Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 29, 2023

Onion editor satirizes news at FAS event

By RACHEL WITKIN | February 27, 2014

Over 700 students came to Shriver Hall last night for the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS)’s second event, hosting Jocelyn Richard, a features editor at the The Onion. The event was co-sponsored by The HOP as a part of their goal to provide more free events for students.

FAS Executive Director sophomore Rosellen Grant introduced Richard by explaining how a writer from The Onion fit in with FAS’s theme of “Confronting Global Dissonance: The Balance Between Realism and Idealism.”

“It criticizes social flaws in a positive way, thereby avoiding the negativity that so often accompanies our reality,” Grant said.

Richard started off her presentation by joking about how much she felt at home at Hopkins.

“I’m so excited and happy to be here with so many nerdy, socially awkward, and stressed out people tonight before you guys have to take exams,” she said.

She introduced The Onion as one of the “most powerful and influential news sources in history of journalism,” and proceeded to give a fake history of the paper, which she claimed started in 1765 by a Prussian farmer who traded a bag of yams for a printing press.

She went through a few of her favorite recent headlines, continuing with her theme of The Onion being the best paper ever. Richard then segued into the way that The Onion works, claiming that Timothy McVeigh and Bashar al-Assad were some of their biggest contributors. According to her not-so-accurate slide-show, The Onion had nearly 100 trillion readers, about 100 times the amount of readers than other popular publications. She threw in a jab at The New York Times and even The News-Letter.

“Journalistic integrity: Onion scores 6.0, New York Times, basically nothing, Washington Post, nothing, CNN, nothing, JHU News-Letter, you know?” she said.

Richard then actually explained what goes on behind the scenes at The Onion. They just moved to Chicago from New York and have nine full time staff members and 3 graphic editors who have to tell about 1,500 jokes per week. For the jokes to move onto the next stage of production, people have to actually laugh at them, which can be nerve-wrecking.

Richards also let attendees know that the newspaper does all of its own photo shoots. She explained how people from the office pose and then Photoshop the final image later, noting that The Onion’s photo that depicted Romney’s sons getting uncomfortably close to Paul Ryan was actually a bunch of guys on the staff with the Romney faces PhotoShopped on them.

“I was surprised that there were only twelve people on staff and the fact that they just sort of take staffers and make Photoshop pictures out of them specifically,” senior Kevin Joyce said.

Joyce expressed that, while he thought Richard was funny, she could have been more creative with her PowerPoint presentation.

“It seemed like it was a pretty cut and dry, formulaic, and how they present to any school,” he said.

The Onion also has a dedicated group of people who like to comment on their articles. Richard explained that these people are usually unaware that the articles are satire.

Some real news outlets also seem to be unaware that The Onion is satire. Richard showed examples of Chinese and Iranian outlets as well as Fox News, all of which reported on The Onion’s articles as if they were real news.

The question and answer session that followed Richard’s talk ranged from questions about how the newspaper decides what to focus on to ones about how writers are selected. Richards explained that most people who get jobs there took part in their fellowship.

Another student asked her what the move from New York to Chicago, where most of the staff is based now, was like. The staff moved to Chicago as a part of their focus on covering daily news instead of just jokes throughout the week. Richard said that she likes Chicago, but really misses New York.

“I sort of had a life there,” she said. “Oh yikes, oh no, this was just a horrible therapy session that just came out.”

When a student asked her if he could read out New York Times headlines and have her create satirical headlines on the spot, she declined, because the headline process at The Onion usually takes a long time.

“That would be so hard to do,” she said. “I would embarrass myself.”

The News-Letter caught up with Richard after the show to talk about why she came to Hopkins and what she thought of the people here. She explained that she was actually asked to speak at the event last minute, as her co-worker couldn’t make it due to the flu.

“Everyone seems really smart, really just funny, knows their stuff, really engaged, I was just really impressed with everybody I met,” Richards said.

Richard also shared some advice for students here who want to go into journalism.

“Write a lot, I know that that’s a cliché, but if you really like a type of writing and think you want to do it, you have to do it,” she said.

The HOP’s Social Media Content Curator, senior Emily Markert, who was in charge of organizing this event on The HOP’s side, thought that the evening went quite well.

“It was awesome,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect since she was thrown into it. I didn’t realize that it was going to be hilarious.”

Markert said that Richard was happy with how the event went as well.

Junior Leah Barresi, who is on FAS’s Marketing Team, also thought that the event was a success and looks forward to the rest of the speakers this semester. She said that it was hard to think of speakers that represent the idealism side of FAS’s theme, and that The Onion struck a balance between idealism and realism because it takes a light-hearted look at serious issues.

“It keeps idealism in the face of depressing realism,” she said.

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