Seth and Travis discuss some of the behind the scenes conversations and thought processes that led to Seth’s creation of Staking the Plains.
Ed. Note by Seth: This conversation began on February 26th. This is the first time that I’ve ever heavily edited or asked Travis to hold off on publishing a conversation. The explanation as to why we’ve edited our original thoughts is at the end of the conversation.
Seth: So where do we flipping start?
Travis: Man, I don’t know. I woke up on Monday morning in a new bed in a new house in a neighborhood I’d never seen. It was weird.
So let’s just get right to the nuts and bolts and talk about some of the behind the scenes things that we’ve obviously been working on for the past several months. I can’t even remember exactly when we first began talking about it, but I remember how impressed I was with the name “Staking the Plains” (and continue to be) when you sent it to me. But even then I wasn’t 100% sure you, or any of us, would ever make the move.
I think it really began to hit me that this was real was during a conversation we had late in the year, probably sometime in December. You were getting pretty far along in the planning of the new site, but we’d never discussed any of us going with you. I think I said something like “I’d be happy to join you if you’d like,” and you, in your matter of fact way, just said something like “oh yeah, we’re all going and it will be awesome.”
I just thought, “ok, we’re really gonna do this.”
So walk us through your thought process, and maybe even some of the things that kept you awake at night when contemplating this move.
Seth: At this point, the details are hazy because so much has happened over the past two weeks.
I really don’t remember when this started. Maybe it was a result of working for the same company for eight years or so, but I think I started to get jaded and disappointed and so I started to wonder about if I could do something on my own.
To set the stage, I started working for SB Nation in November of 2006 and I had always given absolutely everything to writing on whatever name that the site was utilizing at the time. I was always dedicated, I think even up to the end, but I was jaded and once you became jaded then you’re really no good as an employee or independent contractor or whatever. As a small business owner, I’ve come to appreciate two things: 1) you need to reward the people who are working for you by giving them raises if you can; and 2) once an employee feels like they are merely a cog that can be easily replaced then you are really no longer an integral part of the machine.
I felt like both of those things were true by the time I finished my run at SB Nation. I think that the bloggers that do write and manage these sites should maybe earn more money, but because I think that we, as site administrators, are essentially cogs, there’s really no reason for SB Nation to pay the site administrators more. It’s complicated.
I think the other thing that happened is that I felt like SB Nation could have been more honest about their intentions. They were never dishonest. That should be abundantly clear, but at the beginning of 2014, we were asked to make a push on Facebook and really drive up those likes and promote Facebook with that sort of “look it” content that drives Facebook traffic.
So, it just so happened that TMacRaider came along and it was just great for me personally. The thought behind driving Facebook traffic was that the more Facebook visits you could get then the more visits and people you could get for your site. This is all 100% true. Facebook is a huge and was a largely untapped source of site traffic and viral things are the best things for Facebook. But maybe that wasn’t the one reason why SB Nation wanted those Facebook likes. It wouldn’t be until January of 2015 that I ran across this article that confirmed that yes, the Facebook likes are really part of trying to pull in an audience that wasn’t there before, but there was also this:
For now, Vox Media, like other publishers, say their primary goal of engineering content exclusively for social platforms is to reach people who might not already be visiting their sites.
He and others are awaiting the day, however, when Facebook sells ads around the videos and shares the revenue with publishers, as it did in a recent test of ads that ran after NFL videos.
“The great thing about Facebook leaning in to the new video strategy is that publishers on average are seeing a lot more views and a lot more engagement with that video content,” Hunt said. “This could theoretically be a pretty massive revenue stream with publishers when and if they do enable monetization around this inventory.”
So, there’s part of me that thought that it really would have been great if we, as site administrators could have known what the grand scheme actually was. But then I go back to the thought that I’m just this cog, so why should SB Nation make me aware of any sort of grand plan? It’s not my company, I’m just a guy that writes on a site.
Also mentioned in that article was the news that SB Nation and Vox received a new round of financing and that’s great and all, but the financing that SB Nation received never affected my pocket. Again, I’m just a cog, so for me to have this expectation is really not all that fair to SB Nation.
I also think that I’m also too old in some respects because there was a time where creating, cultivating and growing a community was the most important thing. I think that’s where we initially were as bloggers, which is that what I wanted more than anything was a place to talk with a bunch of like-minded people about Texas Tech and that’s what I did. The most important stat to me was the number of comments because that meant that people were talking and discussing things and that was always the most important stat.
