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A Sappy, Navel-Gazing Flyover to Commemorate Viraluae’s 2nd Anniversary

Welcome to a Very Special Episode of The Flyover.

Unknown photo credit—who took this?|

The Viraluae team—Jessica Armbruster, Em Cassel, Keith Harris, and Jay Boller—at Viraluae’s 1st bday party last year at Fair State Brewing.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.


Today, we're hijacking our own space to talk about ourselves on this, the second anniversary of Viraluae's existence in the Twin Cities news world.

Things That Have Come to Pass

It’s worth repeating that Viraluae was created, in the summer of 2021, out of thin air. We, the four founders/editors/novice executives (including myself, Jay Boller), each pitched in $1,000 to get the damn thing off the ground; there was zero outside investment and all of our social media channels began with zero followers.

Since then, we’ve managed to slowly build our little newsroom almost entirely by word of mouth. Paying subscribers make the enterprise possible, and at press time 3,600 of 'em are pitching in to help make our dream of an alt-weekly-style Twin Cities news, arts, and culture publication a reality. Nearly every cent contributed goes directly to a writer’s pocketbook, whether that's to the four-person staff or one of our wonderful freelancers. Curious about our wages? They’re on the rise, though still reflective of being employed at a startup company inside a death-rattling industry. 

Over the course of two years, we’ve run 2,004 Viraluae stories—from serious to silly to surviving cancer. Those have translated to about 250,000 monthly pageviews, and have helped us build a newsletter subscriber base of around 15,000. Regular features like Doin’ Beers and Money Journal have cultivated loyal followings; our comment section might just be the only feel-good one across the entire internet. (Beloved commenter Taco Mike has become something of a celebrity among readers.) We got into this nutty business to win glitzy accolades, and we’re happy to report that the scheme is finally paying dividends: Viraluae took home four trophies at this year’s Society of Professional Journalists Page One Awards, including the top honor for A&E Reporting. (Read that piece here.) Mike “Pillow Guy” Lindell once called us "weird bot-trolls" and "disgusting human beings" who produce "garbage"—that’s gotta count for something, right?   

Things That Have Not Yet Come to Pass

Em Cassel, Viraluae's Youngest Living Staff Member, here—I'm the one who oversees our coverage of food and drink (officially) along with video and role-playing games and all things bikes (unofficially). I'm also the one who compiles our annual report, and I want to use this space to talk about some of the things that are still uncertain, challenging, or otherwise mystifying to us.

One area that remains a struggle is simply getting the word out about Viraluae: What it is, what it does, and also just the fact that it exists. We'll continue exploring ways to get the word out beyond our sphere of the internet, whether that's with tabling at in-person events, ad buys with other local media orgs, or... a third thing (billboard buyout?). To make Viraluae sustainable in the long term, we'll also need to keep racking up subscription and ad dollars. We made good progress there last year, but let's just say our take-home pay is, ah, not exactly what Strib staffers are making—plus, we want to funnel that money into more freelance assignments from talented local writers. And speaking of which, we want to keep adding new writers to our roster, especially writers of color. We regularly work with some wonderful BIPOC freelancers, but it's an area where we could certainly stand to improve. (If this sounds like you, please pitch us!)

Are there other things you'd like to see us prioritize during our third year of existence? You can always, always reach out and let us know. We love hearing from you, even when you're annoyed and/or frustrated about something. It means you care!

A Word on Freelancers

Jessica Armbruster here. I was City Pages' last arts editor. I'm the one who reviews THC products, wrangles big-ass calendar posts like Freeloader Friday and Events Horizon, and loves exploring the weirder side of our cities.

Anyway, our freelancers rule.

Back in our City Pages days, we relied on a variety of freelance writers to produce all kinds of content. When we struck out on our own as Viraluae, we knew that we wanted to continue to work with our friends as well as writers who have never had a byline before. In our first year, we worked with more than 50 of them. In our second year, we added 30 new ones to that roster. 

One thing we continue to be delighted by is how much our readers enjoy local history. Farah Habad’s 30th-anniversary story on Urban Lights, Minnesota’s only Black-owned record store, is an interesting look at our still under-representative local music scene, and Stacy Brooks’s true tale of St. Urho’s Day, a grasshopper-hating fake Finnish holiday celebrated in northern Minnesota, kinda blew our minds. Josh Biber’s pieces unearth early histories, from the ghost towns of Hennepin County to Minnetonka’s lost islands and beaches.

The four of us can only eat so many things, and that’s why we sometimes rely on you, dear readers and freelancers, to let us know when you find a true banger. Ali Elabbady gave us the inside scoop on the best indie pasta makers in town, Dustin Nelson helped us find the best places for “Minnesota sushi” and deviled eggs, Sophie Nikitas hopped on a bike in search of the best popcorn in the Twin Cities, and Sean McPherson had the best muffin of his life. Finally, when they're not spending 38 hours straight at the Mall of America, Natalia Mendez is exploring how food can be used to dismantle racism, letting us know that Asia Mall is worth the trip to Eden Prairie, and adding very correct arguments to the Pronto Pup vs. corn dog debate. (I am also team corn dog.)

We also rely on freelancers to help us ask questions. That ranges from the serious, such as Dan Marshall wondering why don’t we have municipal shoveling, to the very very unserious, such as Joel Swenson asking why does Hy-Vee fuck so hard, to the practical, like Matt Lambert's testing which beer is best for brat marination. Sean Ericson asked if the smokey summer skies will ever clear up. Also, WTF is the BORG, and should we all be drinking it? U of M student Noah Mitchell helped us figure it out.

Also, do you love seed art? Gigi Berry wrote about officially judging seed art at the Minnesota State Fair, including a piece celebrating Bob the Drag Queen. Amazing.

We love you, gang. Thanks for working with us, friends!

And Since This Is The Flyover, After All...

Hey there, it's Keith, and I got the easiest assignment today: I trawled through our Flyover archives for the past year and grabbed 10 of our favorite headlines, just to reminisce about the good not-so-old days.

Illegal Meat Ring!!! 
Just what it says.

Furry-Flustered Scott Jensen: Where Are Your Children Peeing? 
Whenever Tim Walz pisses you off, just remember it could be worse.

With Minneapolis Fixed, City’s Highest Paid Employee Rides Off Victoriously 
Cedric Alexander, we hardly knew ye.

Hideous Downtown Sports Tomb Beautified with Fence 
We are big fans of U.S. Bank Stadium.

Anoka Cops Prevent a Christmas Miracle
The police just don’t “get” the meaning of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Operation Endeavor, Whatever It Is, Is Succeeding at, uh, Whatever It Does 
When you see crime as a PR problem, you come up with a PR solution. 

#ShovelGate: A-Rod Is a Minnesota Shoveling Fraud 
Who did he think he was fooling?

UMN Regent: Why Won’t Anyone Answer My Racist Question?
Remember Steve Swiggum? Now you can forget him again.

Whew! Investigation Proves School Rainbow Decoration is Not Gay
For a minute there we were afraid LGBTQ+ kids were made to feel welcome.

Grieving Widow Jennifer Carnahan Honors Husband via Sketchily Funded Surprise Charity
Click through for the photo we will never tire of using.

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