I have been a fan of The Onion for many years. Its authors have mastered the art of news satire, and although they’re often irreverent, they’re equal opportunity lampooners. I always wondered what The Onion’s writers were like in person, and yesterday my wish to know them better came true at the National Press Club.
The writers are “20-30 somethings” with a wicked sense of humor and a healthy dose of self-confidence. They describe themselves as “schlubs” who have many “schlubby” friends. Most got their start working as reporters for small, midwestern newspapers. They dress casually and claim to be paid very little.
Of course, I bounced up to the panel as soon as the event was over and congratulated them on their science reporting and asked them to reveal to me who wrote the spoof article on medical peer review. It’s one of my favorite Onion articles of all-time, as it follows the science paper of a 5th grader (he wrote it about otters) as it undergoes peer scrutiny, shredding and denial for publication. You can read the article here.
Sadly, the panel members denied any memory of the otter article. I countered with my appreciation for their video news “Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children’s Healthcare” and they nodded politely. One writer asked me if I thought their scientific spoof articles were on-target, or if they betrayed their major lack of understanding of science in the first place.
“Well, as you writers well know,” I said, “‘science is hard.’ But you seem to be getting the right messages across. The medical community needs more reports like ’Fifth Grade Science Paper Doesn’t Stand Up To Peer Review.’ There’s not much to laugh about in healthcare these days.”
I snapped a few photos of the mysterious authors for my fellow Onion fans. Do you have a favorite Onion article or headline?
P.S. When asked why the paper was called The Onion, one of the panelists said that the first team of writers were so poor they ate onion sandwiches to survive (eww), so they named the paper after their food of choice. The company currently employs about 30 people (20 for video production and 10 newspaper writers). Fortunately those present at the event did not seem to have onion breath.