The Onion’s ‘Attack’ Issue Hit With Readers

For the Onion and its readers, it looks like the wait was worth it.

The popular weekly humor magazine and Web site was hit with record online traffic when it published its “Attack on America” issue this week, its first new material since the terrorist attacks.

The publication posted the issue on Tuesday evening. Articles focused on the aftermath of the hijackings that destroyed the World Trade Center towers and damaged the Pentagon, with headlines such as “U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We’re At War With,” “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule” and “Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell.”

The latter two articles were the most popular among readers who used a link on the site to e-mail stories to friends, said Jason Dinkelmann, the Onion’s Internet business coordinator. Readers typically pass along between 7,000 and 8,000 stories a day, but on Wednesday, 22,000 articles had been e-mailed by 10 p.m. EDT, he said.

The number of people visiting the site on Wednesday hit 399,791, “which is an all-time high for us,” Mr. Dinkelmann noted. The previous peak was 272,599 visits, for the issue that ran the week after November’s presidential election.
Like overloaded Web sites for its serious brethren, the Onion had to boost server capacity and temporarily strip off advertisements to keep up with demand for pages. Mr. Dinkelmann said the site usually tops out around 14MB, but on Wednesday the traffic required 29MB of capacity. To help speed access, the Onion pulled all the ads off the site temporarily on Wednesday and again, briefly, on Thursday, when traffic remained heavy.

Mr. Dinkelmann said reaction to the issue was overwhelmingly positive. “Normally we get a lot of cranky e-mails, but [Wednesday] we got a lot of nice e-mails from people, thanking us for getting them out of their funk of the past two weeks.”

Todd Hanson, the Onion’s head writer, said the staff’s initial reaction was to avoid the topic. But they ultimately concluded that doing so would appear to trivialize the attacks. He and the other writers worked most of last week coming up with the new material. “Our intention is never to hurt anyone,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “We really honestly took this very seriously.”

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