Pub Notes: I’m a Knight Cities Challenge finalist… now what?

First off, let me apologize for the name “Chickadee Society“. It was the best I could do at the time. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything better yet either. I’m hoping you, dear Akronite, will help me–with a new name and the way this thing will go.

Wait… Maybe the “first off” should be explaining who I am and what I’m doing. Yeah, let’s do that first.

So, first off, I’m Chris Horne and you’ll find a more formal bio at the bottom. I’m the guy what’s publishing this here “The Devil Strip” magazine. Yes, magazine. Though you know it as a website and some social media, this thing will soon go to print too. Either in late February or early March. More on it in a minute.

Speaking of first things first, this is the first installment of my “Pub Notes”–a bloggy type of thing where I share some deep thoughts and/or shed light on what’s happening behind the scenes.

I found out last Friday that one of the six ideas I submitted to the Knight Cities Challenge made the final round. (If you’re unaware, the Knight Foundation, which was born in Akron, is funding–to the tune of $5 million a year for the next three years–ideas that can help “attract and retain talent in cities, expand economic opportunity or create a culture of civic engagement“. I first heard about the challenge when I turned a press release into a web story while I was still working at Cleveland’s legendary WEWS-TV as part of an award-winning web team. (Go team!)

At the time, I had no intention of submitting a thing, let alone six things. The idea that’d become “The Devil Strip” was still merely a gleam in my eye. So it feels a bit surreal to pull up that web story now and realize where I am, not just starting a magazine for and about Akron’s creative community but being one of 126 finalists out of 7000 submissions, over 600 of which came from the Rubber City. It wasn’t that long ago that I was waking up at 2:30 a.m. to make the hour’s drive to Cleveland for my 4 a.m. shift, so this is not an opportunity I will take for granted.

ALSO: Sundance Institute heading to Akron in 2015 for artist development labs funded by Knight Foundation

So the idea, the project formerly known as Chickadee Society, is like a Birchbox or LootCrate featuring Akron things and stuff. That is, for a flat monthly fee, you’ll get a box of Akron things and stuff delivered to your abode. Not just tangible gear, but also events and other Akron experiences. The point, to me, is to get you doing more around Akron, to appreciate what makes this city unique and to connect you to cool, interesting, creative and challenging people, places and things …and stuff.

This also happens to be the mission for “The Devil Strip”, using the paper as a showcase for local creative talent. It takes my “show, don’t tell” approach forward another step by delivering the best of creative Akron to your doorstep in a way that will allow you to play with it. This is not a coincidence.

To be perfectly transparent, which is sort of the goal with these Pub Notes o’ mine, I first started thinking about the subscription box as an alternative revenue stream, a way to get around having to sell too many ads in the magazine. Or at least not having to depend solely on ads. So, there will be ads because I’d like to eat and I think most of the ads that run in magazines like this one–i.e. – “alt-weeklies” (see: Cleveland Scene)–serve a purpose, sharing the details about upcoming concerts or new menu items or store hours and such, which frees up the editorial to highlight the stuff that catches our collective, proverbial eye.

That brings me to this: The box and the magazine are intended to be a filter for you. See, there’s a lot going on in and around Akron. A LOT. Bunches, even. This city is both big enough that you can miss a lot of it and small enough to feel like there’s nothing happening, so the first order of business is to make sure you know what’s happening. The second is to sort through it all so we can tell you where best to find the art–be it visual, auditory, culinary, theatrical, technological or whatever–most likely to move you.

I spent all last weekend thinking about what’s in the box. That’s when I really understood there’s a trick to all this–the subscription box, the website and the magazine. For it to work, I need your help. On the one hand, I’m just not smart enough to have all the answers so I need yours. Most importantly, this isn’t really my magazine and it won’t be my subscription box either. This all belongs, already, to you, the people who share a vision for Akron as a vibrant, creative city.

Cheesy? Perhaps, but if this is going to work at all, that’s how it’s got to be. (The part about it belonging to the creative community, not the cheesy part. That’s optional.)

So, I’m a Knight Cities Challenge finalist. Now what?

Today, I’m meeting with Kyle Kutuchief, the interim Knight program director for Akron, for some guidance, ideas and next steps. I’ll soon meet with some people I know for their take on what they think this thing could be and how they might be involved. And I’m looking for more folks. Maybe I’ll try to host an open forum with business owners and organizations to hear how this could help them. Or I’ll meet them one-on-one. Or both. Basically, the point is, I’ve got my ears on. I’m listening.

If you’re thinking, “Wow, you know what would be cool is…” please don’t keep that to yourself. Tell me. Let’s see if we can make it happen, whether that’s for the subscription box idea. In the meantime, I’ll note and respond to every email, comment and tweet I see about this.

Thanks! (And wish us all luck!)

– Chris

Chris Horne is a native of Macon, Georgia who somehow has about 10 years of journalism experience under his belt, having worked as a writer, reporter, editor, columnist, web producer and news manager for an alt-weekly, a daily paper and two TV stations. He’s also lived in Nashville, Atlanta and Detroit but got lucky on his last long stretch in Macon when he met Heather, the woman who’d become his wife. Together they co-created an annual writers conference, a nighttime 5K and then a baby girl, Madeline.