Seth C: Hello. How are you. It's been too long. Texas Tech's football season ended, and then you didn't stop until about a month ago. Talk a bit about your experience as a reporter for Pounding The Rock.
Travis Hale: Oh man, it's convo time! These are my favorite.
And I'm glad you asked because I know not everyone is a Spurs fan on our site so hopefully those that aren't can bear to read this.
I really don't even know how to put it into words. It was surreal, exhausting, eye opening and the thrill of a lifetime.
Early on I was hesitant about it because I had no idea how I could fit it all in. I'd get to the arena about 5:30, watch warm ups, go to the press conferences and locker rooms, eat dinner, watch the game, post game, then head home. I'd write until 2 or 3 in the morning and then have to go to work the next day. My wife didn't always like it and I missed my kids, but in the end it was totally worth it.
I consider myself just a normal guy and suddenly I was in the middle of this season that will go down as one of the most dominating runs by one of the best basketball teams in NBA history. I wrote a lot about it, but during the playoffs I really felt like I was dialed in. It's hard to describe but I was completely on my game. I picked the Spurs in six over OKC and predicted a dominating Finals with a championship in five games. I actually got some flak from Spurs fans for it because most refused to believe, but the Spurs were the younger, more athletic team and it showed. The Heat got run out of the gym and have since been literally dismantled.
I think I also did my best writing at the end of the season, which has me so fired up for football to start because I can't wait to transfer what I learned over to covering Tech games.
It was challenging to win over the fans at PtR. They were very cynical and understandably gun shy after such a devastating loss in 2013. So, quite honestly, there was a negative pall over the site for much of the year. Of course, I can get pretty "in your face" in my stories and comments so learning how to fit in took some doing, and I had to dial it back a bit.
After Game 1 of the Finals I was writing a story and it was almost 4am when I finished. I checked out the comments during a game recap and saw that our friend rindworld had ventured over and said something about them not using the subject line in their comments, and he was getting attacked for it. I was probably dehydrated from the lack of AC that night, exhausted and possibly might've had a few vodka tonics and I just unleashed in the comments with a flurry of f bombs. Fortunately one of the moderators removed the comment before most saw it the next day.
But all in all, the experience was enough to write a book about. I got to eat dinner and hear stories from some of the most veteran sports reporters in the country. Charles Barkley called me an idiot on TV, so I introduced myself to him as "the idiot from San Antonio." I got to hang out with Craig Sager Jr and Stuart Scott. I stood in the tunnel before Game 2 of the WCF and Tony Parker ran into me on his way off the court. I sized up Kawhi Leonard, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Scott Brooks when they'd walk past me in the media room. I watched Guillermo from Jimmy Kimmel Live ask Shane Battier a question holding a Slim Jim in lieu of a microphone.
I found myself in scrum after scrum as reporters scrambled to ask LeBron James or Tim Duncan questions. And I stood feet from Gregg Popovich night after night as he scowled at us while guys tried to formulate questions. In April I finally had a chance to ask him one myself, and didn't get popped.
I sweated through my suit in Game 1 of the Finals when the AC went out and heard the roars in Game 5 when the Spurs took the lead for good, and at midnight I walked around the court and took pictures with the confetti covering the floor and the nets removed from the rims.
When it all ended I was happy but exhausted. And I can't wait to do it all over again.
So, as I said, I'm so pumped up for football season because we're going to have some incredible content flowing from VTM. What is your back of the napkin plan for the site as the season approaches? How do you see VTM fitting in as the only source of free Red Raider content left?
Seth C: If things go as planned, I think we can expect to have at least three new posts each day. Brand new posts, three a day. It's a credit to everyone that's going to write, but I think the content is going to be fantastic leading up to the game. Really, there isn't anyone that's going to put out more content and it certainly won't be as diversified as what VTM is gong to throw out there each day.
This is the toughest part of writing, which is making sure that everyone has time on the front page and everyone has something to contribute. A little bit of something for everyone. And if things go well, we won't be done adding a few more writers to the fold.
