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BC Welcomes ‘The Onion’ Head Writer

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01


Kylie Montero / Heights Staff

Boston College welcomed Seth Reiss, the head writer for The Onion to speak about the satirical newspaper last Thursday.

Although Seth went to Boston University, he attracted a substantial audience of around 40 BC students to his presentation. Reiss, who exuded charisma and showmanship as he entertained the audience, read aloud excerpts from articles and showed video clips, eliciting roars of laughter from many in the audience.

He jokingly told the audience that The Onion has "97 trillion readers everyday, which is more than the amount of people in the world." The Onion is a satirical newspaper that prints articles on a variety of topics from politics and science, to sports and entertainment. These stories, which contain fabricated elements, find the humor in current events and mock political figures and celebrities.

The paper is based in New York and has a relatively small editorial staff of around eight to 10 people, and its mission has been to provide news with a comedic edge. For example, The Onion writers can use profanity and, unlike other newspapers where articles are meticulously checked for accuracy, The Onion staff is encouraged to write with entertainment in mind. The end result is a paper that demonstrates the immense creative talents of its writers.

"The Onion makes the news instead of waiting for news to happen," Reiss said.

The publication creates its own satirical stories and even sends video crews down to various news sites to report on the concocted stories. The way in which the photojournalists use photoshop to manipulate photos is an important aspect in making the stories seem credible.

When asked to describe the writing process for these articles, Reiss explained that a writer must write two drafts and then cycle the article through three rounds of editing. The revision process takes two weeks during which new articles are also being written. Many of the articles are about current events, and politics seems to be the focus of most of the articles. Some politicians, like Joe Biden, are humored by the paper's caricature of public figures, while others take offense. According to Reiss, the reception of the paper varies by audience. While many readers enjoy and appreciate the irony and humor, others are offended. Seth admits he and his staff members do receive angry e-mails from people who did not understand the intent of their articles. One such misconception happened on a grand scale, when a Chinese newspaper published a bogus story that they obtained from The Onion, thinking it was serious. The staff of The Onion was forced to explain to the other publication that the story was not real, causing the Chinese to defame all American newspapers, claiming that they were all paid to lie.

Reiss presented the audience with a variety of sample articles such as "MIT Fraternity Accused of Robot Hazing."

Reiss later said that "there is no too far" in deciding how far to go with satire.

He defended that as long as it is the powerful being made fun of and not the weak, there is no situation that will not be considered for satire.

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