Sunday, November 25, 2007
Despite the hopes of many University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) students, The Onion was not named after their student center. “People always ask questions about where the name The Onion came from,” said President Sean Mills in an interview with David Shankbone, “and when I recently asked Tim Keck, who was one of the founders, he told me the name—I’ve never heard this story about ‘see you at the un-yun’—he said it was literally that his Uncle said he should call it The Onion when he saw him and Chris Johnson eating an onion sandwich. They had literally just cut up the onion and put it on bread.” According to Editorial Manager Chet Clem, their food budget was so low when they started the paper that they were down to white bread and onions.
Long before The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Heck and Johnson envisioned a publication that would parody the news—and news reporting—when they were students at UW in 1988. Since its inception, The Onion has become a veritable news parody empire, with a print edition, a website that drew 5,000,000 unique visitors in the month of October, personal ads, a 24 hour news network, podcasts, and a recently launched world atlas called Our Dumb World. Al Gore and General Tommy Franks casually rattle off their favorite headlines (Gore’s was when The Onion reported he and Tipper were having the best sex of their lives after his 2000 Electoral College defeat). Many of their writers have gone on to wield great influence on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert‘s news parody shows.
And we are sorry to break the news to all you amateur headline writers: your submissions do not even get read.
Below is David Shankbone’s interview with Chet Clem and Sean Mills about the news empire that has become The Onion.