9 Q&A: DERF founder talks about the life & times of Tri-State's very own satire magazine, website

CINCINNATI - "OTR to develop new 'Epic Beard District.'"
"CBS comes to terms with TIme Warner Cable after 3 weeks on hold with customer service."

Those are just two of the it-could-be-true headlines from DERF Magazine, a satirical publication that pokes fun of Cincinnati both online and in print.

Often called Cincinnati's version of national news satire website The Onion, DERF launched online in 2004, followed by a monthly print edition in 2007.

DERF founder Ian Corbett left a management career at Procter & Gamble to start DERF. Today he's the President and CEO.

9 Questions for Ian Corbett

1. How did DERF get started?

I’ve always been a fan of good satire and I wanted to see how viral it could be on a local level. I felt most towns, including Cincinnati, have plenty of eccentricities that local people would enjoy seeing highlighted in a quality humorous format. We initially built a very simple website. It was really popular from the start just from word of mouth. Later we invested in a more sophisticated site that featured more content and functionality.

2. Which came first: DERF or The Onion?
DERF came after The Onion. The Onion has been really successful nationally, but I like to think our team has done a really good job of distinguishing DERF as a unique local model for humor and satire. I’m not aware of any other satire publication that operates successfully in any city.

We get a lot of comparisons to The Onion. That is something I’m very proud of. For a small organization to be compared in quality to an operation with over 100 writers is very flattering. One of our most flattering moments was several years ago, when The Onion published and article so amazingly similar to a great article we had already published that I called one of their editors about it. The editor told me a freelance writer submitted the piece and they agreed to take it down. The article headline was, “Christian rock band leaves hotel room immaculate.”

We were especially proud to see a write-up this year from the hugely popular site called MakeUseOf.com that listed us among the top 10 satire websites in the world! They recognized that we are a local site but credited us with quality work. They did a similar piece in 2009.

3. How does the DERF team decide what write about?

We have a brainstorming process that involves scouring all local news, finding ways to exaggerate actual events, and brainstorming possible humorous connections. For instance, recently we did a piece about a new craft brewery being constructed in place of Washington Park. Like all comedians we try to make observations that everyone sees and echo them back with our own humor filter.

4. How much of what DERF writes about is local, opposed to national?

We strive to do as much local material as possible but a lot of national news stories are irresistible. Overall, we tend to be about 60% local, 40% national.

5. How many readers do you have online?

Online we draw over 680,000 page views per month now. The average visitor reads about 5.2 pages per visit, which is a which is a strong number for a local site.

6. Do you have any favorite people or institutions to poke fun of? Why?

We have a lot of favorites. Of course, the Bengals have been one of our most fruitful subjects for many years. We’ve also had a lot of fun with Delta Air Lines. In fact, a couple years ago we won a national award based on an article we did about Delta finally locating the Wright Brothers’ luggage.

We’ve also published a lot of popular articles about hipster life in OTR. We also can’t resist poking fun of a lot of local TV news anchors who sport epic tans and hilarious hair, etc.

A really fun benefit of publishing satire is the occasional article that other media outlets mistakenly report as real. Last year news outlets all over the country reported our piece about the new Touchdown Jesus statue getting stuck in a McDonald’s drive-thru while in transit to the installation site. The reader comments about the article continued for weeks from readers who thought it was real news.

I’m proud to say we even caused a bit of an international ruckus last year with a series of satirical pieces we did about the British Royal Family. We were unaware our work caused a lot of social media objection from people that objected to our royal jokes. A reporter from the largest newspaper in Great Britain, THE SUN interviewed me to get our American perspective about the Royal family.

7. How did the DERF Happy Hour get started? What goes on there?

We started the DERF Happy Hour simply as a way to build a face-to-face community of people connected through DERF. The events are really vibrant and an amazing way to meet new people. We host about 17 events per year always at popular local bars. We offer a great drink special. Each event draws 200-300 people. The next one is Fri Sept 20 at The Oak Tavern in Oakley. 

8. Is DERF being affected by the financial problems plaguing the wider news industry?

No, because we are a niche content publisher which is a growing genre. Our category is an extremely distant relative to the wider news industry. We started with a very small budget and invested using existing revenue versus risky financing. We operate more like a lean and hungry self-funded start-up versus a top-heavy inefficient global conglomerate.

9. What's next for DERF, anything new coming?

Yes, lot’s of new stuff! Stay tuned for a totally redesigned DERFmagazine.com site soon. Visitors will see lots of unique new features like hyper-customized content based in individual readers, an entirely new local event calendar, and new forms of hilarious content. We expect a spring 2014 rollout.

Also, since we work hard to keep a pulse on what our sponsors, clients, and partners need to reach new levels of customer awareness, we started a new path of building an amazingly innovative web platform that easily enables companies and organizations to benefit from the social influence of their employees and fans. We started this project two years ago. We initially built it to help spread the word about DERF content but we have expanded it to allow companies to encourage, incentivize, track, and reward employees when they help spread the word about their events and brands.

For now we call it MyDerf and we just finished the really successful last phase of our beta test with the Bunbury Music Festival which received 2 million impressions. Now we are in the final phase of development for an early 2014 launch. 

Connect with contributor Feoshia Davis on Twitter: @feoshiawrites

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