When you last saw us, AJ and I were talking about production at Grit…
It’s a good thing you brought up just following people around with a camera. Who’s your team? Who’s helping contribute and throwing things in these buckets?
Yeah so, I feel like we’re a part of the more “modern workforce” because we’re a start-up and we’re scrappy. We have about 25-30 people on staff. We have folks from all over the country contributing as a curator, production assistants, as journalists, as freelancers for our shooting, etc. On the video side we have a producer, an assistant producer, and a creative director.
They’re the core folks. I kind of set the direction and let them do their thing. And then, I go on the shoots and there’s generally 1-2 cameras. Really, really [non-invasive.] So I act as the director, the PA, literally whatever is needed—it’s really a very small guerilla crew. It allows us to get access, to get in out of places.
[AJ gestures towards a stark black and white photo on the wall of LeBron James doing warm up shots in a gym.]
Literally, with LeBron it was like “how the fuck did we get in there that happen?”
Yeah, so how did that come about?
We were doing a series called “Deployed” about the side of pro basketball that people don’t know about, about guys who have to play overseas. Two of LeBron’s friends from high school are playing overseas. I think one’s in Russia, one is in Germany. We were following one of them, his name is Romeo Travis, in Akron. When we went out there, LeBron had just made his announcement to go back to Cleveland and [Romeo] was dropping names like “yeah, LeBron may be in the gym today.” So you know we’re trying to play it cool, but it’s like “this is LeBron fucking James, like who gets this kind of access to him?”
So [Romeo] went to the gym and just asked LeBron if it was cool to shoot. LeBron was like “yeah, but just don’t shoot 3 hours of this and that kinda take over the story.”
Word. LeBron is super humble. That’s one funny thing, that no matter what anybody says about his public decisions, everybody is like LeBron is this super humble, very kind of like self-effacing dude. He’s just very genuine.
He’s a people pleaser. The only reason we got access to him is because he loves his boys and he’d do anything for them.
Yeah. There was no publicists, just 3-4 hours of them just working out. [laughs] There are so many just great anecdotal stories from the gym, that anyone would be like. Like, take off that “man, take off that [song], that shit’s garbage.”
Yeah we forget, like you were saying, they’re just people. Not, just like us, but they’re human beings too. And outside of the production and cameras, they just do normal people shit.
So, to loop back around really quickly: why Oakland? There’s a lot of discussion about the housing market and everyone’s talking about when the bubble’s gonna pop. But we’re seeing a lot of young companies and monied companies move over to the East Bay. So, why firstly with Grit are you here? And what do you hope to accomplish, you know, having the advantage of not having to commute to the city and being in the heart of downtown [Oakland]?
I think it’s pretty simple: Oakland is gritty. And Grit is Oakland, therefore. I can’t think of a better backdrop that represents social justice, that represents diversity, that represents kind of this place of exploration that happens. And I think all of those things embody the kind of things here at Grit. I also feel like, [being here], you draw a different type of person who doesn’t mind being in Oakland or wants to be here. Innately you just you do. It’s just a perfect backdrop and a perfect landscape.
How do you go about finding some of these stories that Grit documents?
We honestly get these stories from a lot of places. But a lot of it comes from my consuming of a lot of sports media. I knew about the guys playing overseas—I had intimate knowledge of that. We did another story on Olympic welfare; the fact that Olympic athletes don’t get paid. That was something that I just knew.
What I think separates us from the E60’s and the 30 for 30’s is that we focus less on the past. We wanna connect with people. And I feel like people in the sports culture space are thought leaders in a lot of different cultural elements (kicks, clothing. etc). But in terms of a lot of other spaces they come up short. So I think we have the opportunity to take a lot of those other elements and bring them to more present day.
You mentioned 30 for 30. With sites like Deadspin, etc. do you think that the field of sports journalism is becoming more democratized? And kind of, the idea of the sports fan journalist. Not that it’s anything new. But in terms of the kid who has an idea to like Snapchat sports events.
A Humans of New York for Sports.
Right. So especially with Grit, do you think as though there’s more for the taking? Like you could compete with ESPN? Do you feel like you have that niche?
Totally. I feel like Grantland, Bleacher Report, ESPN, they all do a great job of breaking the news. Let’s just kind of look at it: ESPN is scores and highlights and that’s why we watch. We watch the finals, the college playoffs, all those types of things. Bleacher Report gives us the lists: top ten, etc. Deadspin kind of plays between a Bleacher Report and TMZ, kind of fun interesting commentary. I think these things have become way more democratized like you said, but also way more commoditized. Because of the fact that anybody can throw it out. What did you say earlier? That you didn’t watch the game?
Yeah I caught it on Twitter.
Exactly, it kind of devalued [sports journalism.] Where before you had the big networks and they’d break the news. Now you have high school kids and pro players, announcing big decisions on Twitter, on Facebook. At [Grit] we’re not trying to do that. We’re trying to create evergreen content, culture pieces, that kind of transcend time. That two years from now will be just as compelling today. And I feel like that can’t be [crowdsourced] journalism because it takes so much more than 140 characters, or a six second video. It takes a lot of planning and time. Things that can’t be automated quite yet. Maybe in 50 years we can automate the production a full documentary.
