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Sweet Onion
Why the faux news empire loves Milwaukee more than Madison.


In February 2010, the New York bureau of The Onion’s A.V. Club shuttered. Website gone, local coverage snuffed, ominous omen amounted to. Sobbing was overheard, and the gnashing of teeth reached Madison in mid-2012, when its bureau also bit the dust, along with those in Chicago, Minneapolis and Denver. The savvy arts and entertainment Onion insert was in retreat, it appeared, though you could still breeze through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Memorial Union and pinch a finger-staining copy of America’s Finest News Source, lies and all. Its continued survival in print and ink form underscored its stories’ bold satire. How curious that this was a real publication! Well, we may have laughed too soon. With newspapers in contraction, even the money in satirizing them is drying up, and in July, news broke that gnomes would no longer distribute the print version in Madison, where two UW juniors founded the weekly in 1988. Milwaukee, by the way, still has its own A.V. Club editor, Matt Wild, and still receives the bird-cage edition, a one-two punch of satire that places us in the Rolls Royce ranks of Onion-dom and several layers ahead of Madison.

Timeline

1988: UW-Madison students Tim Keck and Chris Johnson publish the first edition of the fake news weekly.

1989: THE FOUNDING PARTNERS SELL THE PUBLICATION TO PUBLISHER PETER HAISE AND CARTOONIST SCOTT DIKKERS FOR $16,000.

1990-1995: Haise and Dikkers expand the paper’s reach, adding delivery to Milwaukee, Chicago, Boulder, Colo., and Champaign, Ill.

1996: The Onion’s owners launch theonion.com. Traffic soars.

1997: PAY DAY! WITH REVENUE RISING, THE PAPER CAN FINALLY REWARD SEVERAL EMPLOYEES WITH A PROPER SALARY.

1998: National Democrats take umbrage over stories parodying the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

1999: BEST-SELLER OUR DUMB CENTURY, A COLLECTION OF ONION-STYLE HEADLINES, WINS THE GROWING MEDIA EMPIRE A THURBER PRIZE FOR HUMOR.

2000: Look out, alt-weeklies, here comes the A.V. Club, an A&E insert that turns The Onion into a Trojan horse for legitimate arts coverage.

2001: The paper opens a new headquarters in New York, where an edition grapples bravely (and awkwardly) with the Sept. 11 attacks.

2002: THE BEIJING EVENING NEWS MISTAKENLY REPRINTS AN ONION STORY ON CONGRESS THREATENING TO LEAVE WASHINGTON, D.C.

2003: Turning down a slot on “The Tonight Show,” The Onion brain trust begins work on a feature film.

2004: The paper launches Onion Premium, which exists behind a pay wall at theonion.com.

2005: THE PAPER UNCEREMONIOUSLY DISMANTLES ONION PREMIUM.

2006: The New York Times stops by the office and finds 14 scruffy staffers who "still resemble the stoners and indie rockers the paper regularly lampoons."

2007: Fake news broadcasts, played off as products of “The Onion News Network,” appear on the website.

2008: Critics more or less pan the long-delayed Onion Movie, a straight-to-DVD comedy centered on newscaster Norm Archer.

2009: RUMORS THAT A MAJOR MEDIA COMPANY WOULD BUY THE ONION LEAD TO A MINI-HOAX BY THE PAPER CLAIMING NEW CHINESE OWNERSHIP.

2010: Skewering the farcical debate surrounding the 2010 health care law proves to be one of The Onion's finest hours.

2011: The website tries a pay wall again, this time with a different pay model. Fingers are crossed.

2012: HQ offices move to Chicago, which is insultingly close to Wisconsin and like visiting your hometown without seeing any of your old buds.

2013: MILWAUKEE BECOMES EVER-MORE IMPORTANT IN ONION-DOM AS ONE OF THE FEW CITIES LEFT WITH A REAL LIVE IN-THE-FLESH A.V. CLUB EDITOR.





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