An Onion staffer whispers to us that the humor publication has already laid off editorial and sales staff for its Los Angeles and San Francisco print editions, which will, said the staffer, cease publication.
It's true other editions are set to keep going. The Onion, said our spy, will retain its New York paper for the immediate future, though it is rumored to be doing only "marginally" well. Reportedly healthier are papers in Denver and the midwest, a region that has Onion editions in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul. There are also print editions in Washington, DC and Austin, though it's not clear how those are doing.
It was always comforting to imagine that The Onion could avoid the troubles of the broader newspaper industry with the sheer force of its wit — and with its young readers, the sort beloved by advertisers. The satirical paper itself seemed to think so, launching the San Francisco edition in 2005 and the Los Angeles edition in 2006, when deep problems in the newspaper industry were already apparent. (Austin and DC Onions came later; New York launched in 2001; the original print edition in Madison has been around since 1988).
But it would appear the publication is facing the same forces that have whipsawed alternative weeklies, who also bank on young audiences. The alt-weeklies have been stung by everything from the recession to competition from Craigslist, Yelp and Google. The Onion print editions have potentially lower editorial costs than the alt-weeklies, since they all share a great deal of content, but apparently the savings weren't enough to keep the paper afloat in SF and LA.
Hopefully The Onion's popular website and remaining print editions make enough money to keep the publication in business long-term. If the whole enterprise were to ever go under, who would feed staff to the Daily Show? The whole fake news talent pipeline would be horribly broken.