A Very Special Anniversary
The "hyper-local webzine" with the goofy name is celebrating its first year as a full-scale publication - with some pretty surprising, and far-flung, fans. It's been a fantastic year, Thanks Y'all!
-story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Joan asked what magazine I worked for. I realized I didn’t have any cards in my camera bag, so spelled out the Web address for her. “WWW dot the letters B, S and L (as in Bay St. Louis), Fourth (make sure you spell it out) Ward, (like the name Ward). Dot com.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed. “You’re from the Fourth Ward Cleaver?”
Stunned, I asked, “You’ve heard of it?”
“Oh yes, of course,” she said. “I couldn’t do without it. We even use it when planning our trips.”
After I recovered from my shock, we talked a bit more. Joan suggested a very good idea for a story and agreed to consider writing a piece as a guest columnist for a future issue. Her comments were the candles on the icing of the Cleaver’s first anniversary birthday cake. There have been other bright ones as well.
A few weeks before, a working mom with teenagers, both involved in school athletics, told me her family relied on the Cleaver calendar to find out when major school sporting events were happening. “And we can always find something fun to do in town as a family activity. We just look at the Cleaver. I don’t know how I survived without it.”
There’s the subscriber who texted me this week after discovering her live oak was infested with Formosan termites. She wouldn’t have thought to check if she hadn’t read an article in the Cleaver last month (she’s promised to keep us in the loop and let us know how the treatment goes).
A prominent local businessman and community leader told me that his dad, who is retired, is always coming up with the most interesting information. “Dad, where did you find that out?” he asks. “The Cleaver,” says the dad. “Why aren’t you a subscriber?”
During Cruisin’ the Coast, Karen Fineran and I ran into each other on the porch of Bay Emporium. Karen was one of the original volunteers for the newsletter and has been a Cleaver correspondent since 2011. We were talking about the progress of the upcoming issue, when a man sitting nearby interrupted. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear. Are y’all with the Cleaver?”
We allowed that we were. The man said his name was Adam, and explained that he and his family lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi, but they love the Bay and visit as often as they can. He said the Cleaver keeps them connected, and they enjoy learning more about the community they someday hope to join. They use the Cleaver Calendar to plan their trips to the coast.
Just then, Adam’s wife and children joined him. He introduced us. “You’re with the Cleaver?” said his wife. “We love the Cleaver.”
We’re all hugely gratified by comments like these. The Cleaver actually began as a light-hearted neighborhood online newsletter. A small group of volunteers living in the Fourth Ward published the first issue in July 2011. But it didn’t stay in the neighborhood very long. By November 2013, it had thousands of readers all over the map.
When volunteer time was in short supply for staffers in 2013, we sadly shut it down. Readers let us know that it was missed. They wanted it back. Please. Couldn’t we figure out some way to revive it? Loyal reader Teri Wyly advised that I consider making it into a business, so I began working on a model. Could we find enough local sponsors with the vision to invest in this new sort of publication? Teri and Bubba Wyly were the first. By the time the magazine launched in November, all the sponsorships were filled.
We agonized over changing the name. The original one had been a joke. Did we want our lovely new magazine to have such a goofy name? We might as well have tried to turn around a cruise ship under full steam. “The Cleaver” was already embedded in the community consciousness, and was the darling of every search engine.
So the Cleaver it is, “the Cutting Edge of Community News.” Most people still laugh. The only time it’s a problem is when I tell out-of-town visitors that I want to take their picture for “The Cleaver.” I have a bit of explaining to do.
It’s also hard explaining exactly what the Cleaver is. It’s not a newspaper, because we’re lifestyle oriented. It’s not really a magazine, because we don’t do print. That makes us a “webzine” in contemporary jargon. And since our content is focused on the Bay-Waveland area, that makes us “hyper-local.” As far as we can tell, the Cleaver is the first hyper-local webzine in the state of Mississippi.
Folks from other places are noticing. Can they have one too? Of course! We’ll be making a presentation about the Cleaver at the University of New Orleans this month, explaining the basic workings and some of the challenges. With more than 1400 subscribers, up to 10,000 unique readers in a given month, and up to 18 correspondents working on each issue, it’s a growing example of the burgeoning creative economy. It builds community connections and promotes local businesses. But we’ll also be sharing our real secret for success: both readers and team members stay engaged because it’s fun.
If you’re a Cleaver fan, you’ll want to check out our visionary sponsors. We hope you’ll patronize them and personally thank them for making the Cleaver part of our community fabric.
And thank our correspondents when you see them out and about! A “Well done!” goes a long way. Joan’s kind words will be fueling us all for weeks!