But I don’t think we want to. You brought up a good point about the idea of human journalism where there is a value to the cat on twitter who like, you know, imagine if someone was live-tweeting the Malice in the Palace, there’s value in that. But I think you’re right, there’s value in culling from that and then re-routing it and adding more value to it.
Totally. It’s an art and a science. I think that the science part is how tech is making things more accessible. For us it’s no different. We’re finding really incredible stories that match the Grit ethos and sharing that with the community on a daily basis. A big part of that is so we know what the community wants to see. Because that will help drive the future creation of videos since we’ll know what topics [are interesting] and what the user sentiment [is]. And that will allow us to make content that’s great.
I think that’s how you get smarter. That’s kind of how you take the guesswork out of it and increase your chances of making a success or a hit. The types of things that people connect to. and at the end of the day, that’s what a hit is: it’s something that people really connect to…
Like cat videos.
Exactly! like cat videos. I tend to use music, so it’s like “I’m in Love with Coco” because it’s super catchy, or a Nas song because it’s super-deep.
You’re completely right. I’ve been having this conversation a lot with folks, in that, I like citizen journalism and there’s something important about people breaking news without that filter of folks like us who understand how this shit is sent into the back room and comes out glitzed up and glammed up and ready to be consumed. But there’s a need for a return to the professionalism, the responsibility of: I’m not just putting this out here because I like it and I need people to hear my voice.
Like, this needs to be fact checked and presented a certain type of way, as openly as possible, there may be a set of rules for the game. It’s kind of like this parabola going on where we’re dealing with this burst of the most democratized form of free speech, which i would argue is Twitter, but then, you have people who are actually trying to curate and fact check that content, so it can be something to be relied on.
I think it’s kind of like the direction that national media, the products, and things are divided between uber-high quality and crowd-sourced, almost user-generated. You can’t play in the middle. You’re either getting a 200 buck iphone or a metro pcs. You’re either going to twitter to see whatever’s happening now or you’re gonna sit back and consume whoever’s writing something…
Not even, like something from the Atlantic or WaPo, something really substantive. And that’s kind of it, you’re either bootlegging shit or you’re going to the movies.
Right, and I think there isn’t much space in terms of content makers in that mid ground. But I do think, what’s interesting is that that middle ground is the talkback. Breaking Bad will come on and you have people talking about it as it’s happening and they encourage that conversation. Whether that convo is positive or negative,the space is there. It’s something that’s never happened before in real time. So as far as Grit is concerned, do you think that space for the talk back and the feedback? Do you foresee the opportunities for engagement for the communities that you’re curating for?
Are you suggesting that that’s happening on social media right now and we can for the first time have that conversation?
Yeah I think social media enables that.
That wasn’t something that was happening before. You know, George calling into NPR is very different from George tweeting about NPR as it’s happening. NPR can’t not take that tweet.
Right. That conversation generally happens on social media. A kind of engagement. For us at Grit, that’s the core that we want to create. We won’t have a comment section on our site because we want you to have that conversation online, on social channels. That’s where you’re gonna get a richer conversation. Instead of a million people come to that page [our page] and only 5% of them say something, you’re gonna get a billion people, potentially, who are going to navigate that conversation.
It seems like you’re saying, and I don’t wanna put words in your mouth but: we want to make quality content and then we want you to talk amongst yourselves. And not really engage with the brand in a way that detracts from the real conversation of: how did this make you feel, and how does it relate to your life? Like, is that where you’re going? Or is it something else?
We would never shut down the convo, we just want to move the conversation outside of Grit’s office, like to the park outside amongst everyone. So that’s kind of what I meant, by not having commentary on the site.
Right, I def understand that. My bad. That’s why I was kinda pointing towards, it’s kind of like having learned the lessons from all these other companies, for good or bad, that it kinda forces the conversation into that other sphere where everybody is.
So what do you see Grit doing in 2015 and beyond? Obviously, this is launch week. So what do you see the company accomplishing this year and going?
The biggest thing for us is to make sure that people connect to our content and it makes them feel something: angry, happy, sad, pissed off, inspired. Whatever that is, it needs to do something for you. I feel like those emotions are what help you, or cause you, to make change and make that transition. So we just wanna make sure that any of the pieces that we curate, that we make, the conversations that we’re having with the community: all those types of things are things that are really pleasing, delighting, and creating really strong user experiences, all the buzzwords
[laughs] All the catch terms.
Right so there’s that. And the second thing we’re doing is partnering with pro athletes as well and allowing them to be guest curators. Because they have shit that they’re interested in and have a hard time communicating it. We expect a lot from them and it’s really hard for them to share how they really feel about a certain thing, unless every single day they’re saying the same thing over and over.
Unless they do that, as a consumer, there’s no way for you to really know what they care about. But if what they had something of substance, and something that connects with them and they think would connect with you. It can be like, “yo did you see that video that athlete XYZ put out?” Or, “you should follow this person because they share really inspiring videos.” Going back to your point: these athletes are citizen journalists as well.
So we give them a space and a sphere to find content and distribute it across our channels. Those are the big things in 2015 and you know, it always goes back to the user. Are the users happy? Because they’re gonna be the ones sharing and tell it.
Word. So where can folks learn more about Grit and possibly get involved?
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope