At the online publication called the Nordly, the news is fake, funny and local-local.
Consider these recent headlines: "Minneapolis Named Best City to Get Tear Gassed," "Surly Unveils Limited Release 'Union Buster' IPA" and "Major Milestone: Nearly 20% of Minnesotans Have Now Received Photo of Friend Getting Vaccine."
In other words, the Nordly — "the northernmost satirical site in North America, so long as you disregard Canada" — is a bit like the Onion, the national parody news publication. Except the Nordly (thenordly.com) is created by Minnesotans, for Minnesotans, poking fun at the great state of Minnesota.
Started in 2018 by a group of local comedy writers, the Nordly mines evergreen targets for Minnesota humor like hot dish ("Local Man Hospitalized After Adding Tabasco to Hot Dish"), social awkwardness ("Woman Dies From Natural Causes During 39-Year Minnesotan Goodbye") and Edina ("Edina Issues 'Stay-at-Mansion' Order").
But its take on Minnesota isn't exactly the folksy news from Lake Wobegon ("All 11,842 Minnesota Lakes Make Formal Request to Be Excluded From Any of Garrison Keillor's Future Novels").
The site features spoof headlines ripped from and riffed on real headlines and current local affairs: "In Honor of Black History Month, MPD Helicopters Flying Over South Minneapolis Will Blast MLK Speeches," "MyPillow President Calls for MyMartialLaw" and "As Derek Chauvin's Trial Begins Edina Residents Bring 'Black Lives Matter' Signs Out of Holiday Storage." (OK, that was an Edina one, too.)
Much of what's offered has the pointed bite of a good editorial cartoon, using humor to draw attention to a serious issue ("Realistic! Police Robot Programmed to Roll Away if You Try to Report a Sexual Assault," "Minneapolis Prepares for Positive Outcome in the Chauvin Trial by Deploying National Guard").
"Humor is often used as a tool for catharsis," said Anna Larranaga, one of the Nordly editors. It can help people respond to a painful situation and "make some light to help relieve the darkness," she said.
The online publication is the brainchild of Jonathan Gershberg, a Minneapolis man who also created something called "Minnesota Tonight," a sort of Minnesota-based version of "The Daily Show" that appeared at the Fringe Festival, online and onstage at the Brave New Workshop.
When Gershberg shifted his energies to the Nordly, he recruited some of the writers who worked with him at "Minnesota Tonight," launching the online publication in September 2018 with the goal of continuing to "lovingly skewer" a flyover region that doesn't get enough attention from national satire outlets.
"There has been a real lack of this kind of content," Gershberg said.
Or as Nordly staff writer Denzel Belin puts it, "Minnesotans are very horny for a local angle."
"Part of what helps us be successful is a Minnesota attitude and pride of where we live," Larranaga said.
The Nordly taps into the area's strong regional identity — our Minnesota exceptionalism, if you will — to create what amounts to a string of inside jokes for those of us living here.
Anyone who has walked across the Stone Arch Bridge on a nice day might enjoy the Nordly headline "Three Unique Places on the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge to Get Engaged." The article touts the local landmark as a place to get "a photo no one else will have!"
That article was written by staff writer Maddie Spott, who did in fact get her engagement photo taken on the Stone Arch Bridge. She also channeled her frustration during a traffic jam into this headline: "Study Shows Highway to Hell Is 169 South."
Nordly staffers say satiric headlines often work because they come so plausibly close to depicting real life.
"It's funny 'cause it's true," is how the philosopher Homer Simpson put it.
After all, who doesn't know the guy described in this Nordly article: "Man Born and Raised in Hopkins Pretty Sure He Has Best Ideas About How Minneapolis Can Heal."
Underlying Belin's satiric article, "Cool Retirement Home Announces 'Vaccinated Only' Orgy" are the real-life rising rates of sexually transmitted infections among elderly populations.
"Satire has to come from a strong kernel of truth," Belin said. "It's not simply a joke."
Nordly staffers say that some people see joke headlines like "Jeff Bezos Opens Homeless Shelter for Amazon Employees" shared on social media and seem to take them seriously at first.
"People genuinely thought it was a real piece of news," said Nordly editor Aron Woldeslassie.
Apparently "Minneapolis Officials Annoyed They Can't Turn George Floyd Square Into Luxury Condos Without People Being Totally Uncool About It" was also plausible to some.
"I think a couple of people thought that was real," said Nordly staff writer Morgan Gray.
"Some people did not realize it was satire at first," Gershberg said of the Nordly headline "Dangerous Mixture of Axe Body Spray, White Claws and Self-Tanner Responsible for Lake Minnetonka Illness Outbreak."
Nordly writers and editors say one goal of the site is to make sure the parody punches up, not down. In other words, the satire should prick and puncture the powerful.
That could be local politicians like Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a frequent target: "Secret's Out: Jacob Frey Confesses He Is Actually a Quarter-Zip Fleece Accidentally Brought to Life by a Witch," "Jacob Frey Announces He Will Not Get Vaccine Until Local Doctor's Office Restocks Cool Spider-Man Band-Aids," "Mayor Frey Visited by Three Mysterious Ghosts Who Tell Him to Cut the MPD Budget."
Or it could be local institutions: "Vikings Fans Lobby NFL for Professional Team," "The Current Takes Hostages as Part of Member Drive," "Metro Transit Unveils New Red Line That Goes Straight to Hell."
Even your beloved local newspaper can become Nordly fodder: "New Star Tribune Website to Display Flaming Skull, Live Satellite Image of Your Home When Article Limit Reached."
Some politicians who have been the butt of jokes have actually shared the fake articles on social media. At the site's anniversary party, Minnesota State Auditor Julie Blaha showed up and read the Nordly piece on her titled "New State Auditor Excited to Do Whatever a State Auditor Does."
The Nordly operates with a staff of 11 part-timers (three editors, one art director and seven staff writers) who are paid small stipends. The site gets about 30,000 readers a month, according to Gershberg, the editor-in-chief. It has received grant support from an organization called Grant for the Web, and some of its content is available to readers who pay a $5 monthly fee.
The site also will consider submissions from freelance contributors who think they have something funny to say about the state.
"We want to give anyone a shot," said Larranaga. "We want to nurture new voices."
Every week, the editors get more than 100 fake headlines from contributors. In a blind review process, they take a vote on which are funny enough to make it to the site. Then the editors decide whether the headline alone is the entire joke. About half the time, they expand the joke by asking the writer to come up with a fake story, as well.
So far, they've gotten more than 1,000 headlines published for anyone who wants to have a laugh about this place.
"We're creating language for all the absurd things Minnesotans do," Woldeslassie said.