The story of Duffel Blog (and why we moved to an email newsletter)

The primary and perhaps unsurprising reason? 2020.

Dear reader,

I recently moved Duffel Blog from a website to an email newsletter hosted on a platform called Substack. The primary and perhaps unsurprising reason? 2020.

Duffel Blog has never made a ton of money. It's been kept alive mostly by the amazing writing of its military veteran contributors who do it more for the love of it than the small amount of money I manage to pay them. And with relatively low overhead (no offices, just me, a wonderful part-time editor and freelance writers, web hosting, software), it didn't cost that much to keep up.

But this year has been awful. Everyone has had a rough time. So many media properties have been wiped out. Usually, because they weren't making enough money. Because sometimes (or often) Facebook throttled their content and only served it to a small audience even though those properties worked hard to grow those audiences of loyal readers. And then they didn't get enough page views. Which meant fewer eyeballs looking at those annoying advertisements on the right side of the page.

Duffel Blog hasn't been wiped out, but it hasn't been doing great. Advertising revenue has gone down substantially. And Facebook has been a major factor. It would be a horrific thing to see if it exists somewhere; a line chart of the incredible growth in fans of Duffel Blog on Facebook alongside its falling reach. Sadly, most of our web traffic has relied on Facebook.

But I love Duffel Blog so much and don’t want it to be another dead media property. And I hope you do, too.

Support Duffel Blog today

Since 2012, we’ve helped military members and civilians advance critical thinking in national security through satire and smart humor. And readers have laughed, cried, been challenged, gotten angry, laughed some more, and helped and supported us all along the way.

Yes, Duffel Blog is an amusing satirical website that makes fun of the military, the generals, the Pentagon, and those stupid reflective belts. But it's also a community of hundreds of writers from every branch of the armed forces, officer and enlisted, male and female, young and old, many of whom I've met and call friends. They're all around the world. Many are anonymous for reasons of military necessity. And although you’ll never know many of them personally, you have undoubtedly read their words and felt their impact.

At the helm is me, Paul, a Marine Corps veteran and full-time journalist who founded and has overseen Duffel Blog, usually on nights and weekends, for the past eight years, and Brian, a part-time editor who has helped keep Duffel Blog running for nearly as long for far too little in pay. Trust me when I say that managing hundreds of different personalities with varying levels of writing ability is no easy task.

And then there are the tens of thousands of readers who enjoy the work that we do. I’m so glad you’re one of them.

I never had any idea or intention of building a vibrant community of amazing service members and veterans — I just thought I'd make fun of the 'Chair Force' or crack jokes about first sergeants — but it happened nonetheless.

Indeed, the messages I’ve received from readers about how Duffel Blog has helped them laugh through difficult times has been what has kept me going, and what has kept Duffel Blog online through times when I felt like just giving up when it was too stressful or took up too much of my time.

The path to sustainability

I’ve known for a while that I had to do something, although I wasn't really sure what.

Some people suggested selling merchandise (we tried that). Others proposed going after big sponsors and selling direct advertising deals (a lot harder than it sounds). Or how about a podcast?

Then earlier this year I stumbled upon Substack and thought it might be the path forward.

They host a web version of your content but mainly it goes out directly to readers via email. It seems so simple to think, how better to reach my readers than their inbox? Many Substack newsletters are entirely supported by their readers, usually paying about $5 or $10 a month, sometimes for a fringe benefit but more often because they love the product and couldn't live in a world without it. And with enough people chipping in, sustainability is no longer in question. Writers are paid well for their work. And readers are happy to pay for something they value.

After many weeks of planning, I moved everything over. The first free newsletter went out to about 20,000 subscribers on Nov. 6. Instead of doing seven new articles per week on the website (many of which were not read nearly as much as others), it's now four newsletters per week, which ensures high-quality writing and editing (which is time-consuming, since everyone does this part-time or as a hobby, including me). I can also immediately bump pay for writers, which has remained stagnant for years.

