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Don't [Blank] Around with The Daily Blank

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Mike Doyle

Since 2005 scribe of the local blog, Chicago Carless. I invite you to visit.

dailyblank[Update: Based on suggestions made here on Chicagosphere, the Daily Blank editors have made or are exploring improvements to their site. For more, see this comment.]

"F*** you, I'm from here!" Such was the reply from Justin Vestal, a staff writer at The Daily Blank, Chicago's new news satire site that yesterday launched into beta. Sitting down with their stable of comedy bloggers earlier this month, I had asked him what people should make of the fact that this Windy City-centric comedy blog got its start--and seed funding--from an Iowa newspaper. His response was instructive: don't [blank] around with the Daily Blank.

The Blank aspires to be an online showcase for young, local comedy writers, who practice their chops writing satirical riffs off of Chicago-based news stories. They're unpaid, but it in for the glory. ("We're emotionally bonded to each other, not contractually," writer John Stiffler would later tell me.)

Of course, they're much younger than me, too. I wasn't about to let that faze me.

"I'll be right back," I said as I found their table in the back of a Lincoln Park coffee shop. "I'm 10 to 15 years younger than all of you and my bladder's the size of a walnut."

Five minutes later and green tea in hand, I asked them the point of a satire blog in a city full of live comedy. The reason, according to webmaster Nick Peters: no one else was doing it. (Regular readers may recall the same foundational reasoning behind the popular Daily Daley blog.)

"It can be hard for a writer to get in the door and prove they're good enough," said Peters, describing why satire is a useful way to get noticed. "The whole point of satire is to help people get to the truth through humor."

Comedy based in truth has been the point of the juggernaut print rag, The Onion, since its inception. I asked the youngsters how they would differentiate themselves from the popular aromatic.

"The Onion has no bylines," said staffer Tia Ayers. "This is more promotional for the authors."

Of course, they'd toss each other to the dogs if they thought it would get them paid work. "Collectively, we're nothing," said Vestal, with a mischievous gleam in his eye that made me hold my green tea in my mouth before swallowing. "We want freelance work."

Other writers were more blunt. "These are my life goals," said comic Kristy Lueshen. "Climb Kilimanjaro, write for The Onion. But sometimes you're too young to be heard. So instead, I'm gonna fight against them. My role is to destroy The Onion."

I looked at Peters and told him to let Lueshen write the site's elevator speech.

How The Daily Blank came to be is a more inscrutable story. Yesterday I talked with Abe Abreu, CEO of e-Me Ventures, Peters' daytime employer and the Blank's founding company. "I really care about the Internet," he told me. "The community comes first, then the technology."

It's the technology that caused the Blank to be. Consulting as an online tech specialist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Abreu developed the beginning of a "semantic repository" product. For the technically unwashed masses like you and me, that means a website database capable of figuring out the meaning of the words contained in a post or personal update (like an IM or tweet) and putting on the same page relevant content from other places.

Those other places could be third-party websites or--more important to this story--back-catalog content from a media outlet's own archives. And that kind of content-awareness would make Abreu's product highly marketable. So with seed funding from the Gazette and anonymous "angels", he set to test his concept in the real world.

Of course, he needed actual content, first. (Can you see where this is headed?) Deciding to develop an in-house laboratory, Abreu tapped Peters to come up with leverageable topic ideas for a wholly owned virtual community, and satire rose to the top of the list. (How better to test a meaning-based API than with content based on shifting meanings?)

In April, Peters put out a call for comedy writers on Craigslist, and by May had a core team ready to produce content.

Unfortunately, the entire story of Daily Blank's corporate genesis and experimental underpinnings is absent from its About page. Now I love a win-win situation, and I'm all for making the Internet a more convenient environment. And as a ChicagoNow scribe, I obviously don't mind helping out a startup blogging concept. But that's a problem. Transparency is a fundamental rule of the Internet, to be broken at one's own risk.

Much as I think The Daily Blank is a killer concept, no one wants to join a virtual community only to find out they're part of a commercial thought-experiment later. Yesterday, I urged Abreu to detail the Blank's origins on the website, itself.

As for the Blank's actual content, on recent review I'm saddened to say the authors were a lot funnier in person. Face-to-face there was less blue language and a much more thoughtful reliance on wordplay and punditry.

Online, however, they've taken a page from Chicagoist, and decided to pepper their pieces--and their headlines--with obscenities. I'd love to offer you some of their headlines for review, but I can't print most of them on ChicagoNow. Word to the Daily Blankers, who were son engaging in person: this niche is filled--and better--by Chicagoist. You'd do better to find and develop your own voice.

