One-on-One with the STU grad behind The Manatee

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

St. Thomas University graduate, videographer and journalist Alex Vietinghoff has recently found his niche as a satirist. While the co-founder of Fredericton-based The Manatee hasn’t made a cent after two weeks of operation, the website’s audience and accolades have already begun to pile up.

Already, The Manatee has over 70,000 views, with one story surpassing 30,000 views. Manatee stories have also already begun to populate New Brunswick social media pages.

The website is looking to add new writers to its team, and with three STU graduates on their crew of nine writers, the door is open for more.

Vietinghoff sat down with The Aquinian last week to discuss the methods and the motive behind the only fake-news outlet in New Brunswick.

Q: Did you think that there was a need for satire in New Brunswick?

A: I co-founded it with my friend Shauna Chase, and the way that we initially had the idea was that we met over the summer and we became good friends and we realized we had a really similar sense of humour. We were always sending The Onion articles to each other, and we thought New Brunswick really needs something like this. Originally we wanted it to be Canada-wide, but we decided we should start just in New Brunswick, because just two people covering the whole country wasn’t feasible. We’re happy we picked New Brunswick. There’s a lot of material here.

Q: What makes you say that?

A: Well, our most successful or widely read story was one I wrote last week. Last week was our launch week, actually… I wrote a story about Ikea coming to Bathurst, to the chagrin of everyone in southern New Brunswick. The way that I got the idea for that was that there’s talk in Bathurst about a Costco coming – One of the city councilors really wants that to happen as a job creation tool. I worked at the newspaper in Bathurst for a summer a few years ago, and my grandparents live there, so I have a really good feel for the city culture, or at least I like to think I do. The day I wrote it I was thinking about how nice it would be to have an Ikea in New Brunswick. I thought, why can’t that be in Bathurst? What would happen? It ended up being a big hit, and a lot of people actually believed it.

Q: Do you guys get a kick out of people not getting it, or do you want people to get that it’s satire?

A: It’s pretty funny. Although we have a few contributors who have come on to write articles for us and some of them were very concerned that initially the site wasn’t as clear as it could have been that it was satire. I assumed people reading the articles would get that. For example, in the Bathurst one for example, I said the mayor changed his name to Sven Bürneet, the Swedish version of Stephen Brunet. But we d
id end up putting up a disclaimer in the about section for people who are only headline readers or something like that.

The Manatee
(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

Q: I have to ask you about the name: The Manatee. Is that a spin on The Walrus?

A: To be honest, I dodn’t know what The Walrus is. There’s a few reasons why (I like it). The manatee is just a really funny animal. It looks funny and it sounds funny and it’s really simple and kind of catchy. Second, and a bit more relevant, is that the manatee is actually endangered in the Saint Lawrence river, and I believe along the Petitcodiac there used to be manatees. It’s something that kind of is relevant to the east coast area, and then our slogan is ‘saving the endangered truth.’ It just kind of fits well with that.

Q: You were talking about how your staff has grown, but you and Shauna began it, right? How did this all start?

A: We got the idea a few weeks ago, I decided before we do an initial launch, we need to write some articles so that when it launches the site is populated and people spend some time reading the different stuff. (Around the beginning of the month) we began writing. It was just Shauna and I. As people started reading the stuff and sharing it online, we had friends that wanted to take part. Right now, we don’t earn any money from it, so everyone’s doing it for free. Shauna and I actually spent money on it. We’re hoping to find businesses that want to advertise so we can get some of that back.

Q: Is it a long-term plan to get paid? Do you think anyone is going to leave after a month if they don’t get paid?

They might. The big thing for me, anyways, is that I don’t want to push people into making a commitment of, like, you have to do an article every week or something. Shauna is a former copy editor with the Telegraph Journal, and I have my journalism background. A lot of the people who are contributing are just funny people or they’re good writers, and we usually do some tweaks to make it more newsy and fit the news style… I think it’s a lot more fun when people don’t have to commit to it. We tell them to just do it at their own pace. You can’t force creativity.

Q: What’s the funniest thing someone has said to you about The Manatee?

I was looking at the site stats just to see how many visitors we’ve had. I check that every day, and what search terms people use, or where they’re coming from on the web to get to our site. The day after the Bathurst story blew up, a lot of them were ‘is true?’ It’s pretty funny. That’s the kind of thing you’d see for the Onion, or CBC’s This is That. It was kind of flattering, but it was funny, too.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you can give to writers or creative-types who want to create their own outlet like The Manatee?

A: I write for this site but I also have been trying for years to make a successful Youtube channel, and the one thing I’ve learned is if you just do something – it sounds cheesy, and everybody says it, but it is true and I’ve learned it the hard way – you enjoy doing, and write about things you’re passionate about and you’re really open about what you’re doing, your passion will shine through your work and people will see it and enjoy it. It’s pretty self-affirming. It feels good to be doing something for yourself and see other people are enjoying it as well.

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  • Show Comments (1)

  • J

    Shameful that you must find humour in what is such a desperate economic situation throughout the province. The sad part being, IKEA was set to build a plant in Charlotte County several years ago and politics killed the opportunity. It would, indeed, have made a real, sustainable difference.

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