Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Onion for Sale?

A long time ago in a city far, far away, a young cartoonist named Scott Dikkers drew a comic strip for a college paper. The comic strip was a bare-bones, stick-figure affair, and it was occasionally funny. Then Dikkers got involved in another enterprise at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: The Onion, which started out in the mid-1980s as a coupon-supported humor newspaper on campus.

Dikkers drew his comic for The Daily Cardinal, a left-wing campus daily that competed with my own centrist/center-right daily campus paper, The Badger Herald. (Madison was a great city for student newspaper wars and competition.) In those early years of The Onion's life, the targets of its satire were local, including the Herald and the Cardinal. I remember walking into our offices one afternoon while our news editors were moaning about some Onion lampoon of the campus dailies. I didn't moan; the Onion's satirization of us was usually dead-on, hitting us at our obvious weak points, which for us included some fairly weak copy editing.

One such satire was a one-column box that sought to explain the difference between the Cardinal and the Herald. One of the bullet points for the leftist Cardinal was that its staff supported the El Salvadoran marxist rebel group FMLN; as for the Herald, it would misspell FMLN.

That's good. A better bullet point was that the Cardinal editors were all rich kids from the north shore of Milwaukee; the Badger Herald's editors all wanted to be rich kids from the north shore of Milwaukee. Perfect! There was truth to it, and it played up to the stereotypes of the two papers.

Anyway, The Onion began to widen its circulation and broaden its sights. No longer was it mainly supported by coupons for local pizza joints running along the bottoms of the pages. And a few years later, it was sold to a New York firm, which has continued to expand the company over the years.

Gawker reports that The Onion is for sale, and the New York-based owners are negotiating with a large media company to buy it. Please, please, please, don't let it be News Corp.

I was sorry to see The Onion lose its Madison base in its first sale, and I'm sure it won't regain it in this sale (there being no "large media company" in Madison). But it was another great midwestern humor creation, like Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which also included some UW-Madison alumni, plus Green Bay native Joel Hodgson) in the Twin Cities, and it went on to conquer the humor world almost as much as National Lampoon did in the 1970s.
Post a Comment