A 5-step guide to writing a perfectly satirical Onion article from co-founder Tim Keck

It must be fun to be a writer at the The Onion. You get paid to compose utterly ridiculous and hilarious satirical content based off the actual news on a daily basis, likely laughing your ass off the entire day.

But how does the process of writing those matter-of-fact and at times degrading headlines and stories actually work?

Tim Keck, who co-founded The Onion back in 1988 and sold it one year later, spoke at last week’s Seattle Interactive Conference and provided a five-step guide for writing an Onion article.

It is also handy for your LinkedIn profile, apparently.

“Take these techniques for Linkedin and you will super juice it,” said Keck, who went on to found an alternative Seattle weekly paper called The Stranger.

Without further ado, here’s how to write an Onion story:

1. Include The Elephant 

For example, The Onion poked fun at former president Bill Clinton with the headline: “New President Feels Nation’s Pain, Breasts,”

2. Religion is Dumb

Keck described Scott Dikkers, founding editor of The Onion who created this 5-step formula, as a “huge atheist,” along with Keck himself. They decided to use this as fuel for their publication.

3. The Honest Character

“Nobody speaks honestly,” said Keck. So, The Onion decided to do it on behalf of everyone and then compile stories based on that.

4. The Big/Small Switcheroo

This step focuses on talking about big things in a small way, and vice versa.

5. Write Something As Mean As Possible

Finally, to write an Onion article, you can be as mean as possible. “This is something writers love.” . Keck said that since The Onion wasn’t really “subversive,” it needed something that gave the publication energy


Satire – The Definitive Guide to Satire: Etymology, History & Lore

Satire is an indirect form of critique, in that it mocks or attacks an individual or idea by proxy. Satirical speech and literature is generally used to observe and judge the “evils” or morally questionable ideals held by individuals, groups and sometimes entire cultures. The attack itself is derived from what is known as the satirist’s social motive–these critiques illustrate what the satirist, within the context of their own world view, believes is “right” based upon what they ridicule as “wrong”. Jean Weisgerber’s Satire and Irony a Means of Communication states, “Satire is manifestly directed to people. It involves the victim it attacks and the public it tries to persuade, it restores to language its full status as a means of communication, its end is rhetorical.”

The purpose of satire is primarily to make the audience aware of the “truth”. The satirist makes an argument that relies upon the intellect of the listener to decipher hidden meaning, with the ideal end goal to inform, enlighten, explain and correct the audience. Due to its critical and judging nature, satire is sometimes deemed excessive or in poor taste.

Despite the aggressive, sometimes-personal attacks that are derived from works of satire, it serves a special purpose–catharsis. Satire, particularly in the form of comedy, allows both narrators and audiences to turn outrage, hatred and “other socially unacceptable impulse[s] into socially acceptable and even delightful forms.” [3] Neither the victim of the satirist’s attack, nor the satirist are subject to physical violence.

In a press release following the incident, the New Yorker explained that the cover, “satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.” Blitt went on to defend his cover as well, saying, “I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.”


Facebook Is Testing A ‘Satire’ Tag Since Users Think The Onion Articles Are True

Founded in 1988, The Onion is a parody news organization that publishes fake articles like “Busch Gardens Unveils New 9,600-Mile-Long Endurance Coaster” and “LensCrafters, Pearle Vision Agree To Prisoner Exchange.” The Onion’s websites hit around 11 million total unique visitors per month and a lot of the traffic is driven by Facebook. Many gullible Facebook users believe that the headlines for these articles are true so the social network company is testing out a ‘[Satire]’ tag in front of links to satirical content.

Facebook said that it is adding the [Satire] tags because of feedback that it received from users wanting a way to “distinguish satirical articles from others.”

If the [Satire] tag helps people realize that The Onion articles are satire, then it will give the blog LiterallyUnbelievable.org less to write about. LiterallyUnbelievable takes screenshots of an article from The Onion posted to Facebook along with angry comments from people that were fooled by the headline.

The “related articles” selected for each story are based on an algorithm. The Boston Globe recently criticized the algorithm for displaying inappropriate related articles about First Lady Michelle Obama after content was posted related to her encounter with a 10-year-old girl whose father lost his job. The three related articles were either mostly false or filled with inappropriate commentary. “If you are spreading false information, you have a serious problem on your hands. They shouldn’t be recommending stories until they have got it figured out,” said Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, in an interview with the Boston Globe.

Facebook spokesman Jessie Baker said that the news feed units were designed to surface popular links that are shared on Facebook, but the company does not make any judgment about whether the links are true or false “just as we don’t make any judgment about whether the content of your status updates are true or false.”



Remarks on Comfort Women

I am totally in agreement that the use of “comfort women” by Japanese soldiers before and during the World War 2 was an inexcusable act that violated the dignity and human rights of the women in which large numbers of Korean and Japanese were included. I am totally aware that their great pain and deep hurt were beyond description.

I also strongly believe that Japan must reflect upon its past offenses with humility and express a heartfelt apology and regret to those women who suffered from the wartime atrocities as comfort women. Our nation must be determined to stop this kind of tragedy from occurring again.

I have never condoned the use of comfort women. I place the greatest importance on the dignity and human rights of women as an essential part of the universal values in today’s world. It is extremely regrettable that only the cut-off parts of my remarks have been reported worldwide and that these reports have resulted in misunderstood meanings of the remarks, which are utterly contrary to what I actually intended.

We must express our deep remorse at the violation of the human rights of these women by the Japanese soldiers in the past, and make our apology to the women. What I intended to convey in my remarks was that a not-insignificant number of other nations should also sincerely face the fact that their soldiers violated the human rights of women. It is not a fair attitude to blame only Japan, as if the violation of human rights of women by soldiers were a problem unique to the Japanese soldiers. This kind of attitude shelves the past offenses that are the very things we must face worldwide if we are truly to aim for a better world where the human rights of women are fully respected. Sexual violation in wartime was not an issue unique to the former Japanese army. The issue existed in the armed forces of the U.S.A., the UK, France, Germany and the former Soviet Union among others during World War 2. It also existed in the armed forces of the Republic of Korea during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. (Vietnam Comfort Women)

Against this historical background, I stated that “the armed forces of nations in the world” seemed to have needed women “during the past wars”. Then it was wrongly reported that I myself thought it as necessary for armed forces to use women and that “I” tolerated it.

It is a hard historical fact that soldiers of some nations of the world have used women for sexual purposes in wars. From the viewpoint of respecting the human rights of women, it does not make much difference whether the suffering women are licensed or unlicensed prostitutes and whether or not the armed forces are organizationally involved in the violation of the dignity of the women. The use of women for sexual purposes itself is a violation of their dignity. It also goes without saying that rape of local citizens by soldiers in occupied territories and hot spots of military conflict are intolerable atrocities.