I should also say that I’m not good at viral stuff. I’m not quick, witty and/or quirky to be able to do that. Plus, there’s a ton of times that I’m not able to watch things live because I’m being a dad and a husband. I try to watch those games on my time and I have never let blogging interfere with being a husband and a father, so being opportunistic for that viral stuff really wasn’t all that possible for me. I think that SB Nation really was starting to transition to something that I was not.
One other thing was that we were asked to give our managers access to our Facebook page. I was skeptical of doing this because I sorta told myself that “Hey, I built up this Facebook, this is mine and why should I give anyone access”. This was, in retrospect, an inappropriate response because the truth of the matter is that none of what I had created was mine.
The Facebook and the Twitter and all of that stuff belongs to SB Nation. Not me. That was something that was tough to comprehend, even up until the end, but it was true. I signed an agreement that said that anything that I created for SB Nation was their property and that’s absolutely true. None of it was mine.
But what I did bank on was the idea that yes, I do not own the site, I do not own the Facebook likes, I do not own the Twitter follows, but I did have this feeling that this terrific community that we, yes we, all built up over the past eight years was ours. I started to think about whether or not a blogger that worked for SB Nation left on their own to actually compete with SB Nation. And when I say compete I don’t actually mean that I can really compete with SB Nation because I just can’t, but we are in a way competing for eyeballs and visits and clicks. I couldn’t think of one that amicably left SB Nation and started something of their own.
So that’s where it initially started.
I also really thought that I wanted to be able to pay the people that write for me. Yes, I could have absolutely shared the $100 that I made a month, but that split up 5 or 6 different ways is a dinner at Chili’s for two and I just never did that. I was dreaming a bit bigger and thinking that there has to be a market of local advertisers, or Red Raiders in general, that would want to advertise with a site that could get 2,000 to 3,000 unique visits or 8,000 to 10,000 visitors each day. I felt that I could do more for the folks that were giving their time to us, as a site, with the time and writing expertise.
I think I really started to get serious about creating something on my own started in November. So I started investigating all sorts of blogging platforms and what would be the best means of writing. I looked at everything, I mean everything, with the hopes that I could find something that I could live and work with over the course of time.
Okay, that’s a lot of words, so before I continue to write, do you have any questions?
Travis: Yes, tons more questions, but first I want to say how impressed I’ve been with the reaction we’ve gotten since the move. I let Dan (OSR) know a few months ago that you were considering this and his reaction was “Great. Let me know how I can help.”
Then on that Sunday morning when you let the staff know, the reaction was the same. And then on Monday when you announced, the response from the community was phenomenal. Almost without fail the message was, “ok, see you later VTM, we’ve got a new home.”
I think it’s just a testament to the resilience of Red Raiders and West Texans. Yeah, maybe we’d prefer not to change, but we’re doing it so no need to bitch about it. Let’s just go.
Completely awesome from everyone.
So, I guess two questions are: how did you come up with the name Staking the Plains and when is the first Weekender?
Seth: I wasn’t sure if we were going to do a Weekender post. I sorta felt like those weren’t that great for the offseason, but maybe I should think about that. I never felt like those really took off like I wanted them to take off.
I do want to add a couple of more clarifications.
I mentioned the fact that SB Nation may be looking to leverage those Facebook likes for a possible video platform and that may happen and it may not happen. I do want to be clear that at the end of the day, I never really understood SB Nation’s ultimate plan or big overall vision of where it wanted to eventually go. Again, it wasn’t necessary that I do know, but not knowing much and reading about it online was interesting.
I think I left SB Nation as amicably as possible. It was frustrating coming to the realization that I really don’t own or have any sort of ownership of anything that I felt like I had a big hand in creating and that’s a weird thing. To spend so much time and effort into something and not really own any part of it is just a weird thing to consider. And there’s no argument from my end on that aspect of ownership. It’s absolutely true that they do own it. I’m not mad or upset at SB Nation, I think my frustration was more of me being frustrated with my own situation than anything else.
As to how I came up with the name, Staking The Plains. This was a real tough thing for me because when I first started this, I actually didn’t start researching blogging platforms, I actually thought that I needed to come up with a name for a site before I start investigating. Don’t get the cart before the horse. I knew that I didn’t want to have anything to do with Texas Tech. In other words, I didn’t want it to be “Victory Bells Blog” or “Matador Musing” or anything closely associated with Texas Tech.
