The Onion

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The Onion
Type Parody newspaper
Format Tabloid
Owner Onion, Inc.
Editor Joe Randazzo[1]
Founded 1988
Headquarters 212 W. Superior St.
Chicago, Illinois 60610
United States
Circulation 690,000[2]
Onion, Inc.
Founded Madison, Wisconsin, USA 1988 (1988)
Founder(s) Tim Keck
Christopher Johnson
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois, USA
Key people Sean Mills (President), Mike McAvoy (CFO)[3]
Industry Publishing
Products The Onion newspaper, radio, video, books; The A.V. Club
Employees 160[1]

The Onion is a Peabody Award-winning American "fake news" organization. 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. It claims a national print circulation of 690,000 and says 61 percent of its web site readers are between 18 and 44 years old.[2]

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 AP-style editorial voice. Much of its humor depends on presenting everyday events as newsworthy items, and by playing on commonly used phrases, as in the headline "Drugs Win Drug War."

A second part of the newspaper is a non-satirical 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 restaurant reviews and 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's office in New York City.
The Boulder, Colorado office on 'The Hill'.

Two juniors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson, founded The Onion (originally published in Madison, Wisconsin) in 1988; the following year, they sold it to Scott Dikkers and Peter Haise, for less than $20,000 ($16,000, according to the Washington Post[1]; a 2003 Business 2.0 article reported the figure was $19,000[4]). Reportedly, it was Chris Johnson's uncle, Wm. Nels Johnson, who came up with the idea to name the paper The Onion.[5] "People always ask questions about where the name The Onion came from," said President Sean Mills in an interview with Wikinews, "and when I recently asked Tim Keck, who was one of the founders, he told me...literally that his uncle said he should call it The Onion when he saw him and Chris Johnson eating an onion sandwich. They had literally just cut up the onion and put it on bread." According to editorial manager, Chet Clem, their food budget was so low when they started the paper that they were down to white bread and onions.[6]

The Onion was at first a success in only a limited number of cities and towns, notably those with major universities (e.g. Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boulder). Originally the entire bottom two inches of the paper could be cut off for coupons to local Madison establishments, such as inexpensive student-centered eateries and Four Star Video Heaven.

The creation of its website in 1996 allowed it to receive national attention. 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. In early 2001, the company relocated its offices to New York City. Nevertheless, the paper continues to make occasional Madison references, placing odd stories in surrounding towns or running photographs of local landmarks to illustrate stories set elsewhere. In April 2007, The Onion launched 'The Onion News Network,' a web video send up of 24 hour TV news.

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.

In April 2009, The Onion was awarded a Peabody Award which noted that "the satirical tabloid's online send-up of 24-hour cable-TV news was hilarious, trenchant and not infrequently hard to distinguish from the real thing."[7]

[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 Washington, D.C.[2] It is also sold in bookstores worldwide, including the United Kingdom, and is available by mail through paid subscription.

[edit] Regular features

Editorial Manager Chet Clem and President Sean Mills.

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
  • Bizarre 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 populi survey on a topical current event. There are three 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 daily, photos of the same six people are always used. One of them is often described as a systems analyst.
  • An editorial cartoon drawn by "Kelly" (a pseudonym of Ward Sutton[8]). The comic–the most controversial feature in The Onion[6]–is a parody of conservative cartoons. Roughly half of the cartoons feature the Statue of Liberty, usually shedding a single tear.

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 every weekday, and only three responders for each question, instead of six
  • "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 cover of 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 Wednesday afternoons, and The Onion newspaper is distributed on Thursdays.

A genuine Personals service is also offered by the Website.

