In its earlier years, The Onion was successful in a number of university locations (e.g., University of Wisconsin–Madison and University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign).

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In 2013, The Onion ceased publishing its print edition and launched Onion Labs, an advertising agency.s articles cover current events, both real and fictional, satirizing the tone and format of traditional news organizations with stories, editorials, op-ed pieces, and man-in-the-street interviews using a traditional news website layout and an editorial voice modeled after that of the Associated Press.

The publication’s humor often depends on presenting mundane, everyday events as newsworthy, surreal, or alarming (such as “Rotation of Earth Throws Entire North American Continent into Darkness”). Initially created in 1993 as a supplement to the parent publication, The A. Club is an entertainment and pop culture publication that contains interviews and reviews of newly released media and other weekly features.

In the spring of 1996, The Onion began publishing online.

In 2007, the organization began publishing satirical news audio and video online, as the Onion News Network.

In the spring of 1996, Ben Karlin and Dikkers collaborated with Robert Smigel and Dana Carvey to create four short Onion news segments for The Dana Carvey Show.

Smigel said that after being introduced to The Onion by Bob Odenkirk a year earlier, "it jumped out at me as something completely original and great, and I really wanted to use it on the show".According to Bolton, the most plausible explanation is that The Onion was mocking a campus newsletter called The Union.Conceived by University of Wisconsin students Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson, The Onion was founded as a print magazine for satirical news in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin by Keck and Johnson with their friends Scott Dikkers as cartoonist and Peter Haise as publisher.The bottom three inches were reserved as ad space for coupons that were typically purchased by local, student-centered or inexpensive establishments, such as eateries and video rental stores.The June 16, 1993 issue of The Daily Iowan ran a profile of Dikkers, in which it stated that "Dikkers still lives in Madison, spending about five hours a week on Jim's Journal and the rest of the time as co-owner of a satirical newspaper called The Onion". Magazine, Dikkers discussed Onion, Inc.'s plans to create a new sketch comedy show called The Comedy Castaways, which they were in the process of pitching to NBC, Fox, and HBO.So it's a combination of students and pretty impressive people.