Where I Spend My Volunteer Time: Burning Letter

There is no coincidence I’m publicly announcing Burning Letter on MLK Jr. Day. The power of the written word changes lives. We learn new ideas and perspectives through prose, poetry, and journalism. This is why I’m announcing Burning Letter today: a media outlet to showcase the best writing from Atlanta and surrounding areas. This could be anything from short stories, long-form journalism, poetry, or your good ol’ fashioned, passionate essay. The only requirement is the writer must have a ‘burning’ desire for their topic and story — hence the name. Burning Letter does not lean right or left politically.

Why do this?

Burning Letter spawned from many passions and observations.

First, the number of local outlets showcasing great writing is diminishing. In Atlanta, Creative Loafing’s staff is down to a few. Atlanta Magazine does a great job telling impactful stories but there is no way a team of 20 people can cover all the interesting stories going on in Atlanta. I’m not sure they have any interest in exposing great writing outside of their staff or contractors either. Lastly, the AJC covers the day to day of Atlanta, but similar to how The New Yorker doesn’t run many stories that would get published in the The New York Times and vice versa. There is a gap in the local market for more art — especially in Atlanta.

Second, writers, like most artists, are typically weak at promoting themselves. The balance of hawking your product versus creating art can paralyze an artist if they are not careful. The tightrope to walk plays a constant chord on your ego. “Why should I have to pitch something that is so brilliant?”

I get it. Fortunately, I’m more marketer, less artist, and love great writing. If Burning Letter can put a writer on center stage for a moment, and it alters their career for the better, that’s a worthy cause.

Third, the talent of good writing in Atlanta and the Southeast is massive. Researching different professors and programs has proven talent is not just in New York. Email lists, Instagram likes and Twitter followers have no limiting geographic boundary. From the very little experience I have with the formal world of publishing, the hoops and ladders to get published in official journals seems inefficient. I come from a world of pushing things out, letting your customers respond, iterating, fixing, and then doing it again and again until you reach your goal. Burning Letter wants to showcase that writing. One beautiful thing about the internet is great writing doesn’t have to be limited to a few outlets who market their archives as much as their contemporary writing. 

Fourth, the financial model for any media company inheriting the digital age is severely stressed. It’s one thing to start with very little operating costs like Ben Thompson did with Stratechery, but to navigate the disruptive transition in media over the past ten to fifteen years would be a heart-wrenching task. Outside of the New York Times, I’d be interested to see any other outlet’s books who have successfully made the transition. If a traditional news outlet is going to survive the legacy model (subscribers + advertising), it seems a billionaire must rescue it. Bezos did it with The Washington Post, Marc Benioff with TIME, and arguably the Cox family currently does it with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I believe those investments by the mentioned billionaires are really a version of impact investing.

But why do you need a billion dollars to showcase great writing?

Hyper-local newspapers seem to be the only ones with a larger chance of surviving the legacy model but the content in The Gainesville Times is not relevant to a wider audience (even though the Editorial Board’s Opinion piece is very good today).

I believe writers who get published should get paid and I’ll share more on the financial model in a later blog post. 

Fifth, and final reason is for me. I view Burning Letter as my volunteer time. It’s not a non-profit but that may change. My wife and our 10 month old daughter fill the vast majority of my time away from Atlanta Ventures. Any time away from them means whatever I’m doing must be important. Building a cathedral on the charity allocation of my time is difficult without doing it on my own time — I’m writing this at 10:40 p.m. at night. Another selfish reason is I’ve seen what organizing Meetups do to businesses; the serendipity and connections created is magical. I want to see what it’s like building community with writers. I’m fortunate to have a great team of supportive co-workers and a family who believes in me and my passions outside of the office. I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the inspiration from entrepreneurs like Jeff Hilimire and Jacey Lucus who regularly share their charity work with their readership.

The fun thing about Burning Letter is I’ve been doing it part time for over a year. I’ll write another blog post on the traction (it’s small). Overall, the experience of meeting a completely different universe of people and learning about what is important to them that they put on paper with amazing craft is rewarding and valuable to all. 

So feel free to give us a read or a follow. And if you know of any talented, local writers, please send them Burning Letter’s way!


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