Posted on September 18, 2013 in Archive

Does satire belong in the daily newspaper?

18Sep

One of yesterday’s headlines on The Onion’s website reads ‘Mother feels violent desire to make front doorway reflect current season’. Because it’s posted on theonion.com, no one will bat an eye because it’s satire. 

But if it was posted on The Washington Post’s front page, or that of the Courier Mail without any hint that it’s actually satire, there might be a bit of confusion. What is this doing in a serious daily news source?

The article details an American mother’s struggles as she compulsively decorates her front door according to the upcoming season or holiday – how tragic.

There would be uproar if this were printed in the local paper, because who cares? How is this news?

A lot of people care about satire, as it turns out. The Onion is estimated to be worth between $10 and $12 million, and has 15,000 paying subscribers just for the online content. This isn’t even mentioning the movie or television adaptations.

TV shows such as The Colbert Report or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart also regularly collect awards for their work, and are hugely popular with the Holy Grail of profitable demographics, 18 – 49 year olds.

From this, we can conclude that satire is both profitable and popular. People are paying for satirical content just as readily as they are for hard-hitting journalism.

This opinion piece got me thinking: should newspapers be incorporating satirical articles into their daily editions?

Liquid State satire - "Can't tell if real or the onion"

You can’t peel away at the Onion without a few tears.

Good satire is generally supposed to be funny (obviously), while still conveying constructive social criticism. This Minneapolis Star Tribune article, discussing the benefits of twenty-somethings living with their baby boomer parents, is an interesting example. Many readers were baffled upon reading it – “It was actually so bad, it was hard to believe it was true”, according to Arik Hanson.

Of course, it wasn’t true, and many readers complained the Star Tribune was the wrong place to publish such pieces.

Do you want to know what I think? Good on local papers for attempting to inject some humour into their product! They’re recognising that people enjoy reading satire, and are trying to meet that demand. Isn’t aping a profitable competitor what any levelheaded business would do?

While journalists might uphold a professional code of ethics that apply to their work, both they and their readers should try to remember that they write in order to sell newspapers – if they want to make this work, maybe including satire is the way to go.

However, they should be careful to tread a fine line with just how subtle they want to be. Having people take hours to find out that an important news story they read was bogus might put something of a dampener on readership numbers.

Also, maybe don’t make ‘Bold Employee Just Watching Videos During Meeting With Sound On’ a headline on the front page.