004: Smashing Interviews: A Smart Pivot

posted in: podcast | 0

by Tim Lenard

Deep in the heart of Alabama in early 2007, a husband and wife team decided to create an online news magazine to compete with the traditional local coverage. It was called “Our Prattville,” after the small city just outside of Montgomery that Marc and Melissa Parker called home.

Marc and Melissa are both Alabama born and bred. Marc’s great great grandfather, Eli Parker, was an early settler in the county where Prattville is located. Further, Jacob Sutter, a merchant in Montgomery in the mid 1800s, was Melissa’s great great grandfather. Saying they have history in Alabama would be an understatement.

With “Our Prattville,” Melissa and Marc wanted to cover all the local news the print paper covered as well as produce travel features and celebrity Q&As. It was a lot for just two people, and they tried hiring some people to help, but that didn’t exactly work out.

“Trying to do the news ourselves and then manage these other people—that was becoming a task that was hard for us to control,” says Marc. “You might have a guy that you’re sending off a hundred miles away to do a sporting event, and he’s not coming back with the story in a timely fashion.”

After letting their employees go, Melissa and Marc were writing as many as six stories a day by themselves. While they both agree it was exhilarating, covering all the local goings-on, it was also exhausting.

Marc would use Google analytics to keep track of where the page views were coming from, and over time he noticed that the celebrity Q&As were getting attention from way beyond Prattville. Marc paid particular attention to the number of views coming from New York and Los Angeles. Over the course of a couple years they pared down the local coverage and began to concentrate on the interviews.

In 2010, they pulled the plug on Our Prattville and launched Smashing Interviews Magazine.

A recent selfie of Mark and Melissa
A recent selfie of Marc and Melissa

 

Before long, they were getting the attention of major media organizations. In 2012, The New York Times linked to their interview with musician Michael Feinstein. Since then, they’ve been mentioned by the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone. Marc says that one of the metrics he uses to determine how well Smashing Interviews is doing is what kind of publications are mentioning them.

While Marc is the editor-in-chief and decides who they are going to interview, the interviews themselves are conducted by Melissa. Since they still live in Alabama, a majority of the interviews are done by phone, or “phoners” as Melissa calls them.

Melissa has one of those classic southern accents. Often when she is interviewing someone new, she says, “The first thing they would ask before I got into the interview was, ‘Oh wow! I love your accent. Where are you from? Where do you live?’” She would ease into the interview by chatting along those lines, which helped her develop her style. She says, “Maybe I sound like somebody’s southern aunt or something.”

At Smashing Interviews Magazine, Melissa and Marc have created something uniquely southern and uniquely their own. Marc says a lot people told them they were crazy for trying to run a magazine about celebrities in Alabama but “we were just stubborn enough to try and see if we could make it work.”

One of Melissa and Marc’s 2016 interviews with Noam Chomsky garnered more than 100 million page views. So I guess it worked.


Podcast Music Credits:

Introduction Music: “Happy Alley” by Kevin MacLeod:

http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100482

“Don’t Mean a Thing” by St. Paul and the Broken Bones: https://soundcloud.com/spbb-1/dont-mean-a-thing

“Sugar Dyed” by St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

You can check out more St. Paul and the Broken bones at: https://soundcloud.com/spbb-1 and their website is: http://stpaulandthebrokenbones.com/ We thank them for giving permission to use their music in the podcast.

This podcast is supported through the Reynolds Media Entrepreneurship Chair at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.