Onion co-founder says satirical publication ‘doesn’t make a lot of sense in the future’

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Tim Keck, speaking at the Seattle Interactive Conference on Monday, talks about how he started The Onion and why he thinks the publication is in a bit of trouble today.

The Onion’s hilarious, degrading and matter-of-fact satirical headlines and stories have made people laugh for more than two decades.

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One of the first-ever Onion publications with a classic Onion headline, “Dead Guy Found.”

But with the way media is changing, its co-founder sees trouble in the publication’s future.

Tim Keck, who co-founded The Onion back in 1988 and went on to found an alternative Seattle weekly paper called The Stranger, spoke at the Seattle Interactive Conference Monday morning about how and why he started the newspaper as a University of Wisconsin junior 25 years ago.

Keck, who left The Onion in 1989, says he “hasn’t done shit for The Onion in the last 24 years,” but still had some thoughts on how it should prepare for the future.

“Right now, The Onion doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “They have to rethink what they’re doing because nobody — especially the younger audience — knows the structure of how news articles are written because they don’t read newspapers.”

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Tim Keck’s slide on how he started The Onion.

Keck explained how The Onion started as a way to make fun of the Associated Press-style of news-writing and has done the same for years.

But with news media moving online and fewer print newspapers around, Keck thinks that the The Onion will lose readership because people simply won’t understand the humor.

“If you don’t know the structure, you don’t get the joke,” he said.

In addition, the advent of reader reaction is another aspect The Onion must think about. Back in the day, the print newspaper product was solely a one-way relationship: Writers wrote directly at readers, and that was that.

But today, readers have the ability to sound off on stories with comments and social media response.

“You can’t write the meanest things in the world and not have some sort of response anymore,” Keck said.

theonionHe cited an example from earlier this year, when The Onion was forced to apologize after sending out a tweet during the Oscars that chided 9-year-old Best Actress nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, calling her a derogatory slur.

“As soon as you apologize on that, you f*** up the brand,” Keck said.

Keck still thinks The Onion is doing “really, really nice stuff,” but he sees major issues on the horizon.

“The Onion is not dead,” he said. “But it is in a little trouble spot and it needs to figure out how it messes with what people know and are living today.”

We’ll have more from Keck’s funny talk, including a five-step formula to writing an Onion story, later on GeekWire.