Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Onion: editor Joe Randazzo and Onion writers

The way to a man’s heart is said to be through his stomach. At faux online news outlet The Onion, this adage may prove to be true.

Started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988 by two students, the original goal of the then print publication was to sell pizza coupon advertising.

“It was this sort of cool thing that only college kids and deejays knew about,” writer Dan Guterman said.

During its inception, The Onion’s initial focus was on parodying tabloids. However, Onion writers said their organization has evolved into a tradition of mocking mainstream media outlets and tries to parrot the voice of a global news organization. Similar to news outlets, Associated Press style guidelines and inverted pyramid structure are utilized.

Yet delineations between The Onion and the mainstream media are present. The Onion does not write opinion editorials, and instead of using story ideas as point A, reporters and editors brainstorm what readers’ eyes glance over first: headlines.

“I just read headlines, not articles,” Reiss said. Starting with a pool of six to seven hundred ideas, the staff whittles the headlines down to a total of 14 for their two-week news cycle.

The writers noted the process has been extremely successful, as “the joke’s always in the first five or six words of the headline.” Photos contrived by the graphics staff in Adobe Photoshop accompany many of the articles.

Over time, The Onion has sprouted into multi-platform media outlet. In 1996, The Onion added a website as their readership continued to gain steam. Today, the daily-updated site accounts for 70 percent of the organization’s readership. However, Onion writers said the paper is grounded in its print roots.

“I know us as a newspaper, but many people know us as a website,” Reiss said. The organization expanded again recently, opening the Onion News Network, a video site parodying 24-hour news networks, less than two years ago.

Despite their focus on jokes, Onion writers said their organization serves a dual purpose, as “[Their] goal is to be funny and have meaning.” A positive contribution from an organization originally intended to fill stomachs with food, not laughter.

-Derek Casanovas and Jasmine Linabary

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