The Black Sheep builds UConn franchise

In this screenshot, the homepage of UConn's edition of The Black Sheep is pictured. The online publication – which bills itself as "A college media company that's ACTUALLY about college" – has distinct editions catering to about 40 different universities. (Screenshot/The Black Sheep)

The Black Sheep’s unique shtick in the busy world of college humor is franchising. The online publication – which bills itself as "A college media company that's ACTUALLY about college" – has distinct editions catering to about 40 different universities. It has recently started reaching out to the University of Connecticut, and is now looking to recruit.

The website’s humor takes the shape of mock advice columns (“Husky Men’s Guide to Emergency-Pooping on Campus”), top-five lists (“Reasons to Take a Winter Class at Gateway”) and a few free-form, second-person stories like “The Ghosts of Hookups Past.”

Oftentimes multiple schools have different iterations of the same premise. You are, of course, free to read any university’s Black Sheep, and so it instigates your competitive university-specific pride to see whose is best.

Several schools have their own advice column for conquering your roommate, but UConn’s “How To: Force Your Roommate into Submission” is regretfully not as funny or creepily insightful as the University of Michigan’s “How To: Assert Dominance Over Your Roommate.”

On the other hand, UConn’s body of work is generally better than Eastern Connecticut State University's, except when the latter utilizes unequaled capacity for self-loathing.

The magazine caters to multiple specific geographic audiences, but therein lies the rub. The Black Sheep has a conflicting scope. It seems to be simultaneously vying for two niche markets.

There’s the general national audience, college-age Millennials who can laugh over universal problems like battling roommates, returning home after getting used to college culture and trying to not look like a freshman. 

But at the same time, it’s trying to capitalize on UConn-specific – or any given university-specific – inside jokes and local talking points. Take “The Herbster Games,” “President Herbst to Use Student Saltiness to De-Ice UConn” or “The Five Best Places to Nap at UConn.”

It’s more difficult for a franchised business of any sort to pull off authenticity, and it takes authenticity to a build and sell a local flavor. The Black’s Sheep weakness isn’t its writing, plenty of which (at least in the UConn edition) is quite funny. It’s in the venue.

The Black Sheep is still looking for editors and administrators – some of which are paid based on commission – and unpaid staff writers on UConn’s campus. It does seem like an interesting place to experiment with comic writing and to develop that quirky, intellectual yet immature style that Millennials have come to love and prize.

But the stinger, the bite and the originality that make satire powerful are harder to feel from the publication as a whole, with it being a franchise. The act of starting up a branch seems simply too procedural. It’s less original, less contrarian in perspective. It doesn’t have the underdog appeal.

The Black Sheep treats its UConn edition and readership as if they were unique, just like everybody else.


Christopher McDermott is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.