The Rabbit Hole is now one year old. Here's how you can support it.
It's been quite a year! We've done a lot of things! And now that we're all grown up, we have to do just a FEW grown up things.
(NOTE: If you want to get to the announcement part of this newsletter, skip down to “Well, here’s the announcement”.)
The Ice Cream and Cake Section of this Newsletter
Folks, this publication is one year old, and let me tell you, we’re knockin’ em dead.
A year ago today, I posted something about then-senate candidate Cal Cunningham slapping some grocery store meat on to his Kenmore propane grill and calling it “North Carolina barbecue” and, wow, could I not have picked a more dated or more minor scandal for a debut! Since then, I have written many more things. By my count, this post is post number 69. I’m serious. 69! Nice.
Over the course of these nice 69 posts, I have looked into very important things:
I have tried to discern whether Gladys Knight is a North Carolinian.
I investigated whether Mick Jagger really visited a dive bar in Charlotte without being recognized by anyone.
I tried to trace back the chain of custody on a cowbell that showed up in Roanoke Rapids and purported to be owned by Will Ferrell.
But it’s not just me. You all helped me make a list of the towns in North Carolina where you’re likely to get your ass kicked. We collectively wrote a bill that sets official limits in beach etiquette (It has not been signed into law because state lawmakers are too cowardly to introduce it and/or unaware that it exists). And, you gave me some North Carolina mysteries to solve. It’s been a lot of fun. So much fun that I thought about doing the obvious thing: Getting Ric Flair to cut this newsletter a personalized happy birthday promo on Cameo. There was just one problem. It either costs $500 or $10,000!
(Before we move on, I would like to note that there are more affordable North Carolina-related options on Cameo. Petey Pablo comes in at $200. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat will run you $100. Luke Maye charges $60. Tyler Hansbrough goes for $50. Why is he at a lower price point than Luke Maye? Also, a personalized message from Steve Smith will cost you $150, although he is very clear: "NO DEROGATORY LANGUAGE IN REQUEST.”)
The bigger issue, though, was whether Ric Flair would have been cutting a promo for personal use, or for business. Because, well, is this a business?
A Rabbit Hole Investigation: Is This A Business?
Let’s back up. Last November, I was finishing up on the last episode of Away Message, a podcast that I very much enjoyed making. I like having big projects, because they keep me from being aimless and mopey. I needed a new one. At the time, I was working for Our State, but my position meant I was writing less. So I created an account here on Substack, called it the North Carolina Rabbit Hole, encouraged a few people to sign up, and on November 19, 2020, I posted something.
That first newsletter went to 58 people. Today’s is going to more than 1,700.
I like writing here. While I really do enjoy working with great editors, making these newsletters allows me to bypass some of a pitch/wait/try again freelancing process which isn’t always good for timely stuff. Also, I’m not great at laying out the absurdity of what I’m writing up front; It’s a bit like explaining a joke before you tell it. Some of my most successful pre-Rabbit Hole blog posts were about FroYo, turning an interstate highway into a moat, and government officials dabbing. Those sorts of things are extremely fun to write and extraordinarily hard to pitch without sounding like an insane person.
However! One so-obvious-it-hurts benefit of freelancing is that it pays money. (Although sometimes you have to remind people that they said they would pay you!) The Rabbit Hole, while fun, is something I’ve been making free of charge. That means I’ve been holding a few things back from this newsletter, not because I wanted to, but because I had to make a calculation on their worth, and their value elsewhere was higher than the value of posting them here.
A few months ago, I started to think: What if I could change that?
Well, Here’s The Announcement
So, here goes: I’m moving to a reader-supported model to keep this newsletter going.
A lot of online media is ad-supported, meaning the work has to reach a ton of people to make even a little bit of money, not to mention compete with Facebook and Google. In the olden days, that meant a publication with a regional or narrow focus—say, a site that focused on interesting ephemera in our nation’s 9th most populous state—wouldn’t work economically. But with the rise of reader-supported writing, the numbers essentially flip, and even a modest number of paying supporters could make a whole new world of things financially feasible.