For my readers, you can decide for yourself whether Daily Blank is a hit or a misfire. Consider these articles from the Blank's Best Of channel--but be warned, I've paraphrased them all: Illinois lawmakers say "no" to wet bowling shoes; high school bio teacher "has relations" with dropout; Hannity hopes fundraiser will get him "companionship"; fewer CTA complaints leading to better service; or Chicago outlaws ugly people.

"I've been harassing my friends with it for the past three weeks," said author Ian Penrose in early June.

At the time, I thought you might want to do the same. Now I'm not so sure. The potential is there for greatness, if only Daily Blank would let go of its reliance on shock language and trust in its own originality.

If you're under 25 or have a cast-iron ear towards scatalogical language, give Daily Blank a browse. Sure, you'll join an audience of guinea pigs, but now at least you're informed. Everyone else, however, may want to wait until the Blank makes it out of beta, hopefully with a more considered choice of words.

Most of all, try and forget the site's Cedar Rapids origins and remember these guys are Chicago comics. Otherwise, you may have Vestal and company suggesting you go [blank] yourself in an entirely different manner.

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9 Comments

njpeters said:

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Thanks for the balanced article, Mike. We're obviously still a bit ragtag, but are happy to finally be hearing what the community thinks.

A couple things:
The About page has been updated to explicitly make the connection between e-Me and The Daily Blank. Transparency is key!

The Authors are having a constant conversation about Tone, so your comments about blue-language will add fuel to that fire.

We hope your readers take the time to check us out and let us know what they think. We're gonna keep failing-fast until we get this right....the potential is definitely there.

Mike Doyle said:

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I'm glad to hear all of that. I look forward to seeing how TDB develops throughout the ongoing beta.

jesseraub said:

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Hi Mike,

It's a shame I wasn't there the day you came and spoke to my fellow Daily Blank writers.

It's also a shame that the Tribune won't let you use the word "bone" or "laid."

What happens when you need to describe a type of chewable object that dogs often like to bury in yards? What verb do you use when you talk about placing an object down?

I appreciate your concern about our editorial standards, but like I've always said: the Internet is a place for lonely and lazy people to complain about things they've glanced at once or twice but didn't take the time to fully read.

How about Mike's article about Reagan's statue coming to life to rage at modern conservatives?

http://beta.thedailyblank.com/2009/06/reagan%e2%80%99s-statue-comes-to-life-then-disappears/

Or the one I wrote about the alderman who painted over the mural?

http://beta.thedailyblank.com/2009/05/alderman-has-mural-painted-over-plans-new-color-for-fence/

Or Brandt's piece about Chicago homicide?

http://beta.thedailyblank.com/2009/06/oh-look-another-random-homicide-somewhere-in-chicago/

To be honest, Mike, I'm not sure a ringing endorsement or criticism from you would really matter in the long run, and I'm sorry you're getting such a shittttty deal to blog for the Trib while much smaller websites that I know get paid more to run Google Ads.

I'd like to follow that up with a stinging remark about why anyone would care about your choice of tea that you were drinking or your bathroom habits, but I can't seem to think of anything funnier than the fact that you actually wrote about those things in a piece that was supposedly about our website instead of the boring, inane details of your own life.

Run with the big dogs, and you gonna get got.

Just for future reference, I haven't actually read anything on your site either. No sense giving you the time if you weren't willing to give us the time.

Jon Stiffler said:

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Thanks for the article, Mike! We appreciate you telling us to find our own voice, criticizing it, and then suggesting a more conservative tongue. We'll be sure to remove "laid" from any of our future headlines, just one of the many "improvements," as you so self-congratulatorily put it, that are soon to come.

Mike Doyle said:

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Ah, youth. I was once full of piss and vinegar, too. Then it occurred to me vitriol can only get you so far--at least in a paid environment. Of course, that's not to say I shy away from controversy. Far from it. To wit..

Let's review the time I spent on The Daily Blank prior to writing this post:

--I emailed back and forth several times with Nick Peters, who originally pitched the site to me, in early June and again before and after this post appeared.

--I sat down with a dozen DB staffers for more than an hour discussing the project in detail, its reason for being, editorial direction, and what each author hoped to gain from the project.

--I spent 45 minutes on the phone with Abe Areu who walked me through the backstory and technical underpinnings of the website in extraordinary detail.

--And, of course, I spent my time reading the site.

Based on all of that advance work, my review of The Daily Blank is an informed one. Based on my experience with what works and what doesn't in the local blogosphere, it's also a considered one. Please agree or disagree as the spirit moves you.

Reject opinions as useless simply because you don't agree with them at your own peril. Engage in ad hominem attacks at your own peril, too. The Internet remembers.

So do local scribes. If you think this review, ChicagoNow, or The Daily Blank are the only places we'll ever meet on the Internet or in Chicago local media, kids, you have a bit more living to do. Oh, and next time, show up.

