When Life Gives You Onions…

            While the world pleads with straight news publications to adapt to the Internet, The Onion long ago made the transition seamlessly. It would sound like a joke in The Onion if it weren’t true: A fake-news site is the best news site.

Although the publication has been hilariously forging news since its creation in 1988, its transition onto the Web is really what brought The Onion into the national spotlight.

But The Onion took it one step further. You might say it was given onions and made a damn good onion dip.

Its key ingredient has been multimedia, a facet of Web design that real news sites continue to struggle with. Read a “news brief” on The Onion and you might be surprised by how well written it is. It isn’t just a bunch of toilet jokes and gutter humor (well, there is some of that too). It’s well-constructed and skillfully worded prose. The Onion has taken that same premise and applied it to videos, sound clips and photo slideshows. The meticulous production of the multimedia often leaves the viewer with the feeling that it is too good to be one big joke.

For example, the Nov. 13 opening page featured a three-minute video clip from “Today Now!” a morning news show from The Onion News Network. The show’s hosts, Jim and Tracy, talk to a man who lived because he “stole” a heart from a dead man. The video short was clearly fictional, but it was so professionally made any unsuspecting (although admittedly a little dumb) Internet surfer could have easily mistaken it for real news.

In another textbook use of multimedia, the site adds the humor of the human voice with “The Onion Radio News,” in which Doyle Redland records 30 second clips of top news stories dripping with satire. The Onion knows that voice can do things words can’t, sometimes making a chuckle a laugh. Real news organizations could do the same to better illustrate a source’s feelings or meaning within a quote. Use of the human element is part of what makes multimedia successful.

Ironically, at the bottom of its site The Onion provides links to its “news partners” CNN.com and Slate.com, both of which might shudder at the thought of being mentioned in the same sentence as a site that makes up its news. But in a day and age where the Internet rules, these organizations may want to take a serious look at a publication that doesn’t take the news all that seriously.

— Evan Sweeney


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