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All jokes aside, The Onion and Baratunde Thurston take a ‘layered’ approach to social media [PODCAST]


He’s a technology geek and a political junkie. He’s done stand-up comedy and describes himself as “a smart, funny and extremely handsome dude”.

He also holds the too-cool title Director of Digital for satirical news empire The Onion (which recently sported this headline: “Anthropologists Trace Human Origins Back to One Large Goat.”)

Ah, it’s good to be Baratunde Thurston.

In November 2007, he joined the staff of The Onion, a media satire outfit that has made a jaw-droppingly successful transition from print to online. Originally, Thurston interviewed to be the Onion’s political editor, prepping for the States’ 2008 election. His bosses-to-be saw his tech background and asked it he could take charge of the website, too.

“What they wanted was more job for the same money,” Thurston says — jokingly, of course — in an interview with Anthill Editor-in-Chief James Tuckerman.

He describes what The Onion has been able to do online as a “perfect storm”. Because the company remains a relatively small operation, there is little executive bureaucracy to cut through, so they can make online-content decisions quickly.

On the other hand, because The Onion isn’t backed by big corporate money, they have been more deliberate with such things as an iPhone app (they waited about a year) and an iPad app (still waiting).

Behind its approach to content, however, is the same deliberate, jokes-by-committee approach to the writing.

“Out of every 100 jokes written, you might see 10,” Thurston says. That keeps the content quality high while Thurston and his team play with different ways to deliver it.


Baratunde Thurston – X Media Lab

On 3 March, Thurston will be a guest speaker at Digital Directions 2011, a Sydney conference that will gather some of the world’s top digital media executives and entrepreneurs, and showcase best practices in industry innovation. The conference is presented by Fairfax Media and X Media Lab.