‘Neutral Ground News’ Provides Parody Paradise For Regional Readers
Neutral Ground News executive staff photo: (L-R) Monkey on a Stick (head writer), Don Kiebels (editor-in-chief), C-Mortar (assistant editor/ writer).
Neutral Ground News
NEWS FLASH – “750,000 King Cake Babies Abandoned Every Year;” “Flying Roach Shot, Burned In Mid-City Home Invasion;” “Lost Civilization Discovered In Lakeview Pothole…”
You won’t find these hilarious headlines in the legitimate news pages of The Times-Picayune or The New Orleans Advocate. Instead, they live in the fiction-laden Promised Land of NeutralGroundNews.com (NGN),“an online satirical news and entertainment publication that focuses primarily on the people, places and things in the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas… when the meds kick in.”
“People love to laugh,” said Don Kiebels, the self proclaimed “editor-in-chief and snappy dresser” of Neutral Ground News (NGN). “Always have. Always will. Well, until we all become cyborgs. Then it’s a coin toss. Countless satire, clickbait and fake news sites have sprung up over the last decade, oversaturating the market. Unfortunately, most people lump them all together which ultimately makes it more difficult for us. We are not fake news. We are satirical news.”
NGN has found a nonsensical niche in the marketplace, reporting on business, entertainment, news, politics, science and technology and sports, reaching hundreds of thousands of readers with a style of writing that intends to ridicule and point out society’s flaws, often masked in humor. The point of satire is not only to expose a problem or issue but also to initiate change or get people thinking.
“I had always wanted to develop a creative outlet that would let locally focused crackpot ideas run free and keep satirical commentary on New Orleans as strong as the stench of Bourbon Street,” said Kiebels. “I’ve been a longtime fan of The Onion, going way back to when they actually had paper copies; “South Park;” The Impractical Jokers; “Weird Al” Yankovic; The Three Stooges; the legendary The New Orleans Levee, which we try to continue in its spirit; and just about anyone else that tries to find the humor in life.”
NGN hit the internet in September 2014, reporting heavily-biased and agenda-based New Orleans news targeted toward an immature audience with absolutely no interest in reporting the facts or checking sources. “We make up things,” said Kiebels. “In fact, we make up a lot…. and we’re 100 percent honest about it.”
“You know all those ridiculous thoughts you have, but never play with or let out?” asked Kiebels. “They can be good sometimes, even make great stories. They’re like strays that just need a little love. I wanted to give all those ideas the attention they need to grow into stories and, eventually, a permanent forever home. That’s where Neutral Ground News comes in. We aim to help locals laugh so as to keep from crying…. In laughter, satire allows us the opportunity to subtly call things out in the city that need attention. Perhaps the local media is too afraid to broach a particular subject, offend readers or is at the mercy of pleasing advertisers, so they can’t say what they really want to. Hold our daiquiris. We gotchy’all.”
Kiebels said during December 2018, “which is typically a slower month since everyone is freaking out trying to buy gifts and sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic spreading holiday cheer through sign language,” NGN reached 330,783 people on Facebook in just 21 days. Some months, they reach more than 500,000.
“Overall, we have a unique audience that is made up of not-right-in-the-head people who love all things New Orleans, love to laugh and aren’t dead on the inside,” he said. “Most live in the Greater New Orleans area including New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner, Slidell, Covington, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Mandeville.”
Readership for the raucous rumor mill is up 56 percent this quarter compared to Q1 2018, and Kiebels said more women than men read NGN content on Facebook, where fans and followers fall between 25 to 44-years-old, but more men surf the NGN website than women with the largest audience representing 35 to 44-year-olds.
He said choosing an easy subject to make fun of in New Orleans is like trying to figure out which day this summer you won’t sweat.
“Content can be hit or miss, and sometimes the oddest things catch on when the ones we expect to be successful end up fizzling like diversified economic development for New Orleans,” said Kiebels. “It can be frustratingly beautiful because sometimes the craziest articles are outdone by a piece based on something ridiculous that actually happened.”
Kiebels said about a dozen hack writers contribute to the craziness of NGN who “may or may not have been dropped on their heads as babies or inadvertently snort pure beignet powder in their spare time… Our writers possess a unique outlook on the world, often one that does not align with reality and which some readers may find amusing-ish.”
C-Mortar is a writer and the assistant editor of NGN that prefers a beat where he doesn’t actually get beat. “Or, shot,” he said. “This is New Orleans, after all.”
“Before I wrote for NGN, I was just an ordinary suburbanite slob,” he said. “But now that I am a ‘journalist,’ I’m an expert on, well, everything. I’m Dr. Who, What, When, Where and Why!”