We're up to more than 290 paid subscribers, although there is still a ways to go to make our breakeven point (We need about 1,000 paid subscribers if we want to cover our bills and pay writers a decent wage.)

We've sent out nearly a dozen emails since the launch, and the free and paid email lists continue to grow. It’s an exciting time for us and I’m hopeful.

So if you're one of those paid subscribers, I want you to know that your support means a great deal. Thank you so much for helping to sustain the future of Duffel Blog. I am so honored and humbled by your generosity and love.

Paul Szoldra

Founder and Editor in Chief

Duffel Blog

P.S. Has Duffel Blog made a positive impact on you? Just hit reply and let me know. I’d love to hear your story!

And with that, I’ll turn you over to this wonderful Thanksgiving-related story from the Duffel Blog archives…

Pardoned White House turkey defects to ISIS

By G-Had on Nov. 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. officials are literally calling “fowl” after the Thanksgiving turkey pardoned by President Barack Obama publicly defected to the Middle Eastern terrorist group ISIS.

Popcorn the Turkey, now calling himself Babakurn al-Turki, was pardoned from the dinner table only yesterday by President Obama in a public ceremony at the White House. Normally the pardoned bird is sent along with its competitor to live out its remaining days at Morven Park’s Turkey Hill in Leesburg, Virginia.

However, U.S. officials have now admitted that al-Turki instead hijacked an Osprey out of Andrews Air Force Base in nearby Maryland and flew like a bat out of hell to Syria.

A group of senior intelligence officials and ornithologists with birds-eye surveillance of the war-torn country have suggested he is nesting in Raqqah or across the northern border in another neighboring country.

Al-Turki, who was originally raised as an animist before converting to Islam, has already appeared in several propaganda clips and tweets for ISIS, gobbling anti-American rhetoric and leaving furious American officials grousing.

Trey Nahas, a counter-terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation, explained that al-Turki’s defection violated the cardinal rule for anyone receiving a presidential pardon, namely not to commit any further crimes.

Nahas said it was unclear if al-Turki, raised in a bubble of protected affluence in Oakwood, Ohio, became radicalized on internet forums like countless other disaffected foreigners who have flocked to ISIS, or later during his detention in the controversial poultry farm at Guantanamo Bay.

In either case, according to Nahas, the end result was the same: “the U.S. not only released a dangerous terrorist back into the wild, but it has also given ISIS something to crow about on social media.”

Calling it the classic case of the chickens come home to roast, FBI Director James Comey has admitted that al-Turki was already a known flight risk when he received his pardon. He had several suspected handlers known to support radical Islam and ISIS, although al-Turki managed to duck any formal charges.

Comey added that the FBI has launched its own investigation into the government’s handling of al-Turki prior to his release, saying it may be the canary in the coal mine for future detainee defections. However, several investigators privately told Duffel Blog that the findings would be delayed until after Black Friday to avoid ruffling the feathers of any major retailers.

While Comey said U.S. intelligence was still unsure where exactly al-Turki now stood in the ISIS pecking order, he insisted that the turkey would ultimately be more of a burden than an asset to the group.

“He’s too high profile now to operate anywhere clandestinely, he’s always going to be an albatross around their neck,” Comey explained. “I’m not exaggerating when I say his goose is cooked.”

Some critics find that hard to swallow.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) of the House Armed Services Committee has already demanded to know “which birdbrain in the Secret Service” allowed such a dangerous avian to be that close to the president, and said that image “should give all of us goosebumps.”

The Wall Street Journal published its own editorial complaining that Al-Turki’s defection is “just one more feather in the cap of ISIS. Not only did this bird strut around the White House like he was cock of the walk, but as soon as he’s pardoned he flies the coop to join ISIS of all groups. What was our lame-duck president thinking?”

Ironically, some news reports are circulating that, after being accused by ISIS of being a double-agent for the Mossad or CIA, al-Turki may end up getting beheaded anyway.

Duffel Blog writer Dark Laughter contributed to this article.