(Second try. Little Ed, who I rely on to digitally transcribe these messages from the original parchment, stupidly posted the first attempt as though it emanated from himself.)
After a hiatus of almost three years, your columnist is thinking about resuming weekly publication of the Straight Dope column. There are three reasons for this: (a) Little Ed’s attempt to short GameStop didn’t work out as well as hoped, leaving the retirement account sadly depleted; (b) global ignorance, alas, hasn’t noticeably receded; and (c) your columnist was bored and in need of amusement, and Mrs. Adams felt that if the choice were between my resuming the column and puttering in the workshop with ammonium nitrate, she’d be more comfortable with the former. So here we are.
I emphasize that no decision has been made, and I won’t be the one ultimately making it – the call will be made by the Straight Dope’s owners. Nonetheless, we’ve been kicking around some ideas, and since the Teeming Millions will play a more central role than in the past – I’ll get to that – the time has come to put the matter before the house.
The practical realities being what they are, things will have to be done a little differently. Reality #1 is that the old Straight Dope business model, which was largely dependent on advertising revenue (and worked OK for a while) is no longer sufficient to keep the bills paid. We would of course like to draw more visitors than we do now, and doing so would surely mean a few more ad dollars. But we’d still be at the mercy of the Google search algorithm, the most whimsical arbiter of fate since Schroedinger’s cat, and not something one can build a business on. Instead, we’ll need to rely more heavily on subscriptions. More on that below. Reality #2, a consequence of Reality #1, is that the Straight Dope’s once-formidable research and support apparatus now consists in its entirety of Little Ed. ‘Nuff said.
The answer to all these problems, I perhaps naively hope, is greater reliance on the Teeming Millions. Here’s what I have in mind:
I plan to establish a new SDMB forum called the Boardroom, the board in question being the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board (SDSAB), which up till now has been my online auxiliary. The Boardroom will be operated on a subscription basis – anyone can read it, but only subscribers can post. I expect to be a regular participant in this forum. Membership in the SDSAB has been informal up till now; this will put things on a more organized basis.
The purpose of the Boardroom will be to provide a place for the SDSAB to convene. The purpose of the SDSAB, in turn, will be to help me come up with questions worthy of the Straight Dope treatment. You may think that’s easy. On the contrary – it’s by far the toughest part of the job.
No doubt this scheme raises many questions in your mind. As is our custom at the Straight Dope, we’ll attempt to address the more obvious issues in the form of a FAQ.
How do you see this working?
In some ways, not so different from now. The General Questions (GQ) and Comments on Cecil’s Columns (CCC) forums will remain open for anyone to read, and any registered user (including guests) can post. I’ll peruse these forums looking for potential column topics; SDSAB members can do likewise. Anyone who finds a thread that looks promising can post a link in the Boardroom with a note to the effect of, “Potential column here. What do you think?” We’ll go from there.
So we get to decide what you’ll write about?
An advisory board advises; I’ll decide. That said, I see this as a collaborative process. The Straight Dope’s mission has evolved considerably since pre-Internet days. Today we don’t provide answers you can look up just as easily on Wikipedia. Rather, we’re sorting through competing explanations, some of which may be at least moderately illuminating while others are complete |-|0r535|-|17. I expect the SDSAB will be helpful in the filtering process. As has always been the case, I’ll be responsible for reviewing source material, doing offline research, making judgments, and writing the column.
Sounds like you’re expecting me to pay for the privilege of helping you out.
Let’s put a more positive spin on it. Your membership fee will help keep the Straight Dope afloat, and you’ll also have an opportunity to join in the struggle against ignorance. Those are both benefits in my book. In any case, whatever helping you do is strictly voluntary. If you simply want to kibitz, start a thread on a different topic, or say nothing, that’s up to you. If you don’t want to subscribe at all, you can participate as before; we shall endeavor to make our way without you.
So if I subscribe to the Straight Dope I automatically become a member of the SDSAB? Seems like a low bar.
Not at all. It requires a modest but ongoing financial commitment (which, to be blunt, will need to increase), and that’s what it’s going to take if the Straight Dope is to survive. Digital ad revenue having largely migrated to Google and Facebook, subscriptions are the one route that seems viable. A lot of mainstream media are headed in that direction.
Well, that or they find a billionaire backer. If you happen to be one, I’m happy to talk.
Your thoughts on the above scheme are humbly solicited.