How the Onion Writes Headlines

New book Our Front Pages explores the evolution
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2009 1:02 PM CST
The cover of The Onion's "Our Front Pages" is shown.   (
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(Newser) The Onion's writers have a backward way of generating stories: They come up with the headlines first. The staff devotes the first two days of each week to rejecting headlines like “Quick and Painless Overthrow of Taliban Enters Eighth Year” in favor of “US Continues Quagmire-Building Effort in Afghanistan.” New book Our Front Pages explores the evolution of such heads over the paper’s 21-year history; New York Times reporter Eric Konigsberg took a peek at it, and the operation. Fun tidbits:

  • Early headlines are decidedly clownish (“Depressed? Try Liposuction on that Pesky Head”), but in 2001—the year the paper moved from Wisconsin to New York—the headlines took on “more of a New York Times-Washington Post kind of tone—sober, important,” the editor says.
  • The staff meeting consists of 10 white guys, "most in glasses, about half wearing T-shirts with something satirical printed on them, and at least 60% of them with facial hair."
  • Office secretary Ellie Kemper worked there; other writers have moved on to the Daily Show, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and Comedy Central, among other destinations.