigned in 2005:

  • All archives were made free, and Onion Premium, a failed attempt at a paid-subscriber model section of the site, was discontinued.
  • "What Do You Think?" became "American Voices," with the question updated daily, and only three responders for each question
  • "In the News" was retitled "From the Print Edition"
  • The Onion began publishing web-only content on a daily basis, such as a daily fictional stock market analysis titled "Stock Watch" (one of which appears in the print edition every week), a web opinion poll titled "QuickPoll" (since discontinued), "National News Highlights" of three regional stories, The Onion Weekender (a parody of Parade Magazine) and The Onion Magazine (a parody of The New York Times Magazine), and The President's Weekly Radio Address.
  • The nationally syndicated Onion Radio News, a brief audio clip read by anchor Doyle Redland, became a daily feature. In early 2006, Onion Radio News podcast was launched, and quickly shot to #1 on the iTunes list of top podcasts.
  • A sports section was introduced, having archival material from old issues in addition to new articles (such as "Matt Leinart Wins Beauty Portion of 2006 NFL Draft") and rotating headlines such as "New York Rangers Honor Proud Madison Square Garden Tradition by Losing".

The Onion website is updated every day, most significantly on Tuesday afternoons, and The Onion newspaper is distributed on Wednesdays.

[edit] Reporters and editors

The Onion's fictional editor is T. Herman Zweibel (Zwiebel is German for onion), who has "held the position since 1901" and is rather insane; the real editor is currently Scott Dikkers, the managing editor is Peter Koechley, and the current writing staff comprises Dan Guterman, Mike DiCenzo, Todd Hanson, Maria Schneider, John Krewson, Joe Garden, and Chris Karwowski, as well as the graphics work of Mike Loew and Chad Nackers. Past writers have included Max Cannon, Tom Scharpling, Amie Barrodale, Rich Dahm, Tim Harrod, Janet Ginsburg, David Javerbaum, Ben Karlin, Carol Kolb, Robert Siegel and Jack Szwergold. The Onion does not accept unsolicited freelance contributions.

The Onion publishes several columns by (fictional) regular and guest writers. The regular contributors include:

[edit] Film

In 2004, Fox Searchlight Pictures was onboard to release a movie written by The Onion staff. Tentatively titled The Untitled Onion Movie, it was to be directed by music video directors Tom Kuntz and Mike Maguire and written by then Onion editor Robert Siegel and writer Todd Hanson. After delays and middling previews to test audiences, the film was shelved and eventually dropped by Fox. At some point in the process, directors Tom Kuntz and Mike Maguire and writer Robert Siegel walked away from the project.

In 2006, New Regency Productions took over the production of the troubled project. As of 2006 the film's fate is still in limbo with studio heads still at odds with current Onion management as to what to do with the film. No new director has been named to helm the project and Mr. Show star Scott Aukerman has been recruited to help rescue the project. Reportedly the studio would like to keep one hour of already completed footage in the final film and film new material to flesh it out, while current Onion management is rumored to be leaning towards scrapping all shot footage and starting from scratch.

[edit] September 11, 2001 coverage

Image:Attack on america big.jpg
The Onion's graphic for its coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The Onion reported on the September 11, 2001 attacks in its issue #37·34, less than two weeks following the attacks, in one of the earliest satirical reactions to the events and their aftermath. One headline was Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell, followed by a story containing the September 11th hijackers' reactions to waking up in Hell rather than in Paradise surrounded by virgins. Other headlines read God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule, and Massive Attack On Pentagon Page 14 News.

As always, there were some headlines with more specific political content, such as Arab-American Third-Grader Returns From Recess Crying, Saying He Didn't Kill Anyone, referring to the post-9/11 incidents of harassment and violence against people perceived to be of Arab descent, and U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With, which can be read as implying some reproach to U.S. intelligence and/or foreign policy analysis capabilities. Even with substantial creative control, the wounds were too raw for some material. In an interview with Newsweek, Onion editor Robert Siegel said the one-liner, “America Stronger Than Ever, Say Quadragon Officials,” had to be nixed because it was too callous.

[edit] The Onion taken seriously

Upon occasion the straight-faced manner in which The Onion reports non-existent happenings has resulted in outside parties mistakenly citing Onion stories as real news.

