We are head over heels in love with satire. It’s entertaining. It’s good social commentary. And it’s something we don’t feel guilty about forwarding to all of our friends in the middle of the day. Satirical news, in particular, holds a very special place in our hearts because it helps us discuss important topics by considering wildly different perspectives. Here’s the thing, though: not everything that glitters is gold, and not everything that reads like satire is actually satire.
The wildly popular ‘Not The Onion’ subreddit documents some of the most “mind-blowingly ridiculous” headlines for actually true stories that wouldn’t feel out of place on the landing page of the satirical news site ‘The Onion.’ Sure, some of these might sound unbelievable at first glance, but we promise you, they’re legit. In many cases, that’s very unfortunate for humanity and our faith in it. Other headlines, however, show just how downright weird life on Planet Earth can get.
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Scroll down and feast your eyes on the most impressively bizarre news headlines. Upvote the ones that surprised you the most, and let us know what you thought of them in the comments, Pandas.
Again, just to reiterate: the headlines are totally real. So be sure to share ‘em with your friends—we’re pretty sure they need a break from school and work. Oh, and if you’d like to real the original articles in full, we’ve added links to them underneath each pic.
Bored Panda got in touch with one of the moderators helping run r/nottheonion, redditor u/IndigoSoln, for a chat about the news. We also reached out to Lisa McLendon, the William Allen White Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Coordinator of the Bremner Editing Center at the University of Kansas to get her opinion about clickbait headlines and what lies at the core of good journalism. You’ll find our interviews with both the moderator and Professor McLendon below, Pandas, so be sure to read on.
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Redditor u/IndigoSoln, one of the moderators from r/nottheonion, was kind enough to share their thoughts about the subreddit, and the nature of modern news itself. They told Bored Panda that they personally weren’t involved with the sub when it was founded all the way back in 2008, but they feel like a lot of change has occurred since then. Some of it’s very obvious. Some—not so much.
“A lot of growth came from when the sub was one of the ‘default’ subreddits all users were automatically subscribed to when they joined. This lasted until 2017 with the rollout of a more discovery-oriented onboarding. However, by then, we were firmly in a depressing new era of onion satire,” the mod said.
“The election and administration of Donald Trump, a walking SNL skit and personification of ‘failed business mogul,’ was the point things started going off the rails. There was rarely a day when there wasn’t a news story breaking some outlandish and ridiculous stunt you wouldn’t dare imagine really happening. The president serving a championship sports team fast food? Using a sharpie to ‘correct’ a weather map? What kind of mad world is this?”
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People resonate with the content shared on the subreddit for a number of reasons. Some enjoy it because, at some point in their lives, they’ve probably felt that reality really was stranger than fiction. “For some, you just need to put the craziness down on paper to really make sense of it in a ‘are you seeing this [crap]?’ sort of way. For those with a darker [sense of] humor, it helps them laugh at the situation and deal with the helplessness,” the mod explained.
“This growth in relevancy and political nature in the most hitting posts has come with a few challenges. With the polarization of opinions comes the insatiable itch to debate and argue every angle in the comments with extreme prejudice. Sometimes, this subreddit feels less like a humor sub with a dash of politics than a politics sub with a dash of humor given the intensity of things. Things have gotten so sour that we’ve turned to only allowing select posts on Donald Trump since we were guaranteed a rough day when one of those were allowed to grow, reach r/all, and bring in people from Reddit’s front page looking for an argument.”
The moderator said that the sub is an interesting place “where we’ve been called Nazis and the day’s flavor of ‘liberal’/’republican’ from both sides for trying to keep the peace and maintain a somewhat respectful atmosphere.”
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The reason why clickbait is so widespread, according to moderator u/IndigoSoln, is because news consumption has “dramatically shifted away from reputable sources such as newspapers and towards less than reputable sources, such as Facebook pages, random uninformed influencers, and other people willing to sacrifice their integrity for a little more attention. From there, it’s become an ‘adapt or die’ sort of thing.” They added: “Lucky for us, onionness regards the entirety of the article and not just the fluff title.”
According to the mod, good news is far less interesting than bad news because the former usually means that, well, nothing really happened today. “There’s a reason filler pieces are often good news stories. There’s nothing to glean from this news other than status quo. What people are really interested in change and how it is relevant,” they said.
Meanwhile, Professor McLendon, from the University of Kansas, gave Bored Panda her take on this: “I think people are drawn to things out of the ordinary, and often out of the ordinary also happens to be negative. They say ‘no one ever writes about the plane that doesn’t crash’ because planes normally don’t crash, so when one does, it’s newsworthy.”
