Right around lunch time every weekday, about 600 Pittsburghers pause for a few minutes to check out "Eat That, Read This" (ETRT).
It's a newsletter by a 28-year-old guy from Lawrenceville who assigns merciless nicknames to elected officials, and combines mockery (or kudos) for the news media with a selection of missed love connections from Craigslist.
"I just started it casually and sent it to a bunch of folks I knew would be into it," said ETRT author and creator Adam Shuck. "Everyone I sent it to thought it was cool and fun, and I thought, 'This is something I could have fun doing.'"
That was in June. Since then, "Eat That, Read This," made up mostly of links to things Shuck finds amusing or interesting, has grown steadily. And without giving away too much information about his subscribers, Shuck describes them as a group most local advertisers would drool over:"They're a cool cross-section of young Pittsburgh that's paying attention."
The amount of information crammed into each installment is impressive. For instance, Tuesday's missive this week had links to more than three dozen stories. Shuck said he uses Inoreader, a pretty basic RSS reader, to get the items he highlights in the newsletter, and is pretty much mining content day and night, pocketing things for later when the day's newsletter has already gone out.
So why is "Eat That, Read This," so popular? "I think the fact that it's written by a person writing honestly, it feels like you're getting an email from a friend, or someone that you know," Shuck said. "It's fun to write, so it's fun to read."
He said he doesn't tailor the content based on performance metrics, and acknowledges that the nature of a newsletter is a one-way street, which he actually prefers.
"It is sort of like a broadcast, which I kind of like. I think that Internet comment culture is in a bad place right now," Shuck said. "And I'm not drafting this because I think it's what I think the audience wants. I'm kind of pulling together a project I would like for Pittsburgh to have."
Shuck just bought a house in Lawrenceville with his partner, who happens to work in Bill Peduto's administration. The mayor, by the way, would be Shuck's dream subscriber (he gets an email every time someone new signs up, so he knows who is and isn't reading). Shuck's not a Pittsburgh native. He grew up in Maryland and moved here from New York five years ago.
He believes that what makes "Eat That, Read This" unique — his voice — is also what makes it popular.
"I think Pittsburghers like to read about Pittsburgh and things in Pittsburgh," Shuck said. "But there's a silent majority of young Pittsburghers who I think are kind of tired of the vapid cheerleading and want to hear critical analysis, differing voices — instead of the rah-rah listicle pap."
Shuck has a full-time day job at the University of Pittsburgh, and while he said he would like to grow the newsletter into something bigger, there isn't a way to monetize it at the moment. "I haven't even strategized a business plan," he admitted. He has Facebook and Twitter accounts but says he doesn't have the capacity to promote it as much as he might like.
"It's not like I have a team of people helping me crank out tweets," he said.
He said his favorite kind of news item is the one of the regular suburbanite or exurb who somehow makes it into the paper. "I love "The Onion, and I love those hyperlocal interest stories, like, the lady who loves her Crock Pot," he said. "I like the juxtaposition of putting a serious issue like the plan for the arena in the Hill with those kind of mundane personal stories, to just take a snapshot of Pittsburgh."
But it seems there's a need in the Pittsburgh media landscape for a voice like Shuck's. "I'm not trying to be objective," he said. "My goal is to be honest. If people don't like it, they can always unsubscribe."