After almost two full decades as America’s Finest (and Fakest) News Source, The Onion newspaper has ventured into the foray of 24 hour cable news with the online Onion News Network (ONN).

The paper itself was originally started in 1988 by students at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In 2001, the Onion relocated to New York City and was purchased by New York money manager David Schafer, who kept on the staff at the time and hired now-President Sean Mills, former head of Adgile Interactive, an online media-buying agency.

Mills has taken the Onion viral in the past half decade (including a deal with Myspace in August of 2007) and ONN is the latest step for this mock journalistic institution. ONN launched in late March of 2007, and is headed by supervising executive producer/director Scott Dikkers, a co-founder of the original paper, and head writer, Carol Kolb, who has been writing for the Onion since 1996.

In its first promotional video, ONN promised to deliver “TV news that’s faster, harder, scarier, and all-knowing.” The stories are broken up into three categories. The first, labeled ONN, are journalistic style reports with an anchor, interviews, correspondents, statistics, and reportage style footage. The second style is called In the Know, which features roundtable, McLaughlin Group type panel discussions about issues such as Kim Jong-Il’s Approval Rating Plummets to 120% and Should We Be Shaming Obese Children More? The third, and least frequent stories are O-Span, which present either the US Department of Lost and Found, or floor footage where fake members of Congress discuss issues such as Hobo killing and Ladies night.

The presentation of the fake stories is impeccable. The Lou Dobbs/Brian Williams/Katie Couric style anchors sit in front of control room screens as high intensity sound and graphics packages introduce stories, experts are named and titled, and occasionally, a fake news crawl scrolls at the bottom. Like its hard copy paper predecessor, ONN is fake news in the truest sense. Unlike Comedy Central’s satirical staples The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (both of which featured Onion alum Ben Karlin as an executive producer), ONN invents stories and presents them in the guise of actual news, as opposed to comedic perspectives on current events accompanied by audience laughter.

Many of these ONN stories could be mistaken for real reports from the 24 hour news networks, which can be a double-edged sword for a comedy website. The videos are hit and miss, with some being irreverently joyous, particularly Human Head Found in Hamburger, Study: Multiple Stab Wounds May Be Harmful To Monkeys and J.K. Rowling Hints At Harry Potter Date Rape, while others, such the shtick-y and improvisational feeling In The Know panel about our children learning about Whales, can ring hollow. 
Take a look at the Something Happening in Haiti Breaking News item to really appreciate ONN’s unique ability to create up-to-the-minute comedic fake news stories in the feel of the 24 hour news networks. The deadpan anchor seamlessly transitions from mourning to celebration as the fake facts trickle into the newsroom.

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