Shalomoji Says Shalom To PopCholent Founder Danny Zeff

Welcome Shalomoji fans to our second feature interview with Founder, Creator, Writer, and Editor-In-Chief, Danny Zeff of the Jewish entertainment blog Popcholent. Zeff dives deep into life as a blog owner, Popcholent submission guidelines, advice for newbie bloggers, monetization tactics, and much more. Check out the full interview below.

Q: Popcholent describes its mission “to discover the best Jewish music, movies, food, and fashion and to “unite Jews of different communities, ethnicities, religious movements, political parties and beliefs to share a laugh.” Tell us more about the blog for those who may not know.

A: Another way I usually describe the site is that it is “a special blend of pop culture, comedy, and everything you learned in Hebrew school.” The blog covers topics that I love to read about online – mostly movies, TV, music, and food – but from a Jewish angle. Sometimes that means I’ll review an upcoming film that has Jewish themes, or I’ll do an in depth look at a Jewish musician or comedian. Other times I might look at a book or a news piece and just ask “Well what makes this Jewish?” or “What if so and so was Jewish?”

Most articles are written with a casual and comedic tone, like what you might find on Cracked or BuzzFeed. They are also designed to be informative and educational, as it is nearly impossible to talk Judaism without having a “teachable moment.”

What makes Popcholent special is that it is not just a culturally Jewish blog. In the articles, I often refer to religious aspects of Judaism that not all members of the tribe may understand. And while I do my best to make the website approachable to Jews of all types, I like to throw in “deep cuts” for those who would appreciate it.

Social media also plays a big role in the website. The Popcholent feeds on Twitter and Facebook are home to funny pictures and interesting videos, and I also post links to articles on other news sites that fit with Popcholent’s mission.

Q: What compelled you to start the blog?

A: I feel like I live in two worlds: my Jewish one and my secular one. Most of the time, these two worlds stay separate from the other. But I love it when they cross over and there is a little bit of Jewishness in my secular world. It’s the feeling when I hear Matisyahu on the radio, watch Rugrats celebrate Passover on TV, or discover that one of my coworkers went to my same Jewish summer camp.

I wanted to create a website that obsessed over the cross between those two worlds, cataloging and celebrating every bit of Jewish pop culture.

The idea of the blog actually originates from a podcast I recorded in high school. Titled “oyPod: the Jewish teen podcast,” the show explored Jewish news, music, and pop culture. I recorded 27 episodes over the course of 3 years.

A few years later, I had an idea in the same vein as oyPod. Only instead of a podcast, I wanted to make a website with viral Jewish content… news, lists, quizzes, pictures, videos… all easily shareable across the internet. I wrote my first article, an explanation of how the movie The World’s End was actually about Yom Kippur. And thus Popcholent was born.

I came up with the name Popcholent after shopping around a few other ideas. Originally I came up with The Bagel, and then I decided on PopKosher (a subtle play on “pop culture”). Unfortunately, popkosher.com was already taken, so I had to come up with something else. I don’t remember how “kosher” morphed into “cholent” but ultimately I fell in love with it.

Q: Tell us about your role at Popcholent and what a day in the life looks like for you?

A: If I could, Popcholent would be my sole job and I would churn out new content on a daily basis. Until then, a day in the life of the blog is based around my personal life. Usually, I come across a bit of Jewish pop culture on the internet or something interesting happens in the news, and I become inspired to write an article about it.

I will write a few drafts of the article, trying to sprinkle some humor in as it fits. Then I go and scourge the web for images and videos to add to the article. My favorite thing is when I can’t find the exact image I’m looking for and I have to stitch some photos together in Photoshop to get my idea across.

When the article is finished and ready to publish, I post to Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, and wait for the feedback to flood in.

The other part of my job is posting content to social media. I rarely need to scrounge the web to find good content; often there is something already in my Facebook and Twitter feeds that is perfect to repost.

Q: What are some topics Popcholent looks for in submissions? Any specific topics you’d love to see more of?

A: Pretty much anything goes, as long as it has some sort of Jewish element to it. Common topics are movies, TV, music, religious life, and Israel.  I’d love to get more submissions about sports. It is a topic I know very little about, yet I am also aware that there is a rich Jewish history of sports.

When I first opened the blog, the only topic I refused was anything political. However, over the past few years, politics has become as entertaining as movies and sports. So now all topics and ideas are on the table.