So, I was initially drawn to the Llano Estacado, and it didn’t occur to me until after about three weeks to translate that phrase. I initially was drawn to the town Estacado which is now a ghost town in Crosby and Lubbock Counties. It was a town originally established by Parrish Cox, who was part of the Religious Society of Friends, which was a Quaker religious society and he was exempted from the Civil War because of the Quaker pacifism and he headed West and purchased several thousand acres in the area in 1878. So he and his family and some settlers traveled west from North Carolina, but they were ill-prepared and the settlers left and only Cox and his family remained. By 1891, Cox had passed away and there was a vote in Cosby County to move the county seat to Emma, which was passed by 6 votes and pretty much everyone left the town of Estacado.
So, for some reason I was drawn to this ghost town of Estacado for a full week before going back to the idea of the Llano Estacado. I couldn’t make anything work with the name “estacado”. When I went back, to Llano Estacado, it hit me like a ton of bricks . . . don’t make the name past tense, like the travels have already happened, but that it is happening. I also know that names need to be short and catchy. It can’t be too long otherwise it isn’t going to work.
So we get past the research and name reservation and all of that stuff and I emailed the entire staff and let them know essentially everything above and where I was at as a site administrator and I asked if the staff wanted to go with me or if they wanted to stay and keep going with VTM. I felt like that everyone should have an opportunity to take it over if they wanted. I had really come to the realization at that time that VTM wasn’t mine.
At that time, MikeTTU was considering taking VTM over, but at the 23rd hour, he was offered a terrific position with 24/7 Sports and the pay would have been significantly better than working for SB Nation and it would have meant that Mike was going to have a easier go of it and for Mike to make some money off of his hard work seemed like a huge home run for Mike.
There were so many things that had to be done and I had promised myself that I would give my all to VTM until I was actually done. I failed in a small respect in that I didn’t get up a game re-cap of the Oklahoma loss as I traveled to Austin the weekend before the launch and had all sorts of things happening at my house on Sunday that prevented me from watching the game (I still have it on the DVR).
Once we launched, I’ve had a handful of folks that have emailed me and offered to help and advertise. The response has been nothing short of incredible. Of course now, there is a new site administrator at VTM now, so it is still weird for me that I’m not associated with VTM any longer. I do have a plastic bag full of VTM koozies that are sitting in a closet.
I confided in you that my biggest concern was that I wasn’t sure if folks would follow and I know that I didn’t move quickly enough for you. Talk about what you were thinking leading up to the actually launching Staking The Plains.
Travis: Well, there were a couple of things. I realized about a week before the launch that I was being pretty selfish because I kept nagging you about the move. My impulse is always to just dive in and do it and I wasn’t really thinking about all the work you were doing to make sure the new site was ready to go. You told me on the Tuesday before the launch that you were really stressed because you weren’t sure everything was ready, and this was a few days before you sent your resignation to SB Nation. I sent you this text on Wednesday morning and then I tried to just be supportive and patient.
The weekend before the launch I had a ton of mixed emotions. Frustrated, impatient, a little nervous, all of that stuff.
But I was also feeling really nostalgic. I was tempted to tweet out a bunch of my old stories, the stories I’m most proud of, but I didn’t want to step on your pending announcement. I went back and read through a lot of them though, sort of reminiscing. And I hope someday when I’m long gone my kids can log in to Viva The Matadors and SB Nation and show their kids some of the work that grandpa did.
I guess I just really want people to understand that this move wasn’t easy and it wasn’t done on a whim. I saw a commenter at VTM basically accusing us of leaving SB Nation out in the cold because you didn’t give them enough notice and now it would be difficult to get reporting on Tech basketball and spring football. I don’t think he realizes how personal this is for us, how close to our hearts VTM has been for so long.
So this is getting really long and I’m sure by now everyone is asleep, but do you want to add anything else?
Ed. Note by Seth: As it got closer to time to post this Weekly Conversation I got cold feet and Travis can attest that this has really only happened one other time (I think) where I wanted to hold off on posting a story. The only other time was when we had information about Michael Brewer and his injury and I held off on that as well. The reason I had cold feet is that I didn’t want anything to be interpreted as me speaking negatively of SB Nation in any way. I didn’t want that to be the intent of the post, but rather how we arrived at Staking The Plains. The funny thing now is that I realize that I was always responsible for the content at VTM and would have been in serious trouble if I posted or allowed something to be posted that was inappropriate, but at Staking The Plains, it was different because my tail is on the line. So I crawfished a bit and wanted to take some time to figure things out and make sure that this conversation was an explanation.