Onion staff peals back satirical layers
Chad Nackers, left, and John Harris, both editors/writers for The Onion, discuss some of the headlines that have appeared in the on-line newspaper during their presentation of "The Onion And the World of Fake News," which was held in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008. The lecture was sponsored by the Committee on Lectures and National Affairs Series. Photo: Kevin Zenz/Iowa State Daily

Headlines from The Onion, such as “New Study Finds College Binge Drinking To Be A Blast” and “Drugs Win Drug War,” flashed across the screen as an audience of approximately 500 laughed in the Durham Great Hall of the Memorial Union on Thursday night.

Chad Nackers and John Harris, staff writers for The Onion, a satirical newspaper, clicked through a presentation slide show of articles, photojournalism pieces and magazine covers from the “Onion Weekender,” before opening up for a question and answer forum.

Themes rolled through that dealt with President George Bush, the 2008 Presidential Election coverage thus far and 9/11.

A favorite headline that got the crowd riled up was a photojournalism piece titled “Bush Caught In One Of His Own Terror Traps” in which President Bush was pictured hanging upside-down in a tree all tangled up.

Poking fun at Sen. Hillary Clinton, a headline read “Bill Clinton: ‘Screw It I’m Running For President,” which received roaring laughter and applause from the audience.

Harris said in an interview that some people think The Onion writers go too far when writing about controversial issues.

“We get a lot of like ‘I normally love your paper, but this time you’ve gone too far’ just when it hits someone personally for some reason and they just get upset about it,” he said.

In the form of a joke, Harris gave an example:

“It’s like ‘usually we like your pornographic Web site but this time you’ve gone too far’,” he said.

Harris and Nackers said an average work week for them consists of a usual “40 hours by Tuesday” and more hours throughout the rest of the week.

Although The Onion is known as a satirical publication, Harris said having a sense of humor is more important.

“We’re not, by any means, purely satire,” he said. “I think we are comedy first. I mean, satire is a really big part of it obviously, but not everything has a point, some stuff is just stupid and silly. It’s framed in such a serious way, like that becomes the joke more than the joke itself — the way it’s presented.”

Nackers agreed and said writers for The Onion have some freedom on headlines they would like to write about or see published.

“[We have] creative freedom, as long as your coworkers realize your idea is brilliant, you get to do it,” he said. “You can do pretty much do whatever joke you want if you frame it properly.”

Hackers has been with The Onion since 1997. Harris freelanced for three years and has been a staff writer since October 2007. Both said they enjoy Saturdays the best because “we get to sleep in.” But also Mondays, because they said that is when ideas are pitched.

“Mondays are when we pitch ideas and you’re exited about headlines and stuff,” Nackers said. “It’s pretty laid-back. We are just sitting around the table, reading our lists, laughing at various headlines.”

The Onion employs 12 people on the editorial staff, Harris said, as well as other titles, including business, production crew and noneditorial staff. They said the closest distribution point to Ames is in Des Moines. Harris said Ames wasn’t on their list just yet.

“I don’t know why they won’t bring it 30 miles up the road to people who want to read it,” he said.

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