Matt Stroud is the co-founder & CEO of Postindustrial Media. His new media startup is aiming to change the tenor of journalism in the Midwest.
He’s come a long way since founding a bimonthly magazine, called Deek, out of his basement apartment while enrolled full-time at the University of Pittsburgh.
Matt has written short- and long-form journalism for Esquire, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, Politico, The New York Times, and Reuters, and held staff writer positions with the Associated Press and Bloomberg Businessweek.
In this conversation, Matt & Aaron discuss new media, recruiting team members, and Matt’s reporting on policing technologies.
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Matt’s Challenge; Ignore political campaign polls and pay attention to where government dollars are spent.
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Thin Blue Lie: The Failure of High-Tech Policing by Matt Stroud
If you liked this interview, check out our interview with Todd Bishop about running a bootstrapped media business, our interview with Chance Humphrey about Instagram and photography, and our interview with Jon Shanahan about building a men’s fashion YouTube channel.
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Watson: Matt, I am excited to be speaking with you and I think the most logical place for us to start is just with a definition of post-industrial what it means broadly in a sociological comp context and then more specifically what it means to you.
Matt Stroud: okay mmm broadly sociological context is the idea is generally that you have it's an urban planning idea and a sociological idea you have regions of the country you know I'm gonna speak like in the American conversation you have regions of the country likePittsburgh that went through incredible growth based around manufacturing and industry with Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee places like that you have cities that really came to their peak in the years of World War II and following where they had their largest populations they were the most economically robust. A lot of people wanted to work here a lot of people wanted to move here from around the world it was really nice place to be and then you started to have gradual decline that developed into pretty significant decline in 70s and 80s parts of the 90s and you know a lot of these places lost half or more of their population and you have little pockets of the country that are that are representative of that trend all over the place typically the way that people think about that area well that idea is through geographic boundaries and the way that we think about it is through geographic boundaries a lot of the cities that exist between Buffalo, New York and Birmingham, Alabama and Baltimore to st. Louis fall into that line and then really little little pockets yeah so that's the geographic region that we think of but I started it with a guy named Carmen genteel international war reporter who came back to Pittsburgh I did I wasn't doing war reporting but came back to Pittsburgh after you know traveling and performing acts of journalism all over the country and so we came back to Pittsburgh and we thought about post-industrial and in a different way a way where a way that represents rebirth and change which is similar to what a lot of these cities are going through right now right so places like Pittsburgh I'm having to rethink the way that they go into the 21st century keep the historical and keep their history in mind keep you know manufacturing in the rearview mirror but also think about where they gonna go in the future and we had much the same decisions to make for ourselves you know. Carmen kind of the the really pivotal moment of his life and the moment of his life that moved him into a new direction as he was reporting in Afghanistan and was shot like was shot with a rocket in the face and had to recover from that survived somehow and came back to Pittsburgh to rethink what kind of reporting he wanted to do in the future and whether or not he wanted to be a war reporter post-industrial as part of that rebirth for him. The same for me I mean I've spent most of my career reporting about prisons and crime and policing. My book is about policing and technology and I came to a point where I realized that there was a lot being done around the reporting that I had done previously in in the Criminal Justice space and that I had a niche that I had carved for myself but I didn't really want to be reporting about prisons and jails and police and murder and death for the rest of my life and so I needed to rethink for myself too. And so we feel like we are going through a post-industrial phase of our lives and that's the way that we think about assigning stories we look for stories of rebirth and change and people rethinking the way that they exist and how they're going to go into the future.
Watson: And what's really interesting as I listen to you say that you know not that I think that there's a mistake being made in any of the way that I've been consuming both the the print edition now and the
different digital context but there's like a vain - some of the stuff that I saw on the Kickstarter campaigns there's other ways that you'd spoken about that was not negative but just
like people are getting it wrong and there's like maybe an implied negativity to that but really what I'm hearing here is optimism there's an there's an optimism about that rebirth you know all those words they have that very positive connotation to them
Matt Stroud: I think about Pittsburgh in a very positive light and think about moving forward into the 20th century and my career a very very positive light and Carmen does as well and we came back to Pittsburgh for positive reasons we felt that there was opportunity here and yeah so there is a lot of positivity that goes into the creation of post-industrial and you know part of that positivity is trying to identify what's wrong and a lot of the Kickstarter campaign was built around that and part of the reason for that is that you know we do take politics seriously and we feel like a lot needs to change if we all have if we are all going to have honest discussions about the problems that exist on how we're going to change them
Watson: Can you give a few specific examples of that?
