Supposedly, text equals death on the World Wide Web, but in following this conventional wisdom, site after site is getting mired in winking icons, slow-loading, ultimately forgettable animation, and other attempts to bedazzle and amuse. While it's true words can be a pain to read off a computer screen, The Onion is proving that with the right words, text is all you need.
Based in Madison, Wisc., The Onion is a satiric newspaper that hits the stands (both real and virtual) every Wednesday. The format of the online version is straightforward and simple, allowing stories like "Black Box reveals TWA Flight 800 Passengers Missed End of Dragonheart" and "Immigration Officials Beef Up U.S.-Mexico Border with Real Beef" to speak for themselves. When there are graphics, they are used sparingly, usually in conjunction with the one-off jokes that run at the top of each issue (one pictured a fluffy Persian with a headline, "Want a Box of Shit in Your House? Buy a Cat!")
The Onion's M.O. is to take the familiar rhythms and conventions of straight news and give them an absurdist bent ("Area Teen Slated to Masturbate"); whether the story reports the obvious in aching detail ("New Fox Sitcom Outrageous") or fabricates news entirely ("Christopher Reeve Placed Atop Washington Monument"), not once does the tone waver. A few doses of The Onion's satire, so clean and direct it's almost scary, assure that you'll never look at USA Today and other perpetrators of "news" in the same way again.