New Onion Skin Causes No Tears

Filed Under Humor Magazine

Though I’m no longer as rabid about it as I was in the 90s when I first discovered a discarded copy of the print version in my building’s vestibule, I still dread that The Onion will, simply, start to suck. They’ll forget the lessons of Spy and National Lampoon, become tone-death and start picking targets that don’t merit the satire. An unfortunate harbinger of the downfall of both of those previous humor giants was a redesign, usually indicating that the editors and writers are bored or confused, uncertain of what was the magazine’s original appeal.

The Onion’s new redesign avoided that mistake entirely. As documented in “The Funniest Grid You Ever Saw” and “Making New Fake News”, The Onion gets that the closer they simulate the look of a real newspaper, the better the comedy is. I’ve heard some believe the print version is superior simply because it more closely mimics the USA Today-local paper hybrid world each issue creates. Thanks the explosion in online news, after this redesign I don’t think many could argue that the online version is not the definitive way to read the Onion.

I particularly enjoy the right hand column, which has new stuff every weekday… including a fake cover for a typical Sunday insert “The Onion Weekender”, something that’s great for creating more quick jokes stabbing at the pedestrian feel-good content that’s less valuable than the 25ยข coupon for Tide it’s stuffed next to.

I was also pleased to see them drop of the subscription service - as a humor magazine junkie, even I couldn’t see clear to paying online for the content. Good stuff it all was to be sure, but I generally think, like most people, I read the headlines alone and then if one article seems promising, I’ll click to continue. Paying for material that I’m likely to just scan for a chuckle was just pointless. With the archives completely opened up and the right column going to fresh daily content, the paper becomes more than my late Tuesday distraction. It’s a regular weekday read.

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Comments

Posted by Mike on 10/29  at  08:28 PM

Completely agree.  I used to be an avid Onion fan in the 90’s when they were still based in Madison.  Once they got to NY, they seemed to start to go downhill. 

I had a subscription for about 10 years, and at the beginning I would start salivating when I pulled it out of the mailbox each week.  Read every word cover-to-cover.  Then after a few years, I read them only when I had the chance, and only the articles whose headlines looked promising.  I discontinued my subscription this year.  ‘Cause you’re right, even though they have some outstanding writers, if the premise is lame, it ain’t gonna work.  I’ll still keep an eye online for them though—too early to pullo the plug.  In addition, the social/political satire superiority of competition like the Daily Show highlights their decline.  (I’ve heard that some of their writers had graduated to the show, however.)

Still, their non-humor section (AV Club) is worth following, gotta agree with their critics most of the time.

Posted by Jack on 03/12  at  05:41 PM

Coming late into posting about this, but I was the Onion’s webmaster—and a writer—from 1995-2001.  And in general I think their new redesign by Behavior Design is excellent. I think Behavior Design does push the idea that this is a “straight man” redesign a bit too much.  It’s not.  Outside of early versions of the site in 1996/1997 the site has always been a “straight man” design.  The new design is simply a new design.  And one that acknowledges larger screen width and more flexibility/options in modern browsers.  You want to design websites so they can be as lowest commondenominator in many cases.  And happily most modern browsers are capable of much more nowadays than they once were.

As for the quality of the content, it’s not the same.  And I’m not the only one who thinks that.  And FWIW, two key ex-Onion editors are now at the controls of “Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”.  Ex-Onion editor Ben Karlin was the main driving force behind “The Onion’s” USA Today redesign, and when he left, he jumped right into “The Daily Show” and really shaped it into what it is today.  Rich Dahm is an ex-Onion editor from the pre-USA Today format—when it was a bit more “Weekly World News”-like—and he’s now a producer and writer on “The Colbert Report”. It’s basically outlined in this Newsweek piece.

I was happy during my 6 year stint at “The Onion”, but the source of “the funny” has clearly moved elsewhere.  So don’t feel guilty if you once liked “The Onion” and now watch “The Daily Show” instead; it actually all makes sense talent-wise.

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