Chances are, a Plantain article has probably come across your Facebook feed by now. The 6-month-old Miami satire website has gone viral by offering cutting takes on everything from local politics ("Summer Camp Run by Jeb Bush Sued After Leaving Child Behind") to transit ("Miami-Dade to Create Freeway 'Texting Lane' to Accommodate Millennial Drivers").
It's still a bit strange for Justin Wales, the website's 30-year-old founder, to see himself as the Plantain guy, especially when you consider his website was birthed from a casual Facebook status Wales posted poking fun at Marco Rubio's failed presidential run. If you would've asked Wales a year ago what he'd be known for in 2016, he sure wouldn't have guessed satirical news. And for good reason.
Wales is a busy guy, involved in no shortage of newsworthy causes. He spent his childhood in Miami before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 15. But he came back in 2009 and earned his law license three years later. He worked on some high-profile lawsuits, including one Supreme Court case about the rights of cruise ship workers. A year ago, he started his own organization, Engage Miami, aimed at increasing voter turnout in the city.
"You're known as a lawyer and then as an activist... and then these fake articles come out and it's all anyone wants to talk about," Wales laughs.
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But Wales has learned how to use his newfound power for good too. "Our most successful pieces heavily embed actual quotes, links to legitimate news sources, and really give the reader an opportunity to figure out what they believe," he says.
It's a strategy that's paid off so far. Any Miamian browsing the Plantain should be able to tell that the satire comes from a true local's perspective. Still, not every Miamian browsing the site gets the whole "satire" part.
"It's sometimes scary to see how people are not critical readers," Wales admits. He remembers that one piece about the Miami Herald dropping vowels to cut costs made its way to India, where Wales saw Indian journalists commenting on it as if the article were a harbinger of the end of Western journalism.
Still, he soldiers on through moronic comment sections and death threats (there's been only one so far). In the coming year, he aims to continue to grow the Plantain, which recently hired its first employee and aired its first video segment. He'd also like to expand his brand of local satire outside of Miami, possibly to his other hometown of Los Angeles, where he's toying with the idea of another startup: the Avocado.