[edit] Reporters and editors

With the recent departure of Scott Dikkers as editor-in-chief, there is no current editor-in-chief at The Onion. The current associate editor of The Onion is Joe Randazzo, and the writing staff comprises Megan Ganz, Joe Garden, Dan Guterman, Todd Hanson, John Harris, Chris Karwowski, John Krewson, Chad Nackers, and Seth Reiss. Past writers have included Mark Banker, Max Cannon, Amie Barrodale, Rich Dahm, Janet Ginsburg, Tim Harrod, David Javerbaum, Ben Karlin, Peter Koechley, Carol Kolb, Tom Scharpling, Maria Schneider, Robert Siegel and Jack Szwergold. Michael Faisca and Nick Gallo are the graphic editors. The Onion does not accept unsolicited freelance contributions. The Onion News Network is produced by Will Graham and Julie Smith and the head writer is former Onion editor Carol Kolb.

[edit] The Onion News Network

In March 2007, The Onion launched The Onion News Network, a daily web video broadcast that had been in production since sometime in mid-2006, with a story about an illegal immigrant taking an executive's $800,000 a year job for $600,000 a year. The Onion has reportedly invested about $1 million in the production and has hired 15 new staffers to focus on the production of this video broadcast.[9] Carol Kolb, former editor-in-chief of The Onion, is the ONN's head writer. On February 3, 2009 The Onion launched a spin-off of the ONN, the Onion Sports Network.

In a Wikinews interview in November 2007, Onion President Sean Mills said the ONN has been a huge hit. "We get over a million downloads a week, which makes it one of the more successful produced-for-the-Internet videos," said Mills. "If we’re not the most successful, we’re one of the most. It is a 24 hour news network. We have a new show that is part of the platform, but we also have a Sunday morning talk show that’s called In The Know and we just launched a morning show this last week called Today Now. It has been really exciting; we’ll have some new shows, show some archive footage and do some more in sports over the next year."[6]

[edit] Onion News Network continuing series

To further invoke the atmosphere of a 24-hour network, The Onion News Network video series includes a number of items lifted from what are ostensibly ONN news shows and continuing reports:

  • Today Now!: TN is a parody of morning lifestyle and news programs such as NBC's The Today Show and ABC's Good Morning America. Hosted by Jim Haggerty (in actuality, former New York City TV anchor Brad Holbrook) and Tracy Gill, the style is typical of the breezy, cheerful, earnestly sincere style usually found in morning network television shows, with the presenters usually either uncritical or completely oblivious to the subject matter presented, aiming instead to delve into every nuance of a story regardless of the absurdness or relative appropriateness of the subject (e.g., Haggerty's earnest question about whether or not Chef Adam Scott's dream omelet recipe (literally an omelet made from a recipe that came to him in a dream) requires strictly a metal shoe-horn to measure the butter into the pan, or Tracy Gill's seemingly complete unawareness of her own life history in conversation with the biographer who wrote it). TN is the only ONN show with a scheduled time: weekdays, 7-9 am.
  • In The Know with Clifford Banes: A parody of Sunday morning pundit shows, ITK is hosted by Clifford Banes, who never actually appears on his own program due to a continuous succession of absurd or improbable circumstances, and is led by a guest host (apparently from another ONN commentary program) who explains why Mr. Banes cannot attend (e.g., in this one, guest host Gregory Dawson, of the notional ONN program The Dawson Angle, explains the host is absent because he is currently "plummeting toward Earth at ninety-three miles an hour"). An Onion-style current political event is examined earnestly by ITK's pundit panel from every angle regardless of how odd it might seem.
  • War For The White House: ONN's continuing coverage of Election '08, opening with a dramatic video apparently depicting Air Force One and a squadron of fighter planes seemingly attacking the White House, mocking the intense, over-the-top style that seems to have become typical in straight news coverage. Notable for its consistent use of military terminology (e.g. "Election Analysis Bunker") and deadpan style.
  • ONN-International: A parody of CNN-International, ONNI debuted November 2008. Boasting coverage in 152 languages over 811 countries and with 9 Billion viewers, ONN-International presents news from around the world in the signature Onion style. Amongst the stories presented have been an essay by "China's Andy Rooney", an avuncular Chinese commentator delivering witty, obviously Government-vetted observations in a dead-on Andy Rooney style, and a report from Bangladesh which touts the new "SmartStitch" machine, which will enable owners to essentially take their sweatshop home with them, working up to 22 hours a day.
  • OSN: A reference to ESPN, OSN usually features clips from SportsDome, itself a parody of SportsCenter. The clips usually focus on specific parodies of SportsCenter segments such as the Budweiser Hot Seat, which becomes The Steam Room on OSN. Hosts present in the jocular style synonymous with ESPN and sportscasters on sets that are near-identical knockoffs of the SportsCenter studios.

