Aaron Coury

With The Bitter Southerner, editor Chuck Reece and his creative team explore the contradictions of the modern South.

If you still think of Southern culture as an oxymoron, Chuck Reece can fix that.

Reece is the editor in chief and co-founder of The Bitter Southerner, an online magazine based in Atlanta that publishes one long-form, multimedia-rich story from the South every Tuesday. It might be a look inside Graceland Too, the shrine kept by an unhinged Elvis obsessive in Holly Springs, Miss.; "Scale Highly Eccentric," a tribute to Flannery O'Connor in text and illustrations; or a piece about the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, aka the Super Bowl of Pork. Contributors include the novelist Charles McNair, sportswriter Ray Glier, and photographers Whitney Ott and Rick Olivier.

In other words, it's not Duck Dynasty.

"Anyone who feels that the South is misrepresented ... everyone feels a bit bitter about that," Reece explains. "They also feel a bit bitter about that moment when you move away from the South, and all of your friends are like, 'Gee, I bet you're glad to get out of there.'"

Reece was born in Ellijay, a small town in North Georgia, and after a few stints working as a journalist in New York, returned to the South for good over a decade ago. A few years back, Reece was reading a trade magazine, and saw that its best-bars-in-the-world list didn't include a single example from below the Mason-Dixon line. His disappointment led to the birth of The Bitter Southerner in 2013.

Together with Dave Whitling, his then-coworker at an Atlanta design studio, Reece started reaching out to writers, photographers, and videographers to get the stories behind all those unsung drinks (cocktail bitters were the original, primary inspiration for the magazine's name).

But soon it evolved into something bigger—a way to spotlight people who were making the South more interesting. People "who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time," as a manifesto on the site reads.

One week's story was a history of Mardi Gras. (The Bitter Southerner)

"Both of us, having grown up in small towns in rural Georgia, were ... particularly sensitive to how the South is portrayed in the mass media," Reece says of himself and Whitling, who is now the magazine's creative director. "We knew that the image the rest of the world saw of the South wasn't the same as the South we lived in." The idea crystallized when Whitling mentioned the Drive-By Truckers song "The Southern Thing":

You think I'm dumb, maybe not too bright

You wonder how I sleep at night

Proud of the glory, stare down the shame

Duality of the Southern thing.

The Bitter Southerner now draws more than 85,000 page views per month; it has 13,000 newsletter subscribers and 32,000 followers on Facebook (the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood is not just a fan, but a contributor himself). Media watchers are taking notice. Forbes recently called the magazine the Vice of the South, and NPR's Michele Norris praised it on Twitter as "brave, curious and funny."

The Bitter Southerner

In August, The Bitter Southerner launched a 12-day membership drive that borrowed from public radio. It offered four membership tiers, with goods donated by Southern businesses and artists. The magazine also started a book club in collaboration with Atlanta bookshop A Capella Books.

Reece, who leads a full-time staff of four, counts the drive a success, though he declines to reveal any numbers. "The membership drive let us meet our two main goals: pay contributors, and begin to pay very small salaries to ourselves," he says. It also surfaced new opportunities to generate revenue, including audio and video productions (the magazine doesn't run ads).

Reece lives in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward, a historic neighborhood that's seen an infusion of new residents and businesses in recent years, due in part to the opening of the BeltLine and Historic Fourth Ward Park. One of Reece's own stories for his magazine was about #weloveatl, an Instagram project that became a local sensation, growing to 50,000 photos that celebrate every dimension of the city's life.

"This city has changed so much," Reece says. "I'm prouder to say I live here than I've ever been in my life. Atlanta is so unstuck now."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a WeWork office building
    Life

    What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

    The troubled coworking company is the largest office tenant in New York City. What happens to the city’s commercial real estate market if it goes under?

  2. Bicycle riders on a package-blocked bicycle lane
    Perspective

    Why Do Micromobility Advocates Have Tiny-Demand Syndrome?

    In the 1930s big auto dreamed up freeways and demanded massive car infrastructure. Micromobility needs its own Futurama—one where cars are marginalized.

  3. Uber Eats worker
    Life

    The Millennial Urban Lifestyle Is About to Get More Expensive

    As WeWork crashes and Uber bleeds cash, the consumer-tech gold rush may be coming to an end.

  4. a photo of Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters in London
    Environment

    When Climate Activists Target Public Transit

    The climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion is facing a backlash after disrupting commuters on the London Underground.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×