Matt Stroud: I mean we are in the midst of one of them right now right so I try not to talk about the president very frequently but he has just launched on a new campaign he's just done his official launch for his next campaign and I think it's good that he's doing that it seems to be where his strengths lie and where he as a politician is strongest but he's going right back into where he was calling names and saying things that aren't necessarily true and we are- and I just listened to I just sat in traffic for a half an hour listening to a podcast talking about politics and they're moving in the exact same direction they're covering an exact same way they're covering his campaign rally and talking about you know crooked
Hillary Clinton and we're getting into the horse race part of the campaign again. I don't see anything that's changed and so I want to try to implore people through the journalism that we produce to think much more broadly about the issues that are being presented there and what they can actually change.
Watson: And what's really fascinating when you look at the media business generally is the discipline required to not fall prey to that because you see, whether it's I think I listened to an interview that was like the president of CNN or something, the year preceding the 2016 election was you know far and away when the best revenue years that we've done in a long long time and for a news business that you know is undergoing a digital revolution and all these kind of forces on it to have it- you're like that- it's very understandable, at least at that level, why someone would fall prey to sensationalism or all the things that are rife issues in the world of media and it's really curious to me that like I understand the sensibility I understand the idealism behind that vision but it's gonna be challenging to have that discipline I would imagine. I imagine there's a lot of forces pushing against that ideal that you have
Matt Stroud: Absolutely. If you're running a company like CNN or Viacom or whoever owns CNN right now, if you're running a company like the New York Times even but we're in a position where we're at aplace like Pittsburgh and we have the opportunity because things are relatively inexpensive and there is an appetite for new and interesting media that we can make a we can make decisions in that regar and we can try to produce a media that doesn't fall prey to that and you know I'm not holding the shareholders I can make that decision and I would like it if listeners and readers made similar decisions about the media that they consume and so really I'm not you know when I when I talk about what's wrong with media and how I wish it would change I'm not really talking to people who are beholden to shareholders in at places like CNN or or CNBC or any of the others. Like they can make the decisions
that they want to make and good for them I hope they make a lot of money but we have we have the freedom to make different decisions and to pay attention to different things and so I'm really employing imploring readers and and media consumers to think a little bit harder about what they read and what
they consume and how they act on that information.
Watson: Yeah. And I find that the people who do take that consideration I mean I'm kind of pandering to the audience here as I say this but like the people who make that choice are some of my favorite people. Incredibly thoughtful they're incredibly articulate they have you know interesting perspective on stuff.
Matt Stroud: Yeah and they listen to great podcast like this I mean they make they make decisions that are active I mean this part of why I think podcasting is such an interesting direction in media because it you can be so selective about the content that you consume and even the content you create it's so easy to make it on your own yeah that if you see a hole there if there's there's a hobby that you want to talk about. I mean, you can do that and there's a possibility that other people will listen and I'm very curious where it goes in the next 10-15 years certainly.
Watson: So, one of the things and this has been a through-line between a bunch of recent episodes that we've done but the basic idea if you've got the passion for journalism or baking or working on cars and you start a business in that realm all of a sudden your world kind of changes you started the business because you love that thing and you just want to do it all the time and then when it becomes a business there's a degree to which that thing that you loved that you got into it for becomes less central and now you're running the business of that thing so I'm really curious as you've launched Postindustrial and then you know try to find the business model and the strategy behind it in addition to this level of journalism that you aspire to how you've gone about the business of media in union with the mission of the media that you wanna produce.
Matt Stroud: Well a little bit of background excuse me well I this is not my first magazine that I started. I started a magazine when I was when I was in college dating myself in 2003 I started the magazine called Deek and I was much more interested in the the business of producing a publication and in toying with the idea of what I could do with a magazine at that time- DeakMagazine.com some of the archives are still out there- but that led me into being an editor for different publications and I actually made the decision to strengthen my background as a journalist and understand more about journalism because of that trajectory like I was moving in the direction of being a business person and a publisher and ran into some issues that led me to believe that I need to understand more about journalism.
Then basically spent ten years learning how to be a good journalist and when I started PostIndustrial, I was under the impression that I would be able to just focus on the journalism as you as you point to but you're you are totally right when you start a business somebody has to take care of the business of making it work and so that has that has been something that I have adapted to and tried to adapt to I would say that's what has been helpful is during that ten-year period of trying to figure out what I wanted to be as a journalist and how to be a be a journalist it just became so ingrained in my head like the values that you need to bring to journalism and what the difference is between a piece of journalism that is that is sponsored and a piece of journalism then it's this quote- unquote pure and not not beholden to anyone or anything like it.