Each item is capped off by a "Later this hour" or "Coming up next" teaser featuring a headline joke in the usual Onion style, with the news reports also having a crawl in the lower-third similarly filled with joke headlines

[edit] Film

The Onion Movie is a direct-to-video film written by then-Onion editor Robert Siegel and writer Todd Hanson and directed by music video directors Tom Kuntz and Mike Maguire.[10]

Created in 2003, Fox Searchlight Pictures was on board to release the movie, originally called The Untitled Onion Movie, but 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. After two years of being in limbo, the film was released on DVD on June 3, 2008. It is now credited as being directed by James Kleiner but still written by Hanson and Siegel.

[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.[16] Columnist Ellen Makkai and others who believe the Harry Potter books "recruit" children to Satanism have also been taken in by the article, using quotes from it as "evidence" for their claims.[17]
  • A January 2008 video produced by the Onion News Network, and consisting of a spoof of a morning show story on a child called Chad Carter who had bankrupted the Make a Wish Foundation by "wishing for unlimited wishes" was believed by some on the internet to be genuine.[18]

[edit] Presidential Seal dispute

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.[19] The law governing the Presidential Seal is contained in 18 U.S.C. § 713:

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 (Executive Order 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 18 U.S.C. § 713. However, since Executive Order 11649 permits use of the Seal in the manner used by The Onion only with authorization of the Counsel to the President, use of the Seal by The Onion would imply that the required authorization had been obtained, and therefore doing so without such authorization would convey "a false impression of ...approval by the Government of the United States."

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 18 U.S.C. § 713, but then went on to ask that the letter be considered a formal application asking for permission to use the seal.[20]

[edit] Books

[edit] Fictional profile

[edit] Fictional history

Officially, the paper purports to be over 250 years old, having originally published in the mid 18th century. It was named the "Mercantile Onion" because those were the only two English words the paper's immigrant founder, Friedrich Siegfried Zweibel, knew at the time. ("Zwiebel" is German for onion.) The newspaper's motto was "Tu Stultus Es", or 'You are stupid' in Latin.

In 1896 Zweibel's 20-year-old grandson, T. Herman Zweibel became editor, a position he supposedly holds to this day despite being over a century old and largely senile. For much of the 20th century the paper was highly reactionary and violently opposed every social reform the century brought forward, from women's suffrage to married characters sleeping together in the same bed on television.

In recent Onion Radio News releases, beginning December 15, 2008, the concluding ad for Our Dumb World has stated: "For over 350 years The Onion has given you the day's news..."

[edit] Fictional chronology

  • 1756: Friedrich Siegfried Zwiebel founded the Mercantile-Onion [21]
  • 1783: First edition of The Onion News-Paper, purporting to be the first newspaper to carry advertisements (namely for The King of Broil'd Meats and John Jameson's Miracle Concoction), is released.
  • 1850: F. Siegfreid's son, Herman U., took over the company.
  • 1888: T. Herman Zweibel, assumes editorial directorship[22]
  • 1892: Onion 24-Hour Television News Network (ONN) founded. It can now be seen in 811 countries around the world.
  • 1896: T. Herman Zweibel, F. Siegfried's grandson, took over the company, upon death of Herman U. Zweibel.[22]
  • 1922: Onion Radio founded.[23]
  • 1958: Zweibel was court-ordered to retire.
  • 2000: Zweibel left Earth itself (The Final Frontier, T. Herman Zweibel).[24]

[edit] Fictional contributors and editors

The Onion's fictional editor is T. Herman Zweibel (Zwiebel is German for onion, and also close to the name Zweifel (German for 'doubt') a family closely associated with the Madison newspaper The Capital Times), who has "held the position since 1901" and is rather insane.

