Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Bitter Southerner hits the one-year mark, turns to readers in new fundraising effort

Southern-themed website aims to become reader-supported endeavor

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 8:45 AM

Y'ALL COME: The Bitter Southerner's founders (from left) Chuck Reece, Kyle Tibbs Jones, Butler Raines, and Dave Whitling want to turn the website into a reader-supported endeavor.
  • Aaron Coury
  • Y'ALL COME: The Bitter Southerner's founders (from left) Chuck Reece, Kyle Tibbs Jones, Butler Raines, and Dave Whitling want to turn the website into a reader-supported endeavor.
The Bitter Southerner had a simple mission upon its launch last August. The founders of the Southern-themed website wanted to publish every week one story that acknowledged the region's troubled past and shined light on the present with a sense of optimism.

The website, which this week celebrates its first anniversary, is Atlanta-based and has found its niche with like minded readers beyond traditional Southern outlets such as Garden & Gun and Oxford American. The Bitter Southerner's stories have notably covered a wide range of topics including music (Patterson Hood, Killer Mike), food (Southern Foodways Alliance, white dirt), and the region's historic past (the Battle of Atlanta, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights) in a way that's struck a strong chord with its fans.

"We had this feeling that there were so many stories that didn't fit into the predefined Southern box," Editor-in-Chief Chuck Reece says. "We knew that there's a lot out of there, but there's way more than we even knew. People have been enthusiastic. Readers have responded."

With one year under their belt, its founding partners - Reece, Dave Whitling, Kyle Tibbs Jones, and Butler Raines - are launching an effort to turn the website into a for-profit venture after publishing the first 52 stories without a revenue model. They want to raise cash through a reader-supported fundraiser, shying away from ad- or paywall-based models, as the website heads into year two.

Reece doesn't have a specific financial goal with the website's fundraiser. But he says the money would allow Bitter Southerner to pay its writers and photographers for the first time. The four founders hope to eventually pay themselves enough to work full-time on the website. The site could expand to publish more stories in different media formats each week if enough funds are raised.

The website's supporters will be able to chip in at four different levels - $25, $50, $100, and $1,000 - with each tier receiving a member package. Each package includes varying amounts of Bitter Southerner swag. Donors who purchase the $1,000 package will get two tickets to an exclusive founder's party with "the finest booze, eats, and music the south has to offer."

The Bitter Southerner is also launching a quarterly book club, which costs $250 each year, featuring first-edition releases of published works either from or about the South. Reece says the first-ever authorized Jerry Lee Lewis biography, signed by both author Rick Bragg and the Louisiana musician, will be the first book sent out to subscribers in the fall. With any luck, Reece hopes this kind of partnership model grows to include other independent Southern businesses that align with the website's mission.

The founders have witnessed a burgeoning community embracing the Bitter Southerner over the past year. Reece says that kind of response, even seeing people actively question their mixed feelings about the region, has been one of the most rewarding parts of the website.

"Every culture needs its voices," Reece says. "I just hope we can be, or continue to be, something that raises those different voices up."

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