Boy, do I feel old now...

jesseraub said:

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Hey Mike,

I apologize for having a full time job and not being able to wistfully bluster off to meetings at coffee shops in the middle of the day.

I'm also sorry for offending you in my response. If you look at your post versus mine, I do admit the criticism I applied does take a bit more personal approach to the criticism, but the core concept is the same:

You took one aspect of our website and applied blanket criticism of it to our website and used only examples that supported your statement. You failed to include any of our articles that use no profanity whatsoever, which is a higher number than the ones that do.

Instead of focusing on the time you spent interviewing everyone, I decided to criticize your choice to use personal details in your feature style post.

Please don't try and tell me how things work on the Internet. I'm an editor for Punknews.org, GhettoblasterMagazine.com, TheDailyBlank.com, and edit and write for a variety of other websites that also pull in high traffic numbers.

And be dang sure we'll all remember your wanton criticism of The Daily Blank, and that I'll remember YOUR name if I ever meet you in any other local media outlets or in person. You're not the only one with ties to a major publication, my friend.

Brandt Ketterer said:

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Mike, while we do appreciate suggestions for improvement, I don't really think your treatment of The Daily Blank is fair. We may be (mostly) young writers, but to me at least it's not important that the website exists to serve a "commercial thought-experiment," as you say. It makes no difference to me that it's funded by a company in Iowa.

And I really don't think we'd "toss each other to the dogs" if we thought we could get paid work.

I am simply trying to get my name out there as not only a writer, but a writer who excels at satire and humor. It's not easy for new writers to make their voices heard. I'm doing what I can, not only with The Daily Blank but with other projects as well.

Contrary to what you suggest, Mike, we are developing our own voices. I think your expectations for The Daily Blank are unreal. We write satire--you should expect some obscenities. I'm sure you've read The Onion before? Should we really even go there?

We appreciate thoughts and ideas from others, but please try to be realistic about things next time.

Mike Doyle said:

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"I apologize for having a full time job and not being able to wistfully bluster off to meetings at coffee shops in the middle of the day."

That's a ringing endorsement of your fellow TDB scribes.

"Please don't try and tell me how things work on the Internet. I'm an editor for Punknews.org, GhettoblasterMagazine.com, TheDailyBlank.com, and edit and write for a variety of other websites that also pull in high traffic numbers."

The traffic numbers for TDB, unless you've shared them elsewhere, are not public information as far as I know, so if you're already pulling in high traffic, you're doing a great job. Care to share your numbers?

kristy and food said:

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Hi Mike!

Do you remember when you came into the cafe (this was after you urinated) (this was also probably after you bought your tea) (maybe you were drinking it?) (I just don't really remember.) and told us a really long story about arguing via blogs with a worker from Intelligentsia? I get the feeling that you've a penchant for this type of thing.

I do commend your ability.

Unfortunately, I agree with my fellow Youth. As loyal members of the Youth (Piss & Vinegar Squad, 2009! Yeah!), we are more inclined to:

1. Question the practicality of limiting our word selection to appease our elder viewers (average age of the Internet reader: not 45);
2. Favor the fine art of pissing off people who rely heavily on their internet representations (as opposed to developing strong personal character) to get by in their representational lives;
3. Continue arguing (so much fun!) when, really, we just wanted to say, "Hey! Not everyone uses the word 'laid' in vain!";
4. Utilize passive aggression through the form of - gasp! - sarcasm;
5. Defend ourselves with weapons (i.e. strong language).

Despite all of this, I appreciate your critique.

While it would have been nice to have you place a really tiny banner that says DAILY BLANK somewhere underneath another car advertisement on your blog, I think that it's more fun to drown ourselves in the lake and come back as seething, immortal water giants that can smite Chicago Tribune and its hegemonic attempt at 'community writing' by using our (now infamous) colloquial language through our flaming, volcanically-active satire.


...All sarcasm aside, I think it was awesome that you spent so much time and energy into researching and discussing the Daily Blank; not a lot of other journalists would do that. And while you did paraphrase my quotation (hey, your notebook was small - it's cool, I get it, life's tough), the article was still well-written, if a bit slighted. You said a lot of nice, helpful things: Thank you. However, when you brought our age (collective and individual) to the table as a reason for our "piss and vinegar" attitude, I lost a little respect.

Let me remind you that, as founding members of the Youth Committee on Not Getting Old and Complaining About Everything, getting far in a 'paid environment' is not, exactly, how you say...our cup of tea.

To summarize:
Thanks, but no thanks; we're going to outlive you (you brought it up, man); water giants; curse word, slang, expletive, expletive. Zing!

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