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The Chicago Genius Herald - Grant Report #1

Hi everybody! Our Chicago-specific comedy site, The Chicago Genius Herald, received a mid-level grant in October. From the start, our priorities have been celebrating and satirizing our great city as a democratic creative collective and we’re excited to report on our progress so far.

Progress on Objectives

Where We’ve Succeeded

Filing as an LLC and Compensating Contributors

A critical component to growing our publication has been to attract new contributors through compensation, and the grant money enabled us to do so for the first time by filing as an LLC. In addition, we wanted to preserve our democractic process of collective decision making, which we were able to codify in our LLC’s operating agreement.

Once we got the LLC launched, which took several weeks, we began to cultivate new contributors by creating a list of writers we admired and posting about our participation in the Grant for Web. Since then we’ve received over 100 headline pitches, hired on 4 new contributors, reactivated 3 previous contributing writers, and allowed our core team to contribute more regularly.

Compensating contributors was a crucial step both in attracting new writers and retaining old ones. Paying for content has allowed us to have a more reliable publication schedule and build stronger relationships with our contributing team.

Where We Could’ve Done Better

Publishing two articles per business day

It took us longer to anticipate to build up our stable of contributors and ramp up our operations, but since the beginning of January we’ve been publishing two pieces of content per day and are confident in maintaining this rate through the remainder of the grant period and beyond.

A couple or our recent favorites:

Left Unchecked, Red Line Expansions Could Spread All Over City By Mid-2040s, Providing Dangerous Levels Of Interconnectedness And Convenience (which did great on reddit!)

and

The Bonehammer Has Been Chosen as This Year's Christmas Train (one of our favorite pieces of photoshop work)

Where We’ve Failed

Because it took longer than anticipated to reliably spin up to 10 articles/week we’re behind in our spending. On the back half of this project, we’ll be increasing ad buys (specifically on Instagram, we’ve found that to be a great new growth platform for us) on content with high engagement and work to exceed 10 articles/week when possible.

We also wanted to be at 160,000 pageviews/month at this point. With a total of 30,000 pageviews/month in the past three months...we are definitely not there. Some early viral hits made us enthusiastic about hitting high rates of growth, and we ended up overestimating when predicting our numbers. It’s a challenging year for just about everybody, and there does seem to be a reduced appetite for satire of late. But ultimately, something about our formula isn’t leading to the kind of growth we want. We’re addressing this by what we’re doing next.

What We’re Doing Next

Editorially, we’re refocusing around timely pieces with faster turnarounds so we can post topical and of-the-moment content relevant to what people are talking about on any given day.

No more image-only “news-in-pictures” posts. While they were never our bread-and-butter, sometimes we’ll create a one-off image gag and it’ll end up doing quite well on social media. For example: Chicago Baby Baptized in Au Jus. This attracted a lot of eyeballs on Facebook, but because there’s no accompanying copy, our bounce rate and time on page metrics suffered. We also believe this type of posts disincentivizes users from clicking to our site again because they’re conditioned not to expect an accompanying story.

We’ve had success on several larger feature projects, such as our newly-launched Pre-Covid Deep Dish Pizza Restaurant Simulator and are currently working on a new feature, a javascript matching game where the user will match the Illinois State Official to their indictment. For this we’re using data provided to us from a local civic organization known as City Bureau.

We are working to revamp our logo, masthead, and website design and unify our content with easily recognizable branding. Presenting as a more professional looking brand is critical in gaining user trust, especially when it comes to converting our readers to Coil users. As this was not detailed in the work part of our grant submission we are not allocating grant funds for this, but we thought it was important to include here.

We’re going to produce some video segments as well as newspaper-style comics. One idea we’re still workshopping is a mini monthly roundup where we repackage our hits from the month into a short, well-produced newscast.

Where we could use some help from the community

We haven’t yet done any large-scale acquisition campaigns to drive Coil adoption as we’re still cultivating our audience. Before we do this, we’re wondering what kind of successes and challenges others have had in this area. Comment below with any thoughts, we’d love to hear what experiences everyone else have had!

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