In Depth

The Onion: Onion News Network

With titles like “Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters to Realize How Empty Their Lives Are” and “Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard,” the Onion News Network is racking up—and cracking up—large audiences for its online videos, and has scored serious recognition from the Peabody board. In its award citation, it called the Onion’s satiric send-up of 24-hour cable television news “hilarious, trenchant and not infrequently hard to distinguish from the real thing.”

The Onion News Network hit the Internet in March 2007 as the video side of the Onion newspaper, which was founded in 1988.

“We are very new, and most people have never heard of us, and that’s another reason everybody is excited about the Peabody,” said head writer Carol Kolb, who supervises three full-time writers and a group of freelance writers who come up with ideas for ONN. “As we’ve progressed, we’re getting the hang of imitating the news perfectly.”

The network releases two or three new videos a week, shooting mainly in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area one week a month and liberally using file footage and green-screen techniques for its pieces.

Although the stated goal is to make viewers think they are watching real news, with a title like the tech news story “Sony Releases New Stupid Piece of S--- That Doesn’t F----ing Work,” that’s highly unlikely. What is likely are gales of laughter. “It’s the combination of risqué content delivered in a sober news voice,” said Ms. Kolb.

“We’re not a daily show, so we take a more long-range look. We’re sort of a broader satire of society. I think it’s the fake news aspect we’re going for,” she said.

In keeping with its irreverent nature, the Onion’s slogan is “America’s Finest News Source” and its CEO, Steve Hannah, has said that its sole goal in business is “total domination of the nation’s—and for that matter the world’s—digital media channels.” The Web site gets about 1 million views per week, and its dedicated YouTube channel is equally popular.

So how would its content, like “Prague’s Franz Kafka International Named World’s Most Alienating Airport” translate to traditional television? “We’re a little reticent about being on TV,” said Ms. Kolb. “Our content is too touchy for a lot of people. We want to make the jokes we want to make, so online has been a great place.”