Here’s the thing: I’m not doing this to get rich (In general: journalism ≠ accumulating gold doubloons). I now have a full-time job outside of journalism that I love, and my family comes first. But I’ve also been lucky enough to have the Rabbit Hole as an outlet, and I while I still cherish the ridiculousness of the things I get to explore here, I want to get more serious about making it sustainable.
In short, by pledging your support, we can keep this thing going, and maybe even take it to new heights.
Here is the hard part. I’m asking you today to pay for something you used to get for free. I think that’s fair, because even when writing is a labor of love, it still requires a lot of labor. Everything I put up here, believe it or not, takes time and energy to generate. It takes time to keep my eyes open for stories that other people might miss or skip over. It takes energy to work out how to translate them into words. It takes effort to do reporting, even if that reporting is done via emails, phone calls, or Zooms. Sure, a few #blessed posts come together in under an hour. Some other posts have taken weeks or months to pull together. After all, one does not land an interview with Booger overnight.
So, what do you get by subscribing?
On Mondays, I’m writing a short burst of stories like this and this that look back at the week that was and ahead at the week that is. Those stories, starting in January, will be for paid subscribers only.
On Thursdays, I’ll be posting longer stories with a singular focus, like this and this. Those will be free, although they’ll go out first thing in the morning for paid subscribers, and mid-morning for regular subscribers.
How much does this cost? Depends. For $7.99 a month, or $79.99 a year, you can join up and be a Rabbit Hole Member. That works out to slightly less than a dollar a story. All Rabbit Hole Members will get a heads up on any experimental or new things that I might want to try: Live audio, videos, a podcast, that sort of thing. Honestly, the more response I get, the more I feel like I have license to kick the tires on other interesting stuff.
Now, if you’re saying to yourself “I enjoy this, but I’d rather donate to charity,” then email me before you sign up, tell me which North Carolina charity you want to donate to, send proof of a donation of at least $20, and I’ll give you a 30% discount up to a year (and continue it after another donation). I’ll gladly take less money if you can find a way to use yours to make someone else’s life better.
And, if you really want to support the Rabbit Hole, you can become a Super Supporter and contribute as much as you want. Those folks will get advanced notice of the bigger stories that I’m working on, and a specific shout out when I publish them.
That’s great and all, but can you turn this into a game?
YES. I have designed an imperfect system of determining which place is TRULY the greatest place in North Carolina: For every paid subscription, I’ll use the billing zip code to award points to your county, weighted for population. Members in Mecklenburg and Wake Counties will earn one point. But a member in Tyrrell County, the smallest county in the state, will get 348 points, because it is 1/348 the size of Mecklenburg. That’ll keep Charlotte, the New York Yankees of this newsletter, from winning all the time.
(Here’s a spreadsheet if you’re truly curious about how many points each county gets. Out-of-staters can score points for the last North Carolina place where they lived or visited.)
Every month, North Carolina’s Greatest Place™ will be crowned, based on the cumulative points since… today. We’ll also have a Rabbit Rookie of the Month, based on the place that’s gotten the most points during that time. The prize for each winner will be a bespoke county-related Rabbit Hole meme. For example: Tyrrell County, if you win, this is what you’re gonna get:
So, is this gonna work?
Maybe? If this whole experiment goes badly, I will salt the earth and curse this newsletter with a Cameo from former Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
Is that a threat? Do you think it’s a threat?
If you don’t want to pay, that’s okay. I get it. But if you do, please know that I will not take it for granted. If nothing else, know that I’m really trying to help you find out about places you’ve never been to. I want you to learn something new. I want you to see things you thought you knew in a new light. That gives me joy, and if I can give you some of that joy too, then it’s all worth it.
That’s my pitch. I can’t thank you enough for a great year, and let’s see where we can go next.