And that is odd, we are, as of this summer, the one place that doesn't charge a subscription for any of the content. It really is a brave new world out there. And I suppose that the first statement isn't really true. The DMN and FWST don't charge and I think they have been through that and have decided that this sort of model doesn't work for them. I have never understood how a local paper can charge for a subscription. My local papers charge for an online subscription and there's a part of me that just thinks that there's just no reason to pay for the local news. I just need to hang out in the courthouse or talk to my mom to get the information. It's not worth the money. I suppose that's the same thing with the LAJ, there's only so much news that they will pay for and maybe they are banking on folks wanting to have the Texas Tech information.
That is the one thing that Texas Tech does do, which is they have done a very good job of providing content for us to discuss. From posting the press conferences or video after practice. It does give us something. Still though, even if that wasn't available, I think we'd still figure out how to make it work without that information. We'll always have the games to discuss.
So you and I have talked about becoming credentialed with Texas Tech. I have had my reservations because I just don't think it's going to happen for us (I just have yet to do this, but I promise to email someone here before the end of August). Talk a bit about what it meant for you to be credentialed and what that experience was like.
Travis Hale: It's such a tremendous opportunity because you get to see and hear things that most never get the chance to. There really is a "behind the scenes" at sporting events that add so much substance to a story. The Spurs are very tight lipped and play everything extremely close to the vest, but I was truly able to get a feel for what was going on, or how things might play out, simply by being inside the AT&T Center. I remember before Game 7 against the Mavericks I was really, really nervous (I think you and I texted about it) but as soon as I got to the arena those bad feelings seemed to disappear. It sounds funny but there is a vibe that you can pick up on. During shoot around that day Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli and shooting coach Chip Engelland were casually chatting about the OKC game the night before.
Later in the pre game press conference Popovich was grouchy but lightened up a bit when a Mavs beat writer asked about the psychology of the Spurs getting extended to seven games in the first round. The reporter said something about the Mavs being thrilled to be in the position and Pop said "What, we're not thrilled to be here?"
But he went on and talked about the rest vs. rust debate and how none of it really mattered. It was a light moment on a day when the pressure of things could have made things really heavy.
Then during the OKC series a reporter asked Pop if he could explain why the games had all been so lopsided with both teams winning big on their home court. Pop just stared at him and asked if he was getting paid to ask questions like that. The guy said "not enough" and Pop laughed. Inside the room it was another light moment and it was hilarious. There was no tension at all (believe me, I've been there when there's tension in the room) but somehow it got picked up nationally and shows were doing segments on whether or not Popovich was a bully. It was ridiculous. Yes, he can be surly, even downright rude, but that wasn't one of those moments.
That's just a few examples of how being inside the room can change the tone of the story written.
You're also able to build relationships with others that are there trying to report on the story as well. As I mentioned before, I got to know several of the reporters for the SAEN and a few from the Austin paper. It was cool to see some familiar faces when the other teams would come to town for the playoffs (Tim Cowlishaw, etc.). Those discussions during dinner or slow times during the game add a lot to the backstory as well. You don't report everything you discuss (man, I heard some stories during the year) but those times definitely give you a stronger grip on things that are going on.
And then the national guys come to town.
The stroll in with their egos and syndicated bylines and act like they own the place. A few were pretty cool (J.A. Adande, Ben Golliver from Sports Illustrated, Barkley was nice to me and of course Stuart Scott is just phenomenal) but most were jerks. You wouldn't believe how mad they were in Game 1 when the AC went out. There is such a disconnect between the national scene and what's going on at a local level. It's the macro and the micro.
I was on a media conference call with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson before the Finals started and was blown away by their questions. These were guys from the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Sporting News, New York Daily News, USA Today, etc. I thought it was hilarious because the moderator announced all those big, national papers and then "Travis Hale from Pounding the Rock." But here is a sampling of their questions:
Q. "Jeff, how does it feel having Mark back in the booth with you guys? Obviously, it cuts into your time."
Q. "I wondered if you guys thought LeBron James was a better player this season than he was last season?"
Q. "Jeff, you've alluded to the weakened state of the Eastern Conference a couple times now. I'm curious if either of you think that might affect the Heat's standing when you look at that team and what they have accomplished among some of the all-time greats? Where does the Heat as a team and what they've accomplished kind of rank with some of the all-time great teams?"
Q. "You had a nice debate going about the Greg Oden, Kevin Durant draft class, do you think we'll see more of that during the Finals? And do you think you'll fill in for Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on First Take?"
