Tuesday, October 19, 2004

America's finest news source

I just got home from an eleven and a half hour day in Evanston. The last four and a half hours were spent there in order to hear Carol Kolb (editor-in-chief) and Amie Barrodale (associate editor) of the Onion speak to us about, well, all things Onion.

Was it worth it? I'm not sure, my brain stopped working some time ago. The bulk of their presentation centered around showing us past front pages. All of them very funny, to be sure, but I'd read most of them and the headlines aren't quite as entertaining at the second reading. Carol Kolb did most of the talking, detailing the history of the Onion, who was on it, what their average workweek is, etc. I'll bet if you had to guess about those things, you'd probably be right. It's a staff of ten that meets at the beginning of the week and goes through funny headline ideas and votes on which they like. Then they decide which to develop into stories, write them, find and photoshop necessary photographs, lay it all out, the end.

Content got more interesting as they went on: they started talking more about how they decide what is and isn't appropriate (ask yourself who a particular story/headline is making fun of) and showed us some of the more controversial stories they'd done ("Columbine Jocks Safely Resume Bullying") and told us some that hadn't made the cut. They showed the September 11th issue they'd done--my personal favorite--and about the reaction to that (overwhelmingly positive). And that was the segue into the best part of all: the people who actually believed these stories were true.

Some of us remember hearing about how a large Beijing newspaper reprinted the Onion's "Congress Threatens To Leave D.C. Unless New Capitol Is Built" as fact (according to the editors, they stole the graphic and translated the article, word-for-word, into Chinese). But better even than that were the letters written in response to stories by readers who believed they were true. We read four or five letters written by Christians who commended the Onion for their story about how children who read Harry Potter were turning to Satanic worship--an article appropriately accompanied by a bunch of kids standing around in a school hallway in capes standing around a pentagram. We read a very long and involved one denouncing them for the story "Mary-Kate Dragging Ashley Down". In response to an article about a legal, newly-developed drug that gets users "totally high", someone wrote in asking for further details, like when it's to be released and where they can get it.

End on a screen showing the Onion's motto: You are dumb.

Yep.

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