Hooking Up with The Believer

After the literary magazine published its final issue and laid off its staff, a novel genre of content is now appearing on its website

The website of The Believer has been increasingly dormant since the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s Black Mountain Institute announced last October that the recently published March/April issue would be the literary magazine’s last and the bulk of the editorial staff was laid off. But in late April, the magazine’s former features editor, Camille Bromley, flagged a radically discordant new kind of content on the site. “UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts appears to have sold a beloved literary magazine with a 20-year history to a content farm,” she tweeted. The post, “25 Best Hookup Sites for Casual Dating,” runs more than 4,000 words and is littered with affiliate referral links customized for The Believer. “We may receive commissions on purchases made through links on our site,” runs an introductory disclosure. It also includes an illustration by Sophia Foster-Dimino, which originally ran in the magazine’s final issue alongside a short piece about Julia Roberts memorabilia by T Kira Māhealani Madden.

When The Fine Print called UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts to learn more, we were transferred to John Tuman, an associate dean and acting executive director of the Black Mountain Institute. “I don’t,” he stammered, “I don’t have any information about that.” Karyn Hollingsworth, the director of communications for the college of liberal arts, eventually responded to an inquiry about the origins of the post after that call. She seemed to suggest that it had gone up with UNLV’s approval. “We stated earlier that we would evaluate the best path forward for The Believer and Black Mountain Institute,” she wrote.

There’s an entire cottage industry of SEO-driven lead-gen for dating sites, and it’s not uncommon for struggling or dead publications to post similar content, presumably in exchange for affiliate revenue or advertising fees. Last week, the Chicago Reader, which recently went through an existential ownership crisisposted “16 Best Hookup Sites and Apps for Adult Dating To Try Free in 2022.” The Washington City Paper, which this week is ending its print edition to transition to a “digital-first strategy,” has a recent sponsored post headlined “Best Hookup Sites In 2022: Recommended Top 5 Sex Dating Apps & Casual Hookup Sites.” Similar content is posted at the Cleveland Scene and the Loveland (Colo.) Reporter-Herald. One outfit, Chirpery, which claims to “manage a team of world-class digital marketers and SEO masters,” appears to be behind some of the posts. Chirpery client “beauty saloon” owner “Jeniffer Doe” was not immediately available for comment.