Q: Do you prefer pitches or a completed article? What tips can you give someone regarding what information to include or not include in a pitch?

A: Tying into the idea of “united Jews,” I would much rather receive completed articles, as it brings a variety of voices and writing styles to the website. That said, if someone has an idea but they are not comfortable with writing their own article, I would be happy to collaborate with them to turn their idea into something awesome.

My biggest tip: keep it casual, keep it funny, keep it informative.

Also, proofread, proofread, proofread. Nobody wants to read a pitch filled with typos, and it makes your writing look unprofessional.

Q: Walk us through the submission process and how long writers should be patient before hearing back.

A: I am so eager for guest writers! If you have an article ready to be published, I promise it will be up within a few days. Depending on the topic, I may want to post it around the time of a specific event (maybe a Jewish holiday or a movie release). But I am always near my computer or phone, so if you shoot me an email, I will respond pretty quickly.

Q: What’s your policy on submitting previously published work on another site or personal blog? Do you ever consider that or does it need to be original for consideration?

A: All content needs to be original, although if you want to expand upon a topic or an article written on a different site, you are free to do so.

My reasoning for this isn’t because I’m selfish (although I might be a little). Google and Bing don’t like it when they find the same content on more than one site, and they penalize the sites by making it harder to find in search results. In the end, reposting a published work will hurt both sites.

Q: What advice would you give to a newbie blogger or someone who is thinking about starting a blog?

A: Write what you know. This applies to all writing, whether you’re creating a short story, novel, screenplay, or blog. When you write about something you feel passionate about, it will shine through in your writing, and it will make your audience that much more interested in what you have to say.

I think it’s also good to know how to build a website. Beginners or those interested purely in writing can start out on a platform like Blogger or Medium. But if you want complete control over the look of your blog, I recommend learning WordPress.

Q: What promotional tactics do you recommend newbie bloggers to use to raise awareness about their blog? What has worked best for you in terms of gaining a loyal audience?

A: Social media is one of the best methods to promote your blog. That’s not just having your Facebook automatically post every time you write a new article. It’s about finding unique content to post on social media to build your brand.

So far, Twitter has worked best for building a fan base. In my free time, I peruse Twitter looking for people and brands that I think would enjoy my blog. Often when I follow a Twitter user, they will follow back. The more followers, the more awareness.

Beyond that, it’s really all about sharing. Share on your Facebook brand page. Share on your personal page. Share on Reddit. Share on Tumblr. Email your friends.

Q: We noticed Popcholent has an online shop that sells merchandise. We adore your t-shirts, especially the “Keep Calm And Eat Cholent” t-shirt. Walk us through what motivated you to integrate the store and the process you went through to make this happen.  

A: I love funny t-shirts with silly messages on them, and I thought it would be a great addition to the site. The shirts and other apparel are produced through a site called Zazzle, which prints and ships the items custom for each order. Wearing a Popcholent shirt is another way to show pride for everything Jewish, and it provides a little bit of advertising for the site.

Q: Monetization is obviously an area of significance to bloggers who aspire to make either a part-time or full-time living blogging. What other monetization tactics (other than creating an online store) do you recommend for newbie bloggers?

A: Monetization is tough, and it’s not something I’ve quite cracked yet. An easy way to monetize a site is to place ads on the site, something that can be set up through Google AdSense or Amazon Associates. There is a fine line with ads, as you don’t want to compromise the design of your website by filling it with ads.

Another tactic one could try is to accept sponsored content. This comes in two forms: either you’ll be given a pre-written article to publish, or you’ll be asked to write an article that basically is an advertisement for a product or service. Personally, I have not tried this yet, but I would do it only if the final article still fits within the tone of the website.

Q: What’s next for Popcholent?

A: The goal from the start was new content every day, and that’s a goal I’m still aiming for. Doesn’t matter what it is – article, video, image, or quiz – as long as it is something people want to share around the internet.

But the real next stage for Popcholent is to move beyond simple blog posts and to start developing other forms of multimedia. I have several ideas for original videos, including comedy sketches and music videos. It would also be great to start a new podcast (“Podcholent” maybe?), which would really bring all my ideas full circle.

As I continue to develop the site, I want to continue growing my audience. Jews around the world can continue to get their news from The Jerusalem Post or Tablet Magazine, but I hope that Popcholent will become their source of entertainment. The day that I see friends sharing original Popcholent content on their Facebook feeds is the day I know it has become a success.

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