Six Insights From an Editor at The Onion

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The first-ever headline in The Onion was “Mendota Monster Mauls Madison,” published Aug. 29, 1988 over a picture of a Loch Ness Monster-type creature that was apparently roaming the waterways of Wisconsin. The paper was just a scrappy little weekly at that time, distributed for free around the University of Wisconsin. There was even a coupon on the front page for a Zorba’s gyro. 

The paper evolved into a beloved institution of satirical comedy, developing a national following and an international scope. The headlines just kept getting funnier: “Angry Lumberjack Demands Hearty Breakfast” (1992), “Amish Give Up: ‘This is bullshit,’ elders say” (1996), “New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks” (1998).

Opening At Ohio-Area Bob Evans”) and the election of Barack Obama (“Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job”).

Despite the massive popularity of its website (45 million pageviews per month), The Onion continues to print a newspaper with a circulation of about 400,000 (more than the daily Chicago Sun-Times or San Francisco Chronicle). So it makes sense that, on Nov. 3, The Onion will release Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude from America’s Finest News Source, a new book that reprints classic Onion front pages throughout the publication’s history.

We recently spoke with Onion associate editor Megan Ganz…

On the process of selecting the front pages for the book

"It was really amazing for me. Because I grew up reading The Onion. I’m only 25. So I started reading The Onion when I was like 13, or possibly even earlier. So I hadn’t really seen—and a lot of people hadn’t seen—some of the early issues."

On The Onion’s print edition

"The focus is clearly online. But the ethos of The Onion has always been about the paper. … The headlines are the joke. But the first major joke is that we’ve printed this paper. And it’s an actual newspaper, and it looks convincing."

On the new book, versus previous Onion books like Our Dumb Century

"This is really the first thing that we’ve ever done that’s really talking about the fact that we’ve been around for 20 years. It’s really the history of the real Onion, and you can see all the steps that it went through."

On the book’s physical specs

"We went with the publisher that gave us the biggest book, like the actual biggest size. So it’s gonna be [these] giant, nice big color pages. And all the old pages have been restored really well."

"in, but Clinton meeting with members of ZZ Top, where they give them his car. [sigh] I just love that one, too."

On how much of an Onion joke (and story) is embedded in a story’s headline

"All of it. Honestly, we have this sort of rule at the paper that if the headline’s not funny then you can’t proceed. It’s not like you would think, we’re trying to grab people’s attention. We sort of work backwards from the way that normal newspapers do, where they come up with the story and they put the headlines as the most important part of the story. We start with the headline as the most important joke."

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