It just it sinks into anything that we do and I know that when we do a piece of sponsored content like it has to be explicitly labeled and people need to know like this is a piece of work that is advertising and on the other side to give journalists the freedom to do the good work that they want to do and then hold those journalists accountable for what they turn in and if they turn something in then is that is not up to our standards to make them go back and do it again and so I think I think being educated in what you want to do allows you to hold the standards that you want to keep and also perform the business duties that you want to do but I don't know enough about business and so a lot of the education going back to going back to actually being a publisher in creating a magazine I've had to learn on the fly how to do that so that's been that's been a challenge.
Watson: One of the most potent sales jobs that you've done so far has been the success of the Kickstarter campaign as a launch off point for you know proving that there is an appetite for this type of media proving that people will put their dollars behind it. I'd imagine that calls into tension to some degree a model that is advertiser supported media versus a kind of member you know audience supported piece of media. How have you thought about those two countervailing boards?
Matt Stroud: For attention between the two?
Watson: Yeah, if there's a direction that's more appealing to you a direction that seems more viable a direction that is just maybe how you think about it
Matt Stroud: We're in a the magazine that we create is going to have to be in the models that we have are going to have to be advertiser supported. And there are services and verticals that I think as we do more research and as we get more involved here are going to be more aligned toward a member model and a subscription model and I see that as part of part of where we go like post-industrial is the umbrella above which some interesting verticals are going to emerge and that's where a lot of the subscriber interest is going to be is going to be focused.
But the actual idea for the magazine has its models in entities like the Edible Products, Brooklyn, that that group of magazines, and you know the most prominent version of a magazine that does similar things is Texas Monthly yeah. Texas Monthly is a big thick advertiser-supported magazine that is fun to read and that also has great journalism in it and so that's really the direction that we're going into.
Watson: Yeah that was. You say there's two regional outlets both in the Kickstarter
campaign and we have coffee together and has a model where you kind of study what they're doing and try to find someone for them for that, can you speak to more of what you took away from what they're doing.
Matt Stroud: From what they're doing?
Matt Stroud: Okay so Texas Monthly, what they're doing is a true regional magazine and the way that they're able to do that is that there is some cohesion between the cities in Texas all of those cities think of themselves as part of Texas and can invest in the idea of being part of Texas and I thought when I initially started this project that I would be able to rally different cities and leaders and businesses in the idea that the Rust Belt and post-industrial America was a thing that they could all rally behind. In theory, a lot of the people I've spoken to in different cities have rallied behind that idea but they rally behind it less more with their mind than with their with their dollars and so the way that we've had to kind of pivot and rethink that model is to think about the region as a whole and tell stories that are relevant to the entire region and do that through in-depth reporting that is you know in the feature well of the magazine and then to have different versions of the publication that comes out that is specific to every city that we that we launched out of and so that's why it's a it's a hybrid of these two models so yes we do think about the region as a whole as being representative and then the edible Allegheny model is like we're gonna have specific cities city focused versions of the magazine so the feature well of the magazine is going to be that regional perspective and then each magazine that's produced for you know Pittsburgh or Columbus or Cleveland is going to be specific to that city with a feature Weldon is for the whole region.
Watson: Makes sense, and identity is such a tricky thing because to be a Texan “Don't mess with Texas” like that there's very cohesive like how I see myself identity it's for better than that and while, you know, maybe the Midwest like you know I know what the Midwest is young and restless like that's really one of the only phrases from like a broader identity standpoint that can be that unifying at this point in time.
Matt Stroud: Yeah. And it's not really a rallying thing like like you said like “Don't mess with Texas” like that is a rallying cry yeah those are fighting words right the the idea I'm from the Midwest it doesn't have the same resonance and normally it's used in a way that's that's negative yeah either negative or like milquetoast and and so there's not much to rally behind there and so you know when I talk about post-industrial when I talk about it is an idea of rebirth and change like that's what people can get behind there is a rallying cry there but there's you know this is a new idea it's not the idea of Texas as a place for fighting and so we need to we need to build it and you know we think we figure out a way to build it but you know we're business people so we'll figure it out as we go.
Watson: Yeah, so there's two ways of talking about to you we're talking a little bit about speaking to people in this region about what it is and in this perspective and then there's the other articulation which might not be as as crucial at this point in time but given your background doing journalism in all these different outlets same thing with Carmen and other members of your team for the folks who aren't from this region who don't have those stories and it is a flyover state to them or whatever the the phrase may be what's the what's the narrative or what's the friction when you articulate this vision to people from outside of the region because like I'm in Pittsburgh I interview different tech CEOs every week I'm you know I'm buying I'm completely buying into this story of rebirth is there a skepticism is there a doubt like what it what is what do you see reflected when you articulate that this to people outside the region.
