A new digital publication, Ratter, will launch in the coming months with ambitions to break original stories rich with unbelievable truth. Sam Eifling, 33, known locally for writing movie reviews and reporting on the 2013 Mayflower oil spill for the Arkansas Times, joined Ratter as its editorial director this year. He said the publication has advertised itself as an outlet of tabloid journalism.
“There’s a tendency to see tabloid journalism as supermarket tabloids, which tend to be focused on celebrities and alien abductions, and I’m not going to say we’re not going to cover celebrity stories and alien abductions,” he said. “They just have to be great celebrity stories and true alien abductions.”
Ratter Founder A.J. Daulerio told Capital New York that he’s convinced a Rob-Ford-type story exists in every city, in reference to the Toronto mayor’s 2013 substance-abuse imbroglio. Daulerio hopes the journalists who work at Ratter will be “tenacious distractions to their respective power-elites and consistently entertaining to everyone else.”
Eifling, who helped covered the Rob Ford story in Toronto for Gawker, said the story gained such notoriety in part because it attracted and entertained an audience that didn’t normally read government news.
“It didn’t matter how you consumed news – that story would feed your appetite,” he said.
A Fayetteville native, Eifling spent several months this year reporting for the Associated Press in Honolulu during the Hawaii state legislative session. One of his reports, on a Hawaii law that allowed police officers to have sex with prostitutes, was picked up by media across the world. He said these types of stories that are first and foremost truthful, but also unbelievable, will be Ratter’s bread and butter.
“It will be a story that compels you to read it for pleasure, for entertainment, and along the way you’ll know more about your world and hold your leaders to account,” he said.
Though Ratter has yet to publish any such hard news, its unorthodox tenor already bleeds through the first post on its website, ratter.com. The headline reads, “I Can’t Stop Looking At This Post About Ratter.” Its Twitter page, @ratterofficial, features a lone July 18 tweet, a tongue-in-cheek “Hello.”
Daulerio has certainly gained notoriety for his unconventional style. GQ, for example, reported that he paid $12,000 to an anonymous source in exchange for the voicemails and sensitive photos Brett Favre allegedly produced and sent to Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger.
“That illustrates A.J.’s willingness to, if nothing else, be a real iconoclast,” Eifling said. “It’s that sort of aggressive reporting he brings to the table. He’s not in there to make friends.”
Neither will Ratter seek friendships, it seems. Though its legacy is unclear, the name connotes a drive to ‘rat’ out corruption and abuse in the offices of the most powerful people in some of the largest cities in the world.
“Before we got to one-newspaper monopolies in every city, and newspapers had to feel like they were the arbiters of family values, an organ that every business felt they could advertise in comfortably, newspapers had missions,” he said. “And I wouldn’t say ours is political in nature, but I would say ours is to be provocative and challenge power structures and preconceptions of where people live.”
Media investor and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Gawker Media are among the early funders to Ratter, Daulerio told Capital New York. He said the valuation of the company was set for $2.5 million.
Ratter will begin the mission in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles and will host its content on a platform called Kinja, developed by Gawker Media with the intention “to build something that would work as a publishing platform and also allow for a lot of easy sharing of posts across this kind of horizontal field,” Eifling said. Akin to WordPress, Kinja allows users to aggregate in a single feed either their own original content or shared content from another Kinja blog. Ratter will publish individual feeds for each of the three cities, but will be able to manage its content through one, unitary site.
Wherever it goes, however, Ratter will aim to publish original, provocative and honest reporting that doesn’t settle for being surface-level “crap for the internet,” Eifling said.
“There are ways that you can present these kinds of stories such that people who don’t think they’re interested realize how interested they actually are. And you don’t have to do it with pictures of cats sleeping on cleavage.”