The headline above isn’t entirely true, but certainly Wikipedia provides a lot more background to the case than the Times did this week in regards to the possible Viacom merger with The Onion. On Tuesday the New York Times DealBook had this to say about the possible deal:
At first blush, a free, fake newspaper may sound like an odd acquisition for Viacom. But The Onion's ersatz news, while different in tone from that offered by the Viacom-owned Comedy Central's “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” could conceivably fit in well with the media giant's Web strategy.
And indeed it would fit well into comedy central's programming – after all, ex Onion staff member Richard Dahm is now the Head writer at The Colbert Report and David Javerbaum, another former Onion staff member is the head writer at The Daily Show. It’s interesting that so many of the Onion writers have ended up at Comedy Central already. There may be reasons for this, but to find out what those might be you’d have to know that, this is in fact the second time the deal has come to the table, (if the rumors are true.) From Wikipedia, Onion history reads as follows,
”¦.The Onion’s success was limited to the Madison and Milwaukee areas until it began its website in 1996. In 2000 as the publication had broken through to the mass market, The Onion was approached by Comedy Central for a buyout that would broaden the scope and reach of The Onion‘s brand of satire into other forms of media. While the editorial staff was enthusiastic about the move, the deal was ultimately scuttled by then owner Peter Haise when his negotiations with Comedy Central fell flat and alienated Comedy Central’s management. Despondent over the botched deal the editorial staff threatened to leave en masse for New York City with or without The Onion affiliation. The editorial staff wanted to capitalize on their fame and further their careers in New York City. In a compromise motivated to keep the company alive, in early 2001 the company relocated its offices to New York City.
So from this we can speculate that Richard Dahm and David Javerbaum migration to comedy central may have had to do with conflicts with management staff – though speculate should be underlined here, since Javerbaum’s departure date was in 1998, two years prior to the first botched Comedy Central deal, and Dahm’s is not mentioned. Just how accurate is the stuff written in Wikipedia? Well, up until June of this year Wikipedia didn't require contributors to register on the site, but given the style of the majority of the Onion’s entries, I think we can make an educated guess and say that it probably came from the paper itself. I don't know though, you tell me:
The Onion website is updated every day, most significantly on Tuesday afternoons, and The Onion newspaper is distributed on Wednesdays.
Yeah, clearly the Onion has nothing to do with these entries.
The question that remains then, is what does Wikipedia tell us that we haven't been told by The New York Times, Variety, or The Huffington Post? Well, for one thing it reveals that in addition to the original botched deal in 2000, in 2004 another deal, this time a movie venture with Fox Searchlight Pictures was attempted but ultimately failed. According to the site, there have been some recent attempts to resurrect the deal, but Onion management is “rumored” to be leaning towards scrapping the footage. Now, I know this may only count for two bad deals over the course of a few years, but I can’t imagine the Onion hasn’t received additional offers, and from we’ve read so far, “working well with others” doesn't seem to be in that paper’s history. Who’s to say what will happen between Viacom and the Onion, but I expect we will be able to read about it on Wikipedia when it happens.
UPDATE: BusinessWeek’s Jon Fine cites an internal Onion memo headline denying these talks: Factual Error Found On Internet.
UPDATE: The Capital Times, the paper of record of Madison Wisconsin (and hometown of the Onion), speaks to Onion chief executive Steve Hannah, who denys rumors of a possible Onion buyout by Viacom.