Very few questions about the basketball games that were about to be played, and even fewer questions about the team that was about to go out and destroy the Heat. It was crazy. But that's the national circus.
Anyway, apologies for going off on a rant. The simple answer is yes. If we are able to get credentialed (and I still say we have every right to be) then it will add a whole new layer to the goodness at VTM.
So, did you finish your vision board? And have you told your wife that you and I are going to quit our jobs and become starving writers? FYI, I haven't told my wife yet.
Seth C: Yes, I did finish the vision board, but let's back up the truck and fill everyone in. A few weeks ago, I posted a story about how 50 Cent is now a life coach and I was intrigued about the very first thing from that story, which is about how he asked the writer to create a vision board. Then he tells the writer that his girlfriend needs to create a vision board too and they need to share the vision boards and see what they have in common.
The idea of a vision board is pretty simple in that it is everything that you want. You search the internet for things and you save photos, or words or links and you put them into a folder on your computer and that's your vision board. What you want out of life.
We each had a week to complete the assignment and the anticipation for this was something that I was not expecting. There was part of me that was scared to death that our visions weren't going to even remotely match and the other part of me was just praying that we had something in common.
My wife is seven years older than me, so that's always been something that's been in the back of my mind, I keep getting older and I think it's more pronounced the older that I get. I think my wife shared her vision board first, she did hers on Pinterest, and I just did my on my Chromebook, because that's how ballers roll.
I was very much relieved that we did have things in common, but it was also really helpful to have her tell me what she wanted from life too. That was the thing that I wasn't expecting, a byproduct of the situation, which is that I sat there as she told me what she wanted. I think I'm as guilty as anyone about listening to your partner, so that was good for me. It was eye-opening and it made me think about how we can make this work. For example, I want to move way to a cabin in the woods and blog and write and be a husband and father. Meanwhile, my wife wants a farm. With horses, cows, pigs, goats and 50 dogs. This was actually on our vision boards and so here I am wanting no more responsibility that I absolutely need, while my wife is wanting to take on the responsibility of many more living things. We get to figure this out together and that's okay, but I'm pretty sure I never would have asked her what she wants out of life. Well I would have, but I found this sort of communication to be direct and awesome.
On the things that we both want out of life, we both love to hike, but we don't live in a place where that's possible, not like in Colorado, and we both really want to do that when our kid(s) are old enough. That's something I am really looking forward to in the next few years.
I've got two questions for you. Did you and your wife do a vision board and if you did, what was your experience like? If you haven't/didn't, then what about your thoughts on the changing media market in Lubbock. I gave you my two cents about how VTM is the only place where you can read everything for free, what's your take on what you think this means for VTM and the rest of the Lubbock media?
Travis Hale: We haven't done one yet, but I'm intrigued. I think it would be cool to do, but like you said, can be a little scary too.
I think VTM has a great opportunity this year to really become the go-to place for Tech football, and all of Tech athletics. We've made huge strides in the past few years, all based on your vision of becoming content producers rather than just a place to post links to the work that everyone else has been doing. The LAJ still does a great job for the most part and Don Williams, for all the flak he gets, is a really good reporter and writer. I've been reading Williams' articles for as long as I can remember and he's always had an easy going style but gets good information as well. And you're right, Texas Tech has really stepped up their game and is producing great video content that's easy to disperse and discuss.
We've made some real progress on the social media front and I think we've figured out a way to effectively use Facebook to spread the word about VTM. In the last year we've doubled our "likes" which means our content is getting out to twice as many people as it was this time last year, and we should see even more growth during football season. Our Twitter feed has grown, but not at the rate of our FB page so that's where the community can step in. Tell your moms to follow us on Twitter and FB!
And I think we've settled in a bit and learned to coexist with the RP and RRS. We'll probably never be best buddies but someone on Twitter taught me a valuable lesson last year. He said there's no need to argue and bicker because he (and other fans) are going to read everything on every site anyway. That made me really think. There's no point in holding a grudge. We'll just do the best work we can and those guys will do the same and hopefully all Tech fans will benefit as a result.
Have I mentioned yet how fired up I am for football season? I can't wait to get started and start writing about the games.
What are we up to now, 15,000 words? Is it time for confetti?
Travis Hale: Pow pow.
Ed. note by Seth C: We are at approximately 3,500 words and there was more to the vision boards than the two things mentioned.