Subscribe
First Look

Why would Univision want major stake in satirical news organization 'The Onion'?

Millennials' love for read-anywhere, socially-networked 'news' – much of it actually comedy – may help Univision stay relevant as more of its Hispanic viewers opt for English news sources.

  • close
    The Univision Communications Inc., building in Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 2005. Spanish-language broadcaster Univision announced Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, that it is buying a stake in the owner of The Onion, the satirical news site.
    Damian Dovarganes/AP/File
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

The Onion, "the single most powerful and influential organization in human history," according to its tongue-in-cheek website, is adding another chapter to an illustrious, and mostly fabricated, history. On Tuesday, Spanish-language news giant Univision announced that it had purchased a significant minority stake in the satirical website's parent company, Onion Inc., in a bid to compete for Millennial readers, who increasingly consider comedy a legitimate form of news.

Unlike most content on theonion.com, the business deal is real.

"I’m excited to see what we can do with Univision behind us," Onion Inc. President Mike McAvoy told employees in a memo, writing that the company's previously independent finances "made us smart and lean, but not always ready to invest in the great new ideas that we come up with." The company abandoned its print paper in December 2013. 

Recommended: 'Poking a Dead Frog': 10 thoughts on comedy from some of its best writers

The web company, which was actually founded in Madison, Wis., in the late 1980s (although its own satirical "About Us" page says 1765) is home to sometimes biting, sometimes time-killing comedy. "Tips for Successful Campus Activism" begins "be completely honest with yourself about whether or not your cause is stupid," for example; in "Just a Quick Heads-Up, I’m Being Radicalized," a young man cheerfully updates a friend that "I would willingly commit mass violence in service of the extremist dogma that’s consumed my every thought. I know, right?"

And it works, business-wise. According to a press release from Univision, The Onion and its several spin-off sites, like A.V. Club and Clickhole (a parody of procrastination paradise Buzzfeed) pull in 25 million monthly views

Further business details were not disclosed. The New York Times, however, cited an anonymous source to report that Univision bought 40 percent of the company, with rights to buy it outright, for $200 million. 

Sometimes, its satire has worked too well. Numerous publications, usually foreign ones, have reported Onion stories as straight-edged news, as when China's The People's Daily re-reported that Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, had been voted "Sexiest Man Alive." Iran's state news agency republished a fake poll saying that a majority of white, rural Americans preferred former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Obama, because Mr. Ahmadinejad "doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s Muslim." Even Fox News has seemingly forgotten that the Onion is not, well, real: it published, then later erased, a made-up story in which the president sent a rambling, frustrated email to every single American.

But its comedy could bring real profit, and longevity, to Univision. Although it attracts the highest number of viewers among Spanish-language networks, more and more Hispanics report getting their news in English, prompting the company to branch out to English-language networks like Fusion, a co-project with Disney's NBC, and online sites meant to appeal to non-Hispanic audiences, like the Root, which is targeted at young African-Americans.

"Comedy is playing an expanding role in our culture as a vehicle for audiences to explore, debate, and understand the important ideas of our time," FUSION CEO and Univision Chief News and Digital Officer Isaac Lee said in a statement, noting its role in the ongoing presidential campaign. "The Onion has been, and continues to be, a leading force of this phenomenon of intellectual, social, cultural and satirical commentary online."

Some aren't celebrating the trend. Although a majority of Millennials report caring about the news, and following current events on a daily basis, many are turning to satire and comedy shows, like Comedy Central's Daily Show or the now-defunct Colbert Report, to learn what's going on.

But many fans of the genre's recent pioneers, like Jon Stewart, say satire is calling attention to mainstream media's own failures.

"I’m here to confront you, because we need help from the media, and they’re hurting us," Mr. Stewart told CNN's "Crossfire" program in 2004. "You’re doing theater, when you should be doing debate."

Then again, The Onion may owe its success more to profitable partnerships than civic heroics. In May, The Atlantic reported that 81 percent of the company's total revenue came from sponsored stories from advertisers, to which the editors attach an endorsement from (fake) publisher T. Herman Zweibel: "I hereby approve this commercial endeavor as fit for publication in The Onion news-paper. May the ox of journalism always be yoked to the cart of commerce."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK