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Introducing: Hell Apes

Right off the bat, the value of this proposition to you, the savvy investor, is obvious.

3:37 PM EDT on May 11, 2022

Hello friends!

Welcome to the second—perhaps your first?—Hell Gate newsletter. Thanks for signing up! It’s been terrific to see how enthusiastically people have responded to our proposition that New York City needs an independent news site, owned and run by journalists, that covers the city with all the love and rage and humor that it inspires.

Some of you have wondered, though: What’s the long game here? Is Hell Gate just a flash in the pan, or does it have a strategy to sustain itself for the ages? This is an excellent question, and it’s why we’d like to talk to you today about the next exciting phase in our roll-out:

Hell Apes.

"Whoa, Hell Apes?" you’re thinking. "With everything else going on right now, the last thing New York needs is for a ragtag band of reporters to unleash an infernal simian army on this beleaguered metropolis!" Relax, buddy. They’re not real apes. They’re an exciting business opportunity that crystalizes the value lying untapped at the intersection of technology, fine art, and local blogging.

For those of y’all who still don’t get it, it’s like this: Every Hell Gate story we publish automatically generates its own Hell Ape on the blockchain. Each Hell Ape is singular and unique with its own characteristics, and it’s indelible. If Hell Gate publishes a story that’s critical of the mayor and the mayor gets mad and is like “I hate that story! I want to destroy the Hell Ape that was generated when that story was published!”—well, tough luck Eric, you can’t, because that Hell Ape is distributed across a global network of computers powered by our dedicated recommissioned upstate power plant, burning carbon night and day to mint more fanciful Hell Apes.

So right off the bat, the value of this proposition to you, the savvy investor, is obvious.

This isn’t all nerd-stuff with ones and zeros, though. Each instance on the blockchain is notionally associated with a different doodle of a Hell Ape that we made on a bar napkin. The next time you’re walking by some fancy Chelsea art gallery full of snobs drinking wine and trying to impress each other, you can bang on the gallery window and show them your phone and yell through the glass: “You’re not better than me! I’m an art collector too! Hell Apes!

Hell Apes are already accepted at the bodega on our corner, and we’re projecting that they will have completely replaced fiat currency in the five boroughs by early 2023. People who haven’t gotten a Hell Ape by then—and remember, there are only as many apes as there Hell Gate stories—will starve. Those who have Hell Apes will live like feudal lords, feasting in heavily guarded fortresses and doorman buildings.

But the best part of this is, while you’re getting incalculably wealthy on Hell Apes, you’re also funding local reporting. This is what we journopreneurs call “aligning incentives.”

Okay, fine, maybe you’re not buying this scheme.

Look, we’re going to level with you.

We aren’t actually betting Hell Gate on a crypto-ponzi rug-pull.

We aren’t selling equity to investors seeking a speedy return on their capital.

We are not, more’s the pity, billionaires dabbling in journalism until we lose interest, or until union agitation irks our sensibilities and we take our cash and go home.

We’re not even a nonprofit, because we want to make sure we’re writing to satisfy our readers, not satisfy a grant-renewal officer at a giant foundation somewhere.

The success of Hell Gate isn’t going to be determined by whether we’re making money for anybody else. We are worker-owned. Revenue goes straight to sustaining our work. We want more revenue because we want to commission more work and bring on more worker-owners, but we’re not trying to get rich. Money in, journalism out. Hell Gate is a simple machine. Our business plan? We’re going to convince people that what we’re doing is so important and entertaining that it’s worth a few dollars a month to read Hell Gate. We’re going to convince enough people of this that it pays our bills.

There are reasons to think this might work! Journalists everywhere are ditching their newsrooms and making a go of it publishing their own newsletters on platforms like Substack. We love the prospect of reader-supported reporting this model offers. We don’t love the atomization of news and all that it entails: a media ecosystem frothy with microscopic filter-bubbles; readers’ inboxes choked with a thousand discrete newsletters; reporters typing in joyless solitude from their couches, bereft of all the benefits that accrue from having a team of colleagues who sharpen each other’s ideas, challenge each other’s assumptions, and give each other courage.

We’re running on our own money this month. (One of us, a former shop steward who was abruptly “laid off,” received a chunk of change after they settled their National Labor Relations Board complaint against a beloved NYC public radio station.) If you want to help pay for outstanding journalism now, please give to our Tip Jar. In June, we’re going to institute a paywall. You’ll get a few free stories a month, then you’ll have to give us your email, if you haven’t already, to read a few more, and then, if you’re slurping up so much Hell Gate slop that you still need more, we’ll ask you for six bucks.

Is it going to work? Honestly, we have no idea. It might not! We’re betting that New York City needs and wants what Hell Gate offers. We’re having the time of our lives trying to give it to you, and are prepared to bust our asses and sleep very little while we do it.

In a just and orderly universe, these things would guarantee that Hell Gate survives and thrives. To our ever fresh dismay, we live in this universe, so there is no such guarantee.. There’s just all of you, and whether or not you like what we’re doing, and whether you want us to keep doing it so much that you’re prepared to help. Please tell your friends about us. Please keep bringing us the stories that need to be told. Please stay with us into Phase II. The real Phase II. Not Hell Apes. The Hell Apes were a joke. We don’t have any Hell Apes, stop asking.

Lots of love,

Hell Gate (Christopher Robbins, Esther Wang, Max Rivlin-Nadler, Nick Pinto, & Sydney Pereira)

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