“Chicago’s okay,” said Mr. Seena Vali, Sports Editor of The Onion.
“It’s a city,” offered Mr. Ben Berkley, The Onion’s Managing Editor.
“It’s definitely a city. If you look out there, there are buildings,” said Seena, gesturing to the window in the conference room which overlooks Chicago.
“It’s certainly a city,” said Ben.
Breaking news from The Onion Chicago headquarters: Chicago is, in fact, a city.
I can’t say for sure, but I definitely hope, that talking to editors of big-time publications is the meaning of life. This past Friday, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Seena and Ben with a group from my college, and during that one hour period of time, I had so much wisdom dropped on me.
“And the murder rate has gone up,” added Seena.
“Since we’ve been here?” asked Ben.
“Ya since we came here,” replied Seena.
A few years ago, The Onion moved from New York City to Chicago, and the murder rate may not have gone up, but the Midwest joke rate certainly did. I’m not going to take the time to explain what The Onion is. If you don’t already know, click here and see for yourself.
After familiarizing yourself with the publication, imagine what the people who work there are like. If you imagined young, quick-witted people with potty mouths and insane amounts of dedication and work ethic, you’d be correct. But, if you imagined old, conservative German men, I guess you’d be wrong.
Neither Ben nor Seena could remember, or count apparently, the amount of time they’d been working at The Onion. But, I did learn that Ben’s birthday is on Tax Day, so maybe that’s important.
“I don’t actually write,” said Ben while explaining what his job entails. “I’m completely incapable of writing anything. I tried to write my name on a tax form recently and it did not go well.”
But Ben’s illiteracy doesn’t keep him from being able to manage a staff of overly hardworking clowns.
“My job is like less specific than Seena’s because it’s just oversight of, like, making sure this circus – and I say that kind of affectionately – is like managed chaos,” said Ben. “And I’ve been with The Onion for 4-and-a-half years or so. Sounds about right. Whenever I got out of college and came here.”
After explaining more riveting details about himself, Ben expressed interest in wanting to know a little more about my group.
“Well I’m going to go do work while you’re doing that,” laughed Seena. He never left to do work, but part of me thinks he wasn’t kidding about wanting to.
Despite that, Seena went on to explain that even though satirical news is notorious for tricking people into thinking it’s real news, that’s not actually the intention.
“I should say it’s not our aim to trick people – we’re not setting out to make up something outlandish, or to present a fake story with the sole purpose of confusing our readers, or just to like create panic or pandemonium,” said Seena. “But it is amusing when people in power take it seriously. That tends to happen with a lot of international governments, especially when there’s a language barrier because they don’t exactly know what The Onion is.”
Apparently, after The Onion ran a story naming Kim Jong-un the sexiest man alive, a Chinese publication took its cue and published a huge gallery of him because, hey, if America is doing it, everyone must be doing it.
“It was pretty amazing and I go look at it every now and again when I’m sad,” said Seena.
Satire is a powerful thing, and I personally feel like it gets overlooked sometimes, or discredited. While everything satirical is, at face value, false, the story is always rooted in some sort of truth. That’s what I love so much about this style of writing, and that’s why I wanted to try my hand at a satirical blog. But, I’m a news kind of gal and I’m not funny so there’s that.
Speaking of truth, one of my group members asked if Ben and Seena felt the need to keep up with real news sources in order to keep The Onion’s material fresh.
“Well, Ben can’t read … or write,” said Seena, referring to Ben’s inability to write his name. “So ya, in terms of literate members of the staff, you kind of have to in order to comment on not only what is happening on the news but also trends in the news. I mean, I think for me personally, I always read the news all the time because … I’m interested in politics, I’m interested in international affairs and I’m interested in the economy and boring shit like that.”
Breaking news from The Onion Chicago headquarters: Politics, international affairs and the economy is boring shit.
Real talk: I did learn a lot from that single hour in that conference room, but I’m not going to tell you about it. If you want to talk with Ben or Seena and pitch them stories, they totally encourage it.
According to Ben, The Onion staff receives story pitches from fans “like, every five seconds.”
“It never works and it’s something we so strongly discourage,” said Ben. “It’s just [that] we have a staff of pros and that’s where our ideas are coming from.”
“But the thing is, is like if you want to work here, you’ll find your way here. Everyone on staff has found their way here at least one way or another and everybody’s path is different. But ya, the emailing in thing – I think that’s less of an avenue into writing and more of like ‘oh, I thought of a funny headline idea you guys should run it,’ from an accountant in, like, the middle of Texas or something and he’s like 48-years-old.”
“We don’t do it to be assholes, we just have our own way of doing things,” said Ben. “And there are so many specific rules and things. We do things our way, and we’ve been doing them long before working here so we want to make sure that that continuity is there. So that’s why we reject outsiders.”
“So send some emails with some headlines is what I gathered from that,” I said.
“That is the exact opposite of the point I was trying to make,” said Seena, sarcastically mimicking my girlish tone. “Were you listening to the thing I said? That was the opposite of the thing that I said.”