BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last month we spoke with former Onion Editor Joe Garden about the phenomenon of real world Onion-style headlines, that is, actual headlines that sound as if they were written for the satirical newspaper. Joe says he used to get suggestions for these all the time.
JOE GARDEN: The hard thing was when you’re sort of cornered at a party and somebody pitches you a news event that they think would be a great Onion headline, and then you sort of have to be like, ah-ha-ha-ha, oh yeah, well I’ll get right on that, ah-ha-ha-ha.
I think people really don’t understand that it takes more than just a goofy series of circumstances put in headline form. You know, you’re actually trying to form a decent cohesive joke that makes a point in as few words as possible.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We asked our fearless listeners to send in examples that actually would make good Onion headlines. And you did. Thanks, guys. Joe is back to review and pick a winner. Hey, Joe.
JOE GARDEN: Hey, Brooke. And thank you, everybody, for sending in your examples.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah. Some of them really did eerily mirror The Onion, didn’t they?
JOE GARDEN: They did, as a matter of fact. There were some that actually mirrored it to the point where I was reminded immediately of other articles that we’d run in the past.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Like what?
JOE GARDEN: Well, from Andrew Yatteau I believe it is, “Mitsubishi CEO: “I Don’t Know Why People Buy a Mitsubishi.”
And it reminded me of a story we ran, “Even CEO Can’t Figure Out How Radio Shack’s Still in Business.”
So I – I wonder if the CEO of Mitsubishi is an Onion fan.
Maybe he’s just sort of trying to audition.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or maybe just seduce with his candor.
JOE GARDEN: [LAUGHS] Oh, that always works. Like I – “I Feel Sorry for that Man, I think I’ll buy a Mitsubishi.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So give me another example of a real headline that just hit you over the head with its Onion-ocity.
JOE GARDEN: “Swiss Woman Living Entirely on Sunlight Dies Somehow.” That was sent to us by Jonathan Kay. And that reminded me, we did a story – it was an editorial by a woman, “I Lost 30 Pounds in 30 Days and Died.”
It’s a little knowing. The headline writer is a little bit knowing, in that respect, but it was definitely on the right track.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Speaking of knowingness, there were a number like that. There was a Nickelback one: “Lucky Guy Falls Off Cliff, Misses Nickelback Concert.”
JOE GARDEN: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This was from Peter
Kelly in Chicago. It was on MSN. They were doing Onion there, weren’t they?
JOE GARDEN: Well, it’s interesting ‘cause – way back in the day, in the old pre-Internet Onion, we used to do the Campus Crime Roundup for the – we’d go to the University of Wisconsin police files and we’d sort of like look at the best – you know, the best reports. And after a while, we found out – you know, after a few years of doing that, that the police actually started wording their reports a little bit more carefully to see if they could get into the Onion Campus Crime Roundup.
And this is sort of this on a more – on a more macro level,
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is a political season and so we saw a lot of election-related headlines. Give me some bipartisan faves.
JOE GARDEN: Of course, because I’m – fair and balanced.
And one of them was “Poll: Obama Leads Big Among Those Unlikely to Vote.”
Submitted by two people, Steven Schwartz and Andrew Caldwell. That really could be an Onion headline, trumpeting the political partisanship of people that just won’t ever get around to getting off their asses.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That was from Talking Points Memo. I don’t think they meant to amuse with that though.
JOE GARDEN: No, Talking Points Memo doesn’t really go out of their way to, to pander to a joke crowd.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Nor does NPR, but this was a headline on its website, the one about Ryan.
JOE GARDEN: Right. This was a close call for one of my favorites, as well: “Ryan’s Taxes Show Gap Between Romney and the Not-So-Rich.” [LAUGHS]
It’s a good way to sort of show the disconnect of the political process from the normal voter. It’s couched in a very nice concise headline.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that was submitted by Rik Nemanick.
Before we get to your favorite –
JOE GARDEN: Okay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - I want to say mine.
JOE GARDEN: Okay, hit it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is from Tom Bohannon. It’s: “News on Cancer Drug Fails to Raise False Hopes.”
JOE GARDEN: That actually hit me [LAUGHS] pretty well too, [LAUGHING] It’s funny, I like that a lot. Honestly, I wanted to see the whole story behind it because I’m curious to know where exactly they were going with it. But it’s a pretty fantastic idea.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, let’s play a drum roll!
[DRUM ROLL/UP AND UNDER]
JOE GARDEN: I’d rather have an accompanying [?] fanfare, if we could.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What’s your favorite? Where’s it from? And why?
JOE GARDEN: My favorite was sent in by Jack Graham of Portland, Oregon. It is from kgw.com and the headline is, “Pot Legalization Big Topic at Seattle Hemp Fest.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Because of its inevitability?
JOE GARDEN: Yeah. What else is gonna be on the table at the – at the Seattle Hemp Fest?
Of course, there was a loud minority that was saying, “Oh, this is preposterous, marijuana should be illegal.”
I mean, you can’t really report on that. You know, I like it, and it’s also great because the sort of square way it dealt with the topic of marijuana, number one. And number two, I feel like it was a very obvious thing. It’s sort of –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s sort of the modern-day equivalent of “Dog Bites Man.”
JOE GARDEN: Yes. [LAUGHS] It’s exactly that. It’s like this is clearly a big news event, be – if there’s enough people there. But if a bunch of people are sort of stoned out of their minds, you’re probably not going to get a whole lot of coherent talking points out of anybody.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] So I guess Jack Graham from Portland gets the mug.
JOE GARDEN: Congratulations, Jack Graham. Your mug is on its way.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You could put a seedling in it.
JOE GARDEN: Let it – let it grow, dude, let it grow.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Thank you so much, Joe.