Behind-the-scenes at The Peedmont: the making of satirical news

illustration by Iain Duffus

 

The Peedmont proclaims itself “Virginia’s most-trusted satirical news source.” Its growing staff, including editor-in-chief Matt Daniel, senior group editor Sarah Rose and copy editors Julian May and Rachel Marsh describe it as “a labor of love,” being that they work on the site part-time and still run the site without profits. Articles on the site are geared towards Virginians and bounce through an extensively collaborative, creative process before being published.

Members of The Peedmont staff spoke with The CT about the details behind the site and its satirical content.

Can you tell us about how The Peedmont came to be?

Matt: I started The Peedmont with a few friends. It was just kind of an idea that I had in my head and a few other people got on board with it. We launched a little over a year ago after a couple months of planning. Now there’s about 20 people involved, ranging from editors to group editors to an art department. We’ve got big things on the horizon as well.

How has that been, starting from the ground up for the past year?

Matt: It’s been quite a learning experience because I don’t have any background in journalism or comedy, satirical comedy or web design. I just think I’m way funnier than I probably really am. Some people on our team have more experience than I have, they’ve been really helpful.

I’m curious to know what kind of background is required to be a satirical writer

Rachel: I’m a writer by trade, but most people here are not. I think just having a background in being able to write and being in any way funny is helpful.

How is writing satire different from writing traditional news?

Sarah: I think the major difference is the fact that, especially since ours is all made up, there’s no actual story that we have to base anything on. We have to create everything, which means that we have to pay careful attention to make sure that the story flows properly and it actually creates a cohesive story that makes sense as if it had actually happened.

 

Would you say that you rely on any sort of creative writing techniques to write the satirical pieces?

Matt: I would say we do, the process an article goes through involves multiple eye looks at it, to kind of get multiple perspectives. You’ve got someone who starts off with the article, someone who does a comedy edit of it, then you have another round of just making sure everything makes sense. Then it gets sent to group editing, which is a comedy edit in its own sort.

What does a comedy edit entail?

Julian: A comedy edit is like a polishing stage. Most of the articles come with a really strong base idea or concept and it’s about finding the opportunities to either enhance the core joke or add details that could be the funniest part of that story. So it’s a lot of fine-tuning on the way to straight copy editing or making sure that it adheres to a journalistic style.

So do you adhere to AP style?

Sarah: Yes, we do. I started in January as our first editor and I was a complete nerd and did a lot of research and I decided that we [would] use AP style. Every so often, we let that slide depending on the article. It’s very rare, but there are some articles that just call for stepping outside the boundaries.

What inspired having different sections dedicated to different regions in Virginia?

Matt: It actually is something that we wanted to do [since the start]. A lof our output is more Richmond-based because a lot of our team is Richmond-based, so that’s where we have our familiarity and background. But we are looking to expand and be able to do more stories on northern Virginia, the Tidewater area and out west in the mountains.

Is that something that other satirical sites do, have such a strong regional focus?

Sarah: I think we are a bit different that we’re really focusing regionally. That’s not something you see often and it makes it harder for us to write because we can’t pull from just anything that’s going on. We have to have a more focused area.

So it’s almost like a bunch of regional inside jokes that you build off of?

Matt: Yeah, obviously we don’t want to just tell the joke over and over again, but we’re always brainstorming, looking at current events going on, things that are happening that we could play off of. Basically anything that we think people of Richmond and the rest of Virginia could relate to on a more personal level than stuff that maybe, The Onion would put out.

You said earlier that you think the reason people read your articles is because they’re local, why do you think that draws people so much?

Matt: I would say it’s just one difference about us. It’s what makes us unique and I think that’s the selling point. We honestly see it in the results of what we’ve done so far because every now and then, there’s something big in the news on a national level and we’ll take a stab at it. But it’s never as popular, we never get as much web traffic when it comes out. We could do a piece about an archaeologist finding a parking space in Carytown and it’s a smash hit.

What is the process for starting a story?

Sarah: How it starts, in our brainstorming, we don’t throw out story idea

s, we throw out headline ideas. All of the ideas for the stories are in headline format and then it’s up to the author to shape what that story will look like based on the agreed upon headline. This goes back to one the earlier questions about how it’s  different to write satirical versus journalistic. People will read it [news] because they are interested in the topic but with satirical news the

y  need to be entertained. The only reason they’re clicking on us is to have entertainment, so we need to have a headline that is catchy, that’s gonna have people clicking on it. Starting off as a catchy headline is very important for our process.

There aren’t many political pieces on the website, is it not as popular?

Matt: I would say for the most part, it is true. Politics are obviously important, but we try to stay on a local level with our politics much like we do with the rest of our content. Rather than just talking about Trump and Clinton and Putin, we would rather talk about Terry McCauliffe or Joe Morrissey or Levar Stoney.

 

What kind of aspirations do you guys have as far as growth for The Peedmont?

Matt: We’re actually at a point now in The Peedmont where we are really talking about that. What started out as a funny joke between friends and other people on the team is now something serious so we’re trying to monetize it. We’re working on merchandise that we’re hoping to start selling soon, eventually we would like to venture into ad revenue. In the long run, we want to be able to keep doing what we’re doing, of course. We want to provide entertainment to the community and hopefully get paid just a little bit to do it.

 


Georgia Geen 

Staff Writer

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