Sadly, the 2014 Gathering of the Juggalos will not be coming to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.
But that didn’t stop a headline from the Kitsap Report proclaiming as much from filling my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds last week … which was exactly as 29-year-old self-employed loan officer Calvin Courter intended.
Courter, you see, created the Kitsap Report website in January, for what the Poulsbo resident describes as “entertainment” purposes. It started with a satirical news story about a twerking epidemic at Central Kitsap High School, he explains. “I knew it would go viral,” Courter says of his debut fake journalistic effort.
From there, Courter’s trolling only mushroomed. Thanks in large part to his website’s realistic name – which doesn’t immediately give away the fact it’s a fake – the Kitsap Report has managed to fool more than a few people over the last three months, including journalists. “The people who should know better,” as Courter puts it.
Despite having no background as a journalist or writer, in the Kitsap Report’s first month the website drew “almost half a million visits,” Courter says. When a story like “Crabtree Apologizes to Sherman for Late Game Erection” is popping (sorry), Courter says it’s not unusual for 400 or 500 people at a time to be on the website.
“That was us,” Courter says dryly of the much-shared Crabtree boner story. Other Kitsap Report highlights have included “KitsapCasualConnection.com Shuts Down Amid STD Lawsuit,” “Hood Canal Bridge Collapses, Sinks,” and, of course, “Naughty Drive-through Marijuana Store Opening in Gorst.”
“Our biggest advantage is being the Kitsap Report,” says Courter, chuckling over the informal tally he’s kept of real media types who’ve retweeted or reposted his headlines. “People in Seattle don’t know what kind of news we read over here. … They just assume [the website’s] legitimate.”
The Kitsap Report is not legitimate, of course, but that doesn’t mean Courter is going to stop any time soon. In speaking with Seattle Weekly he refers to his fake news outlet in terms of “we,” but admits that’s a bit of a misnomer. “I say we to make it sound like there’s something greater to it than it actually is,” he says. “It’s just me.”
Like the stories that fill his site, that’s only partly true. Courter estimates that 85 percent of the stories he posts are self-written, with the remainder coming from a band of anonymous contributors he’s attracted over the last three months. “I’ve got a guy who writes for a local paper,” Courter says of one of the Kitsap Report’s unnamed scribes, an “Olympic Peninsula guy.”
“He doesn’t want any credit. He just wants to write his stories.”
The obvious question becomes: What’s the payoff – for anonymous contributors to the site, and more specifically, Courter, who says he spends 10-20 hours a week maintaining the site? Courter says the Google ad money is nice, but certainly “nothing to retire on.”
The appeal, he says, is the laughs, followed closely by the notoriety and local admiration.
“It’s entertainment. People around here really enjoy it. They’re very appreciative,” Courter says. “Most people really like it.”