  • An article on Harry Potter inciting kids to practice witchcraft was believed by many to be real and was forwarded by many "concerned Christians."[1] Columnist Ellen Makkai and others who believe the Harry Potter books "recruit" children to Satanism have also been taken in by the article (ignoring the irony of its quoting a Satanist as using the word "godsend"), using quotes from it as "evidence" for their claims. [2]
  • The Danish television station TV 2 posted a story [3] that took the Onion article titled Sean Penn Demands To Know What Asshole Took SeanPenn@ [4] seriously.
  • Occasionally The Onion runs articles that are almost entirely factually true, conveying the satirical implication that the real-life event is more bizarre or ridiculous than anything The Onion could have invented. For example, shortly after actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California in 2003, The Onion ran a story covering the election win. The article characterized the news event as a legitimate reporter might; the only fabricated portions were quotes from the new governor and others. [5]
  • An article of The Onion called Hamas Calls For 'Giant Summit' With All Israelis [6] (published February 15, 2006) was, by chance, very similar to an Haaretz (Israeli newspaper) item about Hamas offering a big 'once and for all' truce with Israelis, published March 2006.

[edit] Influences

In 1978 National Lampoon released the book National Lampoon's Sunday Newspaper Parody which was edited by P.J. O'Rourke and John Hughes. The book was an issue of the fictional "Dacron (Ohio) Republican-Democrat," a tabloid style newspaper. ("Dacron" is a frequently occurring fake city used by National Lampoon; for instance, it was also the setting for their famous Yearbook spoof.) The paper contained all the usual sections found in most major newspapers (classified ads, Sunday magazines, sports, local news, comics) satirized with the anarchistic Lampoon sense of humor. While it is unknown if this book directly inspired/influenced The Onion's founders, it certainly shares similarities. Also, the National Lampoon crew has had a lasting influence on most American humorists, so it is not unlikely that The Onion's founders and staff had been influenced by them (considering that National Lampoon grew out of the college humor publication Harvard Lampoon and that The Onion also began as a college humor magazine.) Another popular send-up of the news that pre-dates The Onion is the "Weekend Update" segment on Saturday Night Live.

[edit] Presidential Seal controversy

In September 2005, the assistant counsel to President George W. Bush, Grant M. Dixton, wrote a cease-and-desist letter to The Onion, asking the paper to stop using the presidential seal, which is used in an online segment poking fun at the President through parodies of his weekly radio address. The law governing the Presidential Seal is contained in TITLE 18, 713 and contains the section:

Whoever knowingly displays any printed or other likeness of the great seal of the United States, or of the seals of the President or the Vice President of the United States, or the seal of the United States Senate, or the seal of the United States House of Representatives, or the seal of the United States Congress, or any facsimile thereof, in, or in connection with, any advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both. (emphasis added)

This section would seem to allow the use of the presidential seal by The Onion. However, by Executive Order, President Richard Nixon specifically enumerated the allowed uses of the Presidential Seal which is more restrictive than the above title (Ex. Ord. No. 11649), but which allows for exceptions to be granted upon formal request.

The Onion has responded with a letter asking for formal use of the Seal in accordance with the Executive Order, while still declaring that the use is legitimate under Title 18, 713.

The letter written by Rochelle H. Klaskin, The Onion's lawyer, is quoted in the New York Times as saying "It is inconceivable that anyone would think that, by using the seal, The Onion intends to 'convey... sponsorship or approval' by the president," referring to Title 18, 713, but then went on to ask that the letter be considered a formal application asking for permission to use the seal.

[edit] References to The Onion in other media

  • Family Guy episode Saving Private Brian mentions The Onion
  • Frank Rich has made several references to The Onion in his column in The New York Times.
  • Christopher Hitchens has referred to The Onion in Slate.
  • MAD Magazine ran a parody of The Onion called "The Bunion" in one issue.
  • A group of students at The College of William and Mary's Marshall-Wythe School of Law published a satirical legal magazine entitled The Radish from 2003-2004, similar in style to The Onion.
  • A group of students at Durham University, England produced 36 online issues of The Durham Shallot, a satirical magazine similar in appearance and in humorous approach to (and explicitly produced as a tribute to) The Onion. The last edition was in 2002, but all issues remain online [7].
  • A group of students at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts, published a satirical newspaper in the style of The Onion, called The Scallion, from 2003-2004. Highly popular its first year, the knock-off has been published sparsely since its founders graduated.
  • Students at Clemson University regularly produce an online satirical publication titled The Almond.
  • An article from The Onion appeared on the 2005 Advanced Placement English Language and Composition test, in which students were asked to write an essay analyzing its use of satire. [8]
  • The Wall Street Journal's editorial web site [9] frequently mentions news reports under the heading "Life Imitates the Onion". An example can be seen here.

[edit] Books

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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[edit] External links

[edit] Notable articles

The Onion

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