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The Onion Writers Dice It Up At USC

Michael Chasin |
February 17, 2012 | 9:43 p.m. PST

Contributing Writer

Writers of the satirical news source "The Onion" spoke at USC Bovard auditorium Thursday evening.(Creative Commons/Flickr)
Writers of the satirical news source "The Onion" spoke at USC Bovard auditorium Thursday evening.(Creative Commons/Flickr)
Emerging to thunderous applause (and a one-man standing ovation), Seth Reiss and Joe Garden, repectively the head writer and features editor of The Onion, took the stage at USC's Bovard auditorium to give a presentation on their wildly popular satirical news site. That is, after instructing a student in the front row that he was responsible for calling the paramedics should one of them collapse onstage. In the immediate practice run, Garden hit the floor while a girl snapped a picture on her phone. Clearly, the two were in their element.

They launched into the nation's history from the perspective of The Onion, which included a list of some of Ben Franklin's lesser-known inventions, an expletive-laden transcript of the moon landing, and eventually moved into the future for an exclusive preview to the end of the Israel-Palestine conflict, which will apparently take the form of a mano-a-mano slugfest.

The audience was clearly with them the whole way, laughing at each new ridiculous headline as Reiss and Garden explored each section of the news, giving a few examples of The Onion's take on each.

And "The Onion" as its own entity is a very deliberate concept. During the Q&A they responded to a student wondering why the site's stories don't have bylines. The central conceit is to portray "the Onion as a character onto itself." It's an inexplicable, monoloithic news empire dispensing all of this knowledge to the world.

That said, of course there really are writers, thought the process for becoming one isn't set in stone.

"If you want to write for the Onion, you will find the Onion," promises Reiss, stating that those with the right sort of voice have their place at the organization, a source of entirely fake news sometimes taken far too seriously.

In fact it's not all that uncommon for stories from the Onion to be mistaken for fact by other, supposedly reputable news outlets, such as FOX Nation, which reported on President Obama's 75,000 word email to everyone in America as if it had actually happened.

It's the everyday fiascos like this that can make people lose faith in the mainstream media and proclaim satirical outlets like the Onion, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and the Colbert Report as the only reliable sources of information. Yet Riess is more optimistic than that.

"I think there will always be good news reporting," he says, espousing the virtures of actual journalism, something that, beneath the comedic veneer, the minds behind the Onion don't actually consider themselves.

Yet whenever things get a little too ridiculous to handle, it's nice to have the Onion as an alternative filter through which to view the goings on of our culture.

Email Michael Chasin or follow him on Twitter.



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