In Focus: Journalist Shares Views on Parody News Outlets

by Jules Gonsoulin

editor in chief

In our current era of increasingly informal news sources, adapting to younger audiences scrolling Twitter for eye-catching headlines, parody media outlets are thriving like never before. Websites such as The Onion and Clickhole (which is related to The Onion) garner mass amounts of views and clicks consistently, while their readers learn nothing pertinent to their daily lives. The websites are online tabloids, with the aim of mocking contemporary journalism and providing youthful readers with a fleeting laugh, all in a handful of 100-word articles. As an editor who genuinely respects the journalistic industry and all its aims, I feel that the rise of parody news sources and their groundbreaking popularity is a phenomena worth investigating, and, yes, judging.

Journalism has taken on quite a few different forms since the rise of social media. Most popular with college students nowadays are typically funny websites that contain small amounts of true news, such as Buzzfeed or Total Frat Move. These media outlets offer entertaining stories and news commentaries, as well as image and video galleries. These sites are blatantly informal, but I still would not hesitate to call the writers of these articles true journalists, since they are educating and socializing their audience with popular news. The informality, to me, is just a genuinely brilliant way to appeal to a certain audience. It’s funny, and it’s different.

Parody, on the other hand, might stretch the definition of journalism a little too much. The most important aim of true, ethical journalism is to socialize and inform media consumers. The Onion simply cannot claim to inform when its stories are outlandishly and deliberately untrue. This is not to say that those who pen these articles are poor writers, but in my mind, they aren’t journalists. They’re comedians.

I’m not saying The Onion and media outlets of its type should be banned from the Internet. I’m not worried that consumers will begin to falsely believe parody articles (although it has happened, in 2010 when Fox News reiterated and presented as fact, an Onion headline stating that President Obama wrote a 75,000 word email complaining about America). However, what kind of message is this growing trend sending to future professional journalists?
Years from now, will communications professors teach students that in order to become a successful journalist, one can either a.) Dedicate oneself to the truth and to uncovering that truth for the audience to know, or b.) Act with complete disregard for the truth and even satirize it? Parody outlets are undoubtedly successful, and should they continue to grow and become more popular, aspiring journalists will flock to these fun-loving sites looking for an easier, more relaxed career.

I get the comedic appeal of parody news outlets, and I always appreciate a good laugh, but I can’t stand idly as websites such as The Onion are treated as true journalism. It simply isn’t journalism, it’s creative writing.