Damn The Man! Save The Devil Strip!

The Return of the Last of the Petty Cash

NOTE: Our inaugural membership drive for the Devil’s Advocates — Misfits ($10/mo.) & Rogues ($120/yr.) — runs April 5 to May 4. So instead of posting what I wrote for the March 2018 issue of The Devil Strip, I’m updating it. Substantially. Also, I stole the headline from my incredible friend Brit Charek, who leads Crafty Mart and Bechdel Fest, and who, it seems, borrowed the line from “Empire Records” …just in time for Rex Manning Day.

March 22: Our anniversary party hadn’t yet started when I met a couple who said they want to move to Akron from North Canton because of the stories they’ve read in The Devil Strip. There couldn’t have been a much better way to start the evening. As surprised as I was, that’s the second time recently that I’ve heard something like it.

Other comments have been less dramatic, but just as motivating. One new resident called us her “lifeline.” A native Akronite told me he’s felt more connected and become more involved since we started publishing. I’ve heard from artists and business owners who say they felt validated and encouraged simply because we shared their story. The kids who started Rubber City Rocks, Paul and Davey, even tried to talk their parents into taking them to Hoppin’ Frog Brewery so they could celebrate our anniversary too.

Me and Hoppin’ Frog Brewery founder Fred Karm pre-party posing with bottles of the Devil Strip Black & Tan

These last few weeks have been encouraging like that. Little reminders that our approach to local journalism matters to people here who know there’s a lot more to Akron than crime, tragedy, scandal, conflict and occasionally bad weather. When I first moved here with my wife and our daughter, not even five years ago, the narrative was that Akron is a place you leave. But I knew my people were here. I just didn’t know how to find them. There was no guide. Eventually, I decided to start one, quitting my day job in a legacy newsroom so I could go back to playing reporter, chasing leads on what the city’s true assets are.

Though I came into this with about a decade’s worth of journalism experience, I was clueless about business. The nice thing about not knowing what you’re doing is you don’t have to follow the old rules about what local news is and can be. We’re living through a moment when the disconnect between people is growing, in part because we pretend connecting online is enough. So, our mission quickly became about sharing stories and hosting events that bring people closer to their neighbors, to our city and to some shared purpose.

Because of that, we’re determined to keep the magazine free, to ensure our stories are freely available — not obscured by pop-up ads, obliterated by auto-playing commercials on our videos or held hostage behind a paywall.

We want to keep doing it this way, but we need to get stronger. We can’t without your help. That’s why, from April 5 to May 4, we’re inviting you to become a Devil’s Advocate, either as a Misfit at $10/mo. or a Rogue at $120/yr. Why would you? Because you think Akron is better with The Devil Strip than without.

Not to mention, there are some sweet member perks.

It isn’t easy to do things differently, to break from the pack. While the industry chases eyeballs and web traffic, we’re over here trying to connect people, using stories to explore the city and humanize each other.

Richelle and Cristina repped TDS at their daughter’s 1st birthday party on 330 Day/330 Shirt Day. Izzy is “Akron’s Baby” and her parents are royalty who run Not Yo Daddy’s, a hot sauce made from a secret recipe by Cristina’s (not your) dad.

Yet there’s a problem with our business model too. Even though the national chains have huge marketing budgets, we won’t take their money — nor do we accept ads for escort services and sex lines — which puts a lot of pressure on small local businesses and nonprofits to keep us afloat.

So, for all of the exhilarating highs lately, I’ve also experienced some crushing lows. Several times I’ve wondered whether our next issue would be our last because things have been that tight. For all the warm fuzzies on the front end of a compliment, on those rough days, kind words finish like daggers, the sharp, fresh guilt of letting everybody down. When I wrote in March about “the last of the petty cash,” that wasn’t just a symptom of my “Ghostbusters” obsession — we can’t survive on advertising alone. Not with our ambitions or our values.

But our ambition and values are what make us different.

We live to challenge the broken narratives about who and what Akron is, to prove there’s more happening here than is visible on the surface. Along the way, The Devil Strip itself has become a kind of a place, a commons where the many parts of Akron’s personality gather, a way to find your people.

You can be a MISFIT for $10/month or a ROGUE for $120/year. Each level includes invites to member events, a newsletter with special content and each current issue mailed to your house, along with other goodies. As a ROGUE, you also get a free Devil Strip t-shirt, a plus-one for member events and a member card which you can use for exclusive “off-the-menu” offers at local restaurants, bars and shops.

That’s what makes our membership, the Devil’s Advocates, different. This isn’t just about how we get by financially. Our work is better — and more fun — when we’re creating it alongside you, instead of coming at you like we know everything. This is your city. We want to know it the way you do. But we also want to share our access to Akron as we’ve come to know it through the perspectives we’ve gained from our friends.

Life is lived off the page so that’s where we want to take our journalism. We could poll you about local restaurants or you could join us for a food tour of North Hill. Would you rather *like* a Facebook post about a local theatre company or meet the cast after a performance so you can ask some questions? (We’ll allow you to do both.) Maybe you’ve just wanted to learn about homebrewing or infusing whiskey. We can help with that. Want to compost old copies of The Devil Strip? We know a guy.

Neos Dance Theatre performs on the grounds at Signal Tree Fest last summer, one of my favorite moments for several reasons, including the fact I split my head open on a giant metal flower and don’t remember much about the rest of the day. (Photo by Shane Wynn)

Thus the beauty of this. Akron is loaded with smart, creative, passionate and talented people. We know lots of them, and the Devil’s Advocates help us bring you closer to them. Of course, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s a-okay. There are other ways to be part of this community and we’ll always look for new ideas.

We practice journalism as the art of civic engagement. That’s not limited to the fun stuff. The more we’re able to tackle challenging topics, the more we’ll bring you together — in print, online and face-to-face — with experts in their field and the people who are directly affected. If you want more local news coverage from us, more investigations and watchdog reporting, you can make that happen as a member.

When you support us as a Devil’s Advocate, your money doesn’t run off to a private company in Canada. It goes back into our work, which is focused on making Akron better than it was when we got here, whether that’s by increasing our coverage of public art, public health and public education, or hosting community events in every neighborhood.

We’re doing something special here. If you think that’s a good thing and you want more of it, joining us is a great way to show it.

For the love of Akron,