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As for the reason why clickbait is so widespread, it’s because it works. Clickbait headlines are used because internet users click on them. “I’ve noticed shifts, though, as people catch on. You used to see all sorts of, ‘You’ll never believe what happened next!’ headlines—less from legitimate news outlets and more from ‘content’ sites—but when you read the article, you found that it was not unbelievable at all. People like to be informed, and they like to be surprised, so we’ll probably always have some sort of clickbait,” the professor shared her thoughts with Bored Panda.
Professor McLendon was also kind enough to share her thoughts about the things that lie at the core of quality journalism and what those in the profession can do to improve the quality of their work.
“Accurate information is at the core of quality journalism. Legitimate news outlets figure out what’s happening, check the facts, get multiple sources, and present the news to their audience in a clear, informative way. But there’s always room for improvement,” she said.
“Big picture, journalism could often be improved by ensuring sources from all sides of an event are represented. For example, a lot of political coverage is one side vs. another side with the people who are affected by decisions left out. Small picture, good editing is always important. Clarity and accuracy help readers understand and boost journalists’ credibility.”
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Nearly 21.8 million people are members of the r/nottheonion subreddit. It’s a testament to the quality of the community, the moderators, and the subject they focus on. Their content is a mix of good humor, social commentary, and total weirdness. Somewhat of a winning combination on the internet, we feel.
The sub has been around all the way since late October of 2008, and will be celebrating its 14th birthday in just over a month’s time. While everyone’s welcome to be a member, if you’re actually planning on posting any Bizarr-o World/Totally-Not-The-Onion-y headlines there, there are a bunch of rules that you’ve got to be aware of. They help maintain the high quality of the content and keep the community healthy.
The moderators of r/nottheonion ask members of the community to not alter any of the headlines that they share. “The title of your submission should match the article’s headline exactly. Copy and paste from the article, leaving out any subtitles, bylines, or other information,” they write.
“Both the title and body of your article should sound like something The Onion would write. This can be highly subjective—there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to what fits here. Moderators may rule posts Not Oniony at their own discretion,” the mod team explains that there’s a bit of subjectivity involved here as well. In short, the headline should sound like something you’d find on The Onion (or the just-as-witty The Babylon Bee if you’re on the other end of the political spectrum).
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Obviously, the headlines you share have to be from news articles. So blog or social media posts simply won’t cut it here. You should also aim to use original and reliable sources. Nothing older than two weeks of the publication date should be shared on the sub. Meanwhile, try to avoid tabloid news stories.
Outlets like The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, and others tend to overhype certain stories and sometimes strongly rely on the rumor mill and guesswork. There are plenty of capable, hard-working journalists working there. But the format of their stories is, well, that of tabloids. Naturally, that bleeds over to their headlines.
Take care to check if the headline you’re sharing is actually true and not satire. Some well-respected news sites actually have their own satirical sections: for example, the legendary Borowitz Report on The New Yorker. (As a side note, Pandas, if you haven’t already, check the BR out; it’s great stuff… as is The New Yorker as a whole.)
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“Work out what in the article people want to know most, and then write a headline that suggests they’ll learn that if they click on it—but ensure the payoff is just as good as the headline promises,” she told us.
“Clickbait works because people are desperate to know the ‘one weird trick that doctors don’t want you to know!’ or similar. When it turns out that the trick is actually something really mundane, readers feel cheated,” media expert Ariane explained to Bored Panda that clickbait works only as long as the content in the article is worth the audience’s attention.
She added that bad news stories are usually more dramatic than good news, meaning there’s more entertainment to be had, even if the topic is making you miserable.
“This instinct towards drama and not empathy doesn’t show humanity in its best light,” the writer said. “They [the readers] want to ogle at what’s happened because it’s dramatic and entertaining and scary, but it’s also a warning of what could happen to them if they’re not careful,” she noted that articles about bad events are akin to car crashes.
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Media and entertainment expert Mike Sington, from Los Angeles, recently spoke with Bored Panda about why people tend to flock to negative news stories more than positive ones. He also shared his thoughts as to why internet users love expressing their hate for something on social media.
“People enjoy being part of a gang that can pile on, and hate things, on social media. Plus it can be done anonymously, from behind a screen, in the comfort of your home,” he said.
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“It’s much harder for positive, wholesome news to stand out. The negative tends to upset us or anger us, which grabs our attention viscerally,” Hollywood’s Ultimate Insider told us.
For instance, one thing that many people enjoy (even some of them won’t admit it) is seeing public figures and celebrities fall from grace. These are people that internet users look up to. Some of them even put them on a pedestal.
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“So when they fall from grace and mess up, there’s almost a sense of relief. It can be enjoyable to some people because the celebrity becomes more relatable. People realize things can go wrong in a celebrity’s life, so they’re really not that different from myself,” he said.
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