Making the News

The Onion causes peals of laughter on campus. 

By Melanie Breault ’11

When a major event happens, media outlets send reporters to cover the story. Clicking through the networks, it’s all the same. While these media organizations fight over the same story, one generates its own.

“We make the news,” Onion staff writer Seth Reiss boasts. “We don’t just sit around and wait for the news to be made.”

Reiss spoke October 21 in Emerson Suites about the uniqueness of the Onion and its history. According to him, the Onion has served hard-hitting news for more than 250 years. He supported his claim with a surprising reference to the publication’s first issue, the Mercantile Onion of 1756.

To the rest of the world, this reliably funny publication has been satirizing news and current events since 1988, matching wildly fabricated coverage with one-liner headlines such as “Thing That Was Popular Before Brought Back in Hopes of It Still Being Popular,” “Industrial Revolution Provides Millions of Out-of-Work Children with Jobs,” and “Black Guy Asks Nation for Change.”

“There are a lot of media people who you can blatantly see through their bullshit,” says Reiss in defense of the publication’s unsparing barbs. “But I’m not going to stand here and say media is dumb because that’s a dumb thing to say.”

Reiss went on to cite a recent (mock) survey that claims the Onion has a circulation of about 97 trillion worldwide. He also referenced the (fictional) “bloomenthal integrity index,” which claims the Onion has an integrity rating of six on a six-point scale, compared to the Ithacan at zero.

In truth, the Onion has received numerous real accolades in the last 10 years, including
a Peabody Award in 2008, the James Thurber Award for American Humor in 1999, and plenty of Webby Awards. The Onion has also produced books such as Our Dumb World (2007) and the New York Times bestseller, Our Dumb Century (1999).

The Student Activities Board (SAB) and the Park Center for Independent Media sponsored Reiss’s visit. “He did a great job of bringing the audience into the show, especially with his mention of the Ithacan,” SAB executive director Matthew Rakow ’10 says.

Reiss met with students after his lecture to offer internship information and advice about breaking into the industry.

“As a writer, whether it’s comedy or journalism, always carry around a book,”
he advises. “So much of what we write is based on what happens in our daily lives,
so inspiration can come at any moment.”

Rakow says he admires the Onion for its ability to blend seriousness and humor in one publication. “The things [the Onion says] are obviously not true,” he says. “But the fact that you are entertained by them means that they are rooted in some cultural truth.”

Reiss would agree. “We’re just saying what people are thinking,” he insists.