5 Lessons News Outlets Can Take From The Onion
December 9, 2013


While The Onion employs more writers with comedic backgrounds than journalism backgrounds, the business may have some lessons to offer other media outlets.

This year, The Onion announced plans to end its print edition and go completely digital.


Related story: “How Will an Online-Only Onion Make Money?”


The company began creating exclusively digital content when it launched the Onion News Network, its exclusive-to-the-web video section, in 2007.

Since then, the company has taken advantage of its web presence to expand the repertoire of methods it uses to present a joke.

Mike McAvoy, the paper’s president, said in an interview that it’s important for a company that sees evidence that an industry is changing to act and not expect that change to halt.

Here are some tactics The Onion uses that could serve as inspiration for other media outlets:

  1. Uses a wide range of graphics. Check out The Onion’s farcical by-the-numbers look at the Thanksgiving Holiday and a fictitious word bubble of the Gettysburg Address which uses the phrases “Ken Burns” and “Please turn off your telegraphs.” These graphics compact several individual jokes in a way that a reader can easily digest.
  2. Offers standalone digital products. While its online content is free, the company offers standalone digital products for readers who want more content about a particular subject. The Onion portrays Vice President Joe Biden as a party animal who regularly unleashes ruckus on Congress. Readers who want more of those jokes can buy a fake autobiography of the vice president on Kindle for $2.99 called The President of Vice.
  3. Organizes videos and other multimedia in a way that is easy for readers to follow. The Onion’s video section enables users to look at both the newest content and archived content. The video stories are divided into sections that a reader can easily follow, such as election coverage, tech trends and film reviews.
  4. Creates signature content. While there are other satirical news sites and shows, The Onion has several signature sections and web series that stand out from the outlet’s other content. On the sidebar of the website is a section called “American Voices” that pokes fun at man-on-the-street type interviews. The section presents a brief headline, such as “Study: Handful Of Nuts Each Day Lengthens Life.” It then includes responses from three residents, such as ““But what if you have little hands? What then?”
  5. Put content on multiple platforms. The Onion enables users to get content not just on the website but through podcasts on mobile and tablet apps. This includes The Onion Radio News that gives the readers brief clips that treat each story as a radio piece.
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