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The Onion is a tabloid newspaper and website featuring tongue-in-cheek satirical news articles and a non-satirical entertainment section. Aside from its daily updated website, the organization has published several books and launched a web video series known as The Onion News Network in 2007.
According to an article in The Washington Post, The Onion newspaper was founded in 1988 by University of Wisconsin-Madison students Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson. The publication’s name was chosen by Johnson’s uncle after witnessing his nephew eat an onion sandwich on white bread. In 1989, Keck and Johnson sold the paper to Onion staff members Scott Dikkers and Peter Haise for $16,000. In the following years, Dikkers and Haise took the newspaper to several other college campuses in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Boulder. Several years later in 2000, the publication was approached for purchase by the cable television network Comedy Central, but a deal was not made.
In May of 1996, the website TheOnion.com was launched, featuring many of the newspaper articles as well as web-exclusive content on a daily basis. On August 29th, 2003, CNN published an article titled “The Onion: Funny site is no joke”, which reported that the publication remained a “Midwestern secret” until the website was launched in 1996. In April of 2004, the website launched the “Onion Premium” paid subscription service, which allowed an ad-free browsing experience and full access to the site’s archives, but it was discontinued in the following year after disappointing results. However in August of 2011, the website implemented another paywall requiring visitors outside of the United States to pay a fee to access more than five articles in a 30-day period.
On March 23rd, 1999, The Onion published the satirical humor book Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines from America’s Finest News Source, which featured mock newspaper front pages for years ranging from 1900 to 1999. That year, the book was awarded the second Thurber Prize for American Humor. From 2000 to 2006, an annual collection of archived news stories were released in book form. On October 30th, 2007, a parody desk atlas titled Our Dumb World was released, which contained entries for a majority of the world’s countries with satirical descriptions of each region’s customs and history.
On June 3rd, 2008, the comedy film The Onion Movie was released on DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, five years after it was initially filmed. The story was centered around the life of a television news anchorman, who fights against a takeover by a multinational corporation.
Syrian Electronic Army Hack
On May 6th, 2013, The Onion’s official Twitter feed was compromised by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a hacker group known for infiltrating accounts owned by several news media outlets, including the Associated Press, the BBC, NPR and Reuters. The group posted a series of tweets criticizing Israel’s military operations and Zionism (shown below) shortly before the account was restored.
That same day, The New York Times reported on the attack, noting that the SEA used e-mail phishing techniques to hack into The Onion’s Twitter account. The article also included a statement from SEA member “Th3 Pro,” who indicated that the hack was carried out in retaliation against an Onion satire article written from the perspective of the incumbent Syrian president Al-Assad.
Also on May 6th, The Onion published several articles in response to the hack, quipping that the SEA would inevitably be killed by rebels and that the satirical news organization had changed all of their passwords to “OnionMan77.” In the coming days, the incident was reported on by a number of tech news sites, including CNET, The Huffington Post, Tech Crunch, Slate, and NPR.
According to a press release in PRNewswire, TheOnion.com received 20,000 unique visitors per week shortly after the website launched in 1996. On January 10th, 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported that the site received around 7.5 million unique visitors per month. As of May 11th, 2012, the site has a Compete rank of 2,680, an Alexa rank of 3,868 and a Quantcast rank of 693. The Onion Facebook page has received over two million likes and the Twitter account has accumulated over 3.7 million followers.
After the site redesign in 2005, the paid subscription service Onion Premium was discontinued, allowing all archived content to be accessed for free. Web-only content began being published daily, including the “QuickPoll” online opinion poll, a fictional President’s radio address, the Onion Sports Network and the “Stock Watch” satirical stock market analysis. In 2012, the website introduced a “News Beat” section with false weather reports, quizzes, polls and highlights of popular stories. Also in 2012, the site introduced a video series titled The Onion Review, which highlighted notable news stories for the week.
Onion News Network
In March of 2007, the site launched the daily web video series The Onion News Network (ONN), which parodied the reporting on 24-hour television news networks. On January 21st, 2011, the show premiered its first season on the IFC television network. On March 22nd, 2011, IFC announced that ONN had been renewed for a second season. On March 21st, 2012, an IFC spokesperson announced that the ONN show had been canceled. Shows featured on the satirical network included the pundit discussion panel In The Know (shown top, left), the breaking news segment Newsroom (shown top, right), the Factzone with Brooke Alvarez, the morning talk show Today Now! (shown bottom, left), the Nancy Grace parody Cross Examination with Shelby Cross, the C-SPAN parody O-SPAN, the ESPN parody OSN (shown bottom, right), the entertainment show Starfix and the crime show Raw Justice.
On April 29th, 2014, The Onion announced plans to launch a parody of viral content websites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed named “ClickHole” in June of that year. As of May 2014, the website contains an infographic image with instructions on how to click on links within a web browser (shown below) directly above a clickable “Click Me!” button with a live-updated counter.
The Onion’s satirical articles have been repeatedly mistaken for real news throughout the years. On July 29th, 1998, the site published an article titled “Homosexual-Recruitment Drive Nearing Goal”, which was later cited by Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps as evidence that homosexuals were trying to sway others to become gay. In March of 2004, the article “58 Percent Of U.S. Exercise Televised” was reported as real by MSNBC anchor Deborah Norville. On July 20th, 2010, a video published by its political satire outlet O-SPAN (a parody of C-SPAN) in 2008 began spread on the social networking site Facebook with warnings that Obama had enacted martial law.
On November 26th, 2011, Fox Nation reposted portions of an article titled “Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-World E-Mail” as if it were genuine. On May 30th, the website Literally Unbelievable was launched, which featured screenshots of Facebook status updates interpreting Onion articles as real news.
Fox Nation – Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-Word E-Mail (deleted)
The Onion –
The Huffington Post – Onion Reportedly Hacked: Twitter, Facebook Say ‘Syrian Electronic Army Was Here’