C-Mortar said his favorite article he’s ever written for NGN was about animal rights activists freeing bags of oppressed crawfish at Deanie’s in Bucktown, and that his job is rewarding because his NGN street cred helps him score biker chicks, sport exciting underwear and enjoy a company discount at Dorignac’s.
Monkey on a Stick is the head writer at NGN. He said he dabbles in sports and local news, poorly.
“It’s no secret that New Orleans, and Louisiana in general, has a lot wrong with it,” he said. “But the people have a great attitude and like to have fun. So if I can put a spin on these problems and issues of the city, state, sports teams, etc., and give people a reason to smile and laugh, that makes me happy.”
He said New Orleans is the perfect place for a business like NGN because of the tax incentives. “We don’t ‘officially’ get any deals from the city, but we have connections to some prominent politicians and they offer a gold mine of ideas for ways to hide money,” he said.
“We are fortunate enough that so many writers want to be contributors and have fun,” said editor-in-chief Kiebels of his stable of satirists including Bob Murrell, Etienne Flewtefahrter, Jacob Humphreys, Marky Mark Twain, Mikel Albagdadi, Samuel Son of Swill and Seymour Bartholomew-Utts. “We do this for the love of writing, a side gig that acts as a creative outlet, letting us write like we were in fifth grade again when it was fun.”
The nutty news group makes money any way they can, excluding selling their own organs, said Kiebels. “We’re now down to the minimum required to keep things going,” he said. “But NGN-wise…. we do pretty well with partnerships, advertisers, etc. In fact, we may be teaming up with “Weird Al” Yankovic for a meet and greet giveaway for his performance here in June. The fun thing is we aren’t limited to traditional ways of doing things since no one expects that of us…. We utilize Google Adsense, ad space sales, branded content and our partnership with the Louisiana Satire Network (LSN).”
LSN is a kooky conglomerate comprised of NGN in New Orleans, The Red Shtick in Baton Rouge, The Push Pole in Houma, The Daily Crawfish in Lafayette and The Crayfish News in Shreveport.
“I started the conversation about forming the LSN because I knew what I had in NGN and had caught wind of a few fellow digital publications and brothers-in-satire venturing to do the same in their respective parts of the state,” said Kiebels. “We all love making people laugh and supporting others who do the same. That’s why we officially founded this alliance of professional screwballs in April 2018 that provides comprehensive satirical coverage of our great depending-on-the-category-let’s-hope-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-quality-of-life-or-education state. We teamed up to offer our state a news source that people can rely on to honestly tell it like it isn’t.”
Kiebels said his sarcastic syndicate is the only one of its kind in any state and gives members an opportunity to share discussions, ideas, advice, B.S., contacts, support and warm cookies.
He said the comedy cartel offers an unprecedented network that any brand can utilize to reach the state’s most interesting people.
“The majority of our readers ‘get’ and really enjoy what we do,” said Kiebels. “But those few ‘special’ cases are what we live for. Aside from the ones who share our stories and apparently think they are true or can’t believe how stupid other people are, there are the all-stars who take their efforts to the next level.”
A recent NGN story entitled, “Who Dat Nation Issues Apology To NFL, Roger Goodell For Tanking Super Bowl Ratings,” prompted one reader to issue several expletive-filled comments attacking the credibility of the story that reported on an “alleged” phone call a Who Dat rep made to NFL Commissioner Goodell while attending Tracey’s Irish Channel Bar’s #BoycottBowl event.
NGN readily responded, “Thanks for believing we ever had credibility. We think? As a frequent non-reader of ours, we appreciate the firestorm of your fury. Perhaps you should dig into what kind of publication we are. It may soothe your burning, unless it’s the kind you need to see a doctor about, while also saving you some dignity in the future in public comments. Thanks for not reading! Beignets and Bourbon, NGN.”
In addition to reaching out to readers, NGN facilitates audience interaction through its New Orleans Meme Generator. “Got an itch for New Orleans that just won’t go away?” the site asks. “First, get checked by a doctor to make sure it’s not contagious. While you’re in the waiting room, create your own New Orleans meme with our super fancy generator.”
But it’s the motley monopoly NGN has on ironic headlines including “City Hall Asks People To Stop Reserving Spots On Parade Routes With Body Outlines” and “New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis Suffers Devastating Ego Fracture,” that seems to keep responsive readers coming back for more.
“Life is hard, politicians suck and the world is going to hell,” said Kiebels. “And, oh yeah, New Orleans is sinking. But everything seems bearable if you can read an in-depth story about farting nutria.”