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

  • Jim Anchower, an enthusiastic slacker and stoner with a different job every few weeks, whose musical tastes are stuck in 1970s rock and roll.
  • Jean Teasdale, an overweight, dumpy woman with kitsch tastes, whose constantly upbeat attitude in her column "A Room of Jean's Own" always finds the bright side of her otherwise depressing white trash life.
  • Smoove B, a smooth talking ladies' man whose columns are directed toward his girlfriends or potential dates. He is known for describing his planned dates in extreme detail, often straying from the romantic to the mundane. The structure of the comedy consists of a series of romantic come-on lines, featuring cliched enticements such as cognac, chocolates, and massages, followed by a blunt sexual reference.[25][26]
  • Roger Dudek, an inept humor columnist whose feature, "Write On The Funny!", contains nonstop clumsy puns and similes, while demonstrating a casually abusive attitude towards members of his family
  • Jackie Harvey, a clueless celebrity spotter.
  • Amber Richardson, an uneducated single mother who writes about her many misadventures in raising her illegitimate children including visiting the health clinic, constantly changing jobs as well as lovers, and defending her questionable qualifications in childrearing.
  • Larry Groznic, an overweight, confrontational "fanboy" whose disagreements with friends over obscure nerd trivia are documented in hostile letters typically demanding conversion to his point of view.
  • Gorzo the Mighty, the Emperor of the Universe, villain in the style of Ming the Merciless.
  • Department Head Rawlings, the mysterious head of an unnamed organization of international spies.

Former contributors include:

  • Herbert Kornfeld, accounts receivable supervisor, an accountant who was raised on the streets and spoke in gangsta rap-isms and ebonics. Killed on April 30, 2007.[27]
  • Arch Danielson, an elderly man who wrote "The Silver Screen", a series of rambling, non-sensical movie reviews that often diverted towards random topics. His persona was retired around 1998, in favor of Jackie Harvey.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c Onion Nation, a November 16, 2008 Washington Post article
  2. ^ a b c The Onion Media Kit 2008,, retrieved on 2007-10-02 
  3. ^ Onion, Inc from Hoovers
  4. ^ "The Onion: Funny site is no joke". Business 2.0. CNN. 2003-08-29. Retrieved on 2008-11-21. 
  5. ^ Parodies of current events catch interest of unlikely readers, Kathlyn Hotynski, The Spectator (University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire), February 8, 2007.
  6. ^ a b c An interview with The Onion, David Shankbone, Wikinews, November 24, 2007.
  7. ^ Complete List of 2008 Peabody Award Winners from the Peabody Awards website
  8. ^ Hackwork hacked, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2007, accessed April 27, 2007.
  9. ^ "Press ‘Play’ for Satire: March 23, 2007 The Wall Street Journal Article". 
  10. ^ The Untitled Onion Movie
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Onion Taken Seriously, Film at 11"Wired,
  13. ^ "'Deborah Norville Tonight' for March 12", MSNBC
  14. ^ Wired 7.03: Award-Winning Local Journalists Reflect Own Self-Hatred Back on Nightmarish World*
  15. ^ "Hvem har hugget Sean Penns emailadresse?", TV 2 Vip
  16. ^ "Harry Potter Satanism",
  17. ^ "Harry the Wiz is the Wrong Biz", via the Internet Archive
  18. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Make-A-Wish Foundation Bankrupted by Unlimited Wishes from Snopes
  19. ^ Random Perspective: White House Sues “The Onion” to Cover up Iran Invasion Plan
  20. ^ Protecting the Presidential Seal. No Joke. from The New York Times
  21. ^ The Onion: Our Dumb Century
  22. ^ a b Retrieved 2007-10-18.
  23. ^ Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  24. ^ Retrieved 2007-10-18.
  25. ^ Smoove B's page at The Onion.
  26. ^ Smoove B's columns at The Onion.
  27. ^ White-On-White Violence Claims Life Of Accounts Receivable Supervisor,, retrieved on 2007-10-02 

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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