That’s right: it’s a fake. And it takes “no responsibility” for misleading those which have been led to believe a story is real, according to its director of digital, Baratunde Thurston.

Speaking to this website, Thurston said The Onion – which bills itself as “America’s finest news source” and has been publishing its news online since 1996 – offered “no official disclaimers” its news wasn’t real. Since 2007 it’s been publishing audio and video clips.

“The Onion … puts the material out there and leaves it to the very intelligent, very discerning public to discern our news from what they might get from an ‘official’ news source,” Thurston said. “We sort of have had instances where people aren’t able to make that distinction and we take no responsibility for their inability to do so.”

Often mainstream news organisations had picked up on articles published on the site and run with them without doing any fact checking, Thurston said.

“It’s not something that we actually try to do,” he said in response to tricking mainstream news organisations. “I think some people have a misconception that we’re out to actively fool people. At the heart of what we try to do is to make a statement, sometimes lofty, other times quite silly – through comedic and satirical ways and using news as the main filter.

“So when we do our job most effectively some people get caught in the crossfire. They may not have heard of The Onion or know what we do, and so take what we do as legitimate news because we mock legitimate news so well.”

One recent example of a news organisation referencing The Onion was when it quoted Neil Armstrong as saying the moon landing was faked.

“Some newspapers in Bangladesh printed that story as breaking news,” Thurston said.

Another example was when a Chinese newspaper “plagiarised in full” a story about how the US Congress refused to return to legislative session unless a retractable sports dome was built over the US capital, he said.

“The publisher later issued a somewhat apology basically saying ‘Well there are some small, independent news sources in the United States that make their money and living by peddling lies to the American people’. And, in a fashion, that publisher was correct. But, more accurately, they did a terrible editing job.”

As for the perfect headline? Thurston said they were “hard to come by” but that the site had the luxury that many real news websites don’t have: starting with the headline and not the story. “I’ve written some successful headlines [but] I’ve had a lot more rejected that have ever been published,” he said.

Baratunde Thurston is a guest speaker at the Digital Directions 2011 conference, which will be held in Sydney on March 3.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha