The Triumphant Return of Fake News


As a member of the Great Blog generation (Blogenation?), I like so many of you have had my ears tuned into the high frequency death whine of the media apocalypse for so long now that I’ve sustained permanent sensory damage. A tinnitus of the soul, you could call it, as I’ve watched the best minds of my generation’s words disappear off the screen, a thing they promised us would never happen, even if we wanted to! Along with countless others, I’ve had to sit back and watch in deepening despair as publisher after publisher went offline; our cynical millennial #hottake turning to ash in our mouths. 

Forgive me for the following rant about the “good old days,” the rights to which I’m cashing in before I’m old enough to be a grandparent because I never will be: children being the limited edition hype drop that I’m too old and broke to afford. Did you know kids cost more than my entire collection of Pokemon cards, Loungefly bags, Funkos, Tokidokis, Kid Robot and Bandai figurines combined? 

Though I don’t envy blogger parents, who undoubtably worry about passing down their inherited trauma of watching a once-viable career path turn into a dead-end; it must be not unlike buying a starter home in a neighborhood that looked nice in 2012 but in 2024, is a dead-ringer for the one in Barbarian.


To bear witness to the demise of internet culture is to see the housing crisis play out on a much longer timeline: the suddenly emptied out ghost towns of WeWork, domains shuttered, properties abandoned or boarded-up behind paywalls, sold off by private equity firms interested it for spare parts. And it’s just been dragging out, hasn’t it, since 2016 when Gawker Media fell to Peter Thiel wearing a Hulk Hogan mask. It was a major blow to not just the first amendment and the fifth estate, as people said at the time, but the entire web culture of hyper-literate writers whose careers were still in ascendance when the rug was abruptly pulled out from them.

The rise of Donald Trump, misinformation, and user-generated content on social platforms left a disheartening and bloody trail that continues today: 20,000 media jobs were lost in 2023, as the media industry faced a reckoning not seen since…well, 2020. That earlier culling of 30,000 employees during a year when COVID-19 and an election were supposedly helping the news business model thrive and expand (which they were, but not into hiring new full-time employees) was enough to extinguish any remaining flicker of optimism around digital news’ legacy. Lest you think its getting better, 2024 alone has seen the shuttering of Vox,, Sports Illustrated (for all intents and purposes), Popular Science and Messenger.

But while there’s a lot of hand-wringing about the death of news journalism, there’s been less of an eulogy for any of the irreverent comedy sites that once made up a large part of the online ecosystem, made up of creators before that was a thing and they could still get 401ks and health insurance. MEL magazine died twice for our sins. The Toast is toast. CollegeHumor decided to Dropout. SomethingAwful’s name checked out. Cracked turned out to be an ironically apt title for an outlet that — along with other popular aughts comedy zeitsites like KnowYourMeme, (ICanHas)Cheezburger, eBaum’s World and (RIP) Mel Magazine –found its grave robbed for limbs for Literally Media’s Frankenstein experiment to recapture lightning in the bottle.

But if you want to blame anyone for the death of Internet comedy, blame private equity firm Great Hills Partner, which in 2019 founded its own media company, G/O, to buy from Univision the remaining Gawker entities operating as the Gizmodo Media Group, including the titular tech blog, Lifehacker, Deadspin, Jezebel, Kotaku and Jalopnik. G/O also owned The Onion and its spin-offs Clickhole and The A.V. Club, the latter of which was considered by many to be to TV and film what Pitchfork was to music criticism. Also: Quartz and

It’s hard to find a more perfect synedoche for the decline of the intelligent internet than the fate of these publications under G/O and its CEO, former Forbes executive editor Jim Spanfeller, and we don’t really need to go into gory details as they were and continue to be well-covered by other outlets. Suffice to say the employees that were publicly fired or laid-off in some humiliating fashion early on, or those rage-quit in protest of the firings; those that lost their jobs trying to unionize or were told they’d effectively resigned when they refused to move their entire families from Chicago to Los Angeles without a relocation budget or pay increase to make up for the standard of living difference…they were the lucky ones.

In the latest but certainly not last mass casualty, Deadspin’s staff were given time only to collect their belongings before getting booted to the curb when G/O sold to a European buyer. All remaining websites’ employees have been living with a For Sale sign hanging over their heads like the sword of Damacles, watching the quality of their work take a backseat to the bottom line. In a fate worthy of a Philip K. Dick story, Gizmodo survived long enough to see their writers replaced by A.I. that didn’t know shit about Star Wars. Let me say that again: they messed up a Star Wars listicle. On the Internet. That’s where Star Wars listicles were born. Literally, how dare you.

But this is all to say, albeit in a super weird fashion, that there’s hope? Maybe? Because today, in a bizarre twist no one saw coming, NBC reporter Ben Collins announced that he had purchased The Onion from G/O, alongside Twilio co-founder Jeff Lawson and two other yet to be named media veterans. The name of their company, Global Tetrahedron, is a callback to a running gag from The Onion’s coffee-table book from 1999 Our Dumb Century. If that wasn’t a sign that someone out there still gives a f*ck about quality writing, The Onion’s new CEO Collins included in his announcement the news that all staff were keeping their jobs and the return of The Onion News Network, which was objectively the funniest thing on the Internet for many, many years. (Also: the origins of Fashion Brand Company’s “Sex House” sweater, in case you are wondering.)

As the first order of business under the new ownership, The Onion is holding itself hostage for a ransom of $1. You can pay via Stripe, but the purchase is capped at $99, and you have to manually scroll to that amount. Am expert, can confirm having just spent my last hundo just to keep the dream of my once-hilarious internet still alive. For the LOLz, now and forever more.


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