Wednesday, November 07, 2007

AlterNet: Is The Onion America's Most Intelligent Newspaper?

As anyone who reads this blog from time to time will know, I am a huge fan of The Onion -- I have been ever since I worked for a magazine wholesaler who carried The Onion -- and this was back in the mid-1990s.

At a time when many print papers are struggling, The Onion is thriving, causing AlterNet to ask if The Onion is America's most intelligent newspaper.

In August 1988, college junior Tim Keck borrowed $7,000 from his mom, rented a Mac Plus, and published a 12-page newspaper. His ambition was hardly the stuff of future journalism symposiums: He wanted to create a compelling way to deliver advertising to his fellow students. Part of the first issue's front page was devoted to a story about a monster running amok at a local lake; the rest was reserved for beer and pizza coupons.

Almost 20 years later, The Onion stands as one of the newspaper industry's few great success stories in the post-newspaper era. Currently, it prints 710,000 copies of each weekly edition, roughly 6,000 more than The Denver Post, the nation's ninth-largest daily. Its syndicated radio dispatches reach a weekly audience of 1 million, and it recently started producing video clips too. Roughly 3,000 local advertisers keep The Onion afloat, and the paper plans to add 170 employees to its staff of 130 this year.

Online it attracts more than 2 million readers a week. Type onion into Google, and The Onion pops up first. Type the into Google, and The Onion pops up first.

But type "best practices for newspapers" into Google, and The Onion is nowhere to be found. Maybe it should be. At a time when traditional newspapers are frantic to divest themselves of their newsy, papery legacies, The Onion takes a surprisingly conservative approach to innovation. As much as it has used and benefited from the Web, it owes much of its success to low-tech attributes readily available to any paper but nonetheless in short supply: candor, irreverence, and a willingness to offend.

Read the rest.

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