Matt Stroud: Well, the conversation always turns to politics and so that's you know it's part of why there's an interest in politics here but it's it's part of why we focused on politics for the Kickstarter because it gets us out of the region it gets us doing into a conversation that people in Silicon Valley are interested in hearing, you know, the one conversation that people are interested in hearing about this region in Silicon Valley seems to be the idea that the duolingo campaign right you can buy a house here yeah the other is that there is apparently a lot of power and it's political power and traded in this part of the country you know elected a president and so talking to people outside of the region about how to harness that power how to think about how to talk to those two folks who live in this powerful area that has resonated to them.
Watson: What- how do you provide fluency and legibility in to the mechanisms of power to someone who doesn't necessarily understand that's part of the role of the journalist is to even expose that the Fifth Estate like there's the roots of that how do you think about that through these decade that you've spent honing or your skills as a journalist to make that clear to people who might not even be aware of that power.
Matt Stroud: Try that one more time I don't fully get it
Watson: So, you’re basically illustrating like, “hey, we elected a president” there might not necessary be a depth of appreciation for how powerful this region is I feel a lot of people it's very clear like Wall Street they have all the money San Francisco they have all the tech in the data. LA, they have their pull of power because they make the pictures and the images that influence culture for the last century when you speak about the power that is I won't even say lying dormant here it is but it might not necessarily be as legible for someone to look at and say like that's the heart of the power of this region how do you what do you point to as being kind of the poles of power in this area.
Matt Stroud: I'm not really sure you know the unfortunate thing is that the definition has been built around anger, around the idea that this is an area that was left behind I mean that is that is what Trump took advantage of and I think what what Joe Biden is going to try to take advantage of in 2020 and so the idea is how to harness that and how to get people to think a little bit differently about the what they can do with that power which again presents it as an opportunity for people who are outside like here's some opportunity here's you know Andrew Yang talking about the fourth Industrial Revolution and the the way that work is going to change in the 21st century and thinking about the idea that you're going to have people who are here in this region who are going to be significantly affected by the way that policy directs them, directs businesses to operate as work changes in the future like that is that is a conversation that we can have here and that you know people in Silicon Valley and Wall Street they can participate in that conversation and they can you know talk to people when people are listening because it involves work and it involves you know this area and moving forward.
Watson: Beautiful. We spoke with Todd Bishop who is the co-founder of geek wire when they did their HQ to visit here to Pittsburgh and he spoke about being you know the small media entity more or less bootstrap but not having a shareholders or board of directors to necessarily answer to and how that affects the composition of talent that joins his organization has to be very very mindful about every
single person that walks in the door and works under his banner because resources are more constrained. How have you thought about building the team around post-industrial?
Matt Stroud: I mean we're in the same situation there's extremely limited resources and really where it starts is working with people who I know working with people who have done a lot of this a lot of similar work as I people who have worked alongside me at different media outlets that are here and elsewhere and it's actually created you know a challenge for us like how to get out of the the initial circle of people who I know and have worked with as freelancers like an example right so you mentioned Geekwire one of their competitors as a publication that I used to work for it called the verge and I made a lot of my contacts in media through the verge and with freelancers because the heard the verge hired a lot of freelancers and so I was I was in a position to know a lot of those people so we have we have a list of a hundred or so freelancers that freelance are some of the best publications in the country they're really successful freelance journalists they do really well but like that's a hundred people not all of them are concentrated here some people are in Pittsburgh some people are outside of the region. It's really, it's not a group of people that gets outside of the people who I know and so what were what we're thinking about now what we're having to think a lot more about is how to get out of there and that's a that's a challenge that we're still working on right now and I mean I would love to talk to what's the name of that CEO?
Watson: Todd Bishop
Matt Stroud: Yeah I'd love to talk to Todd about you know where he went and how he how he made that transition from the people who he knew and like people who were in his comfort zone into you know people who were outside it.
Watson: Similarly, Pittsburgh you know the joke is you never more than two degrees of separation from someone and that's probably also why you love the friends or who happen to be in the circles but you know there is a legacy within the media business of seeing things as very zero-sum seeing things it's very competitive and adversarial and what I've noticed in certain instances particularly if you think of like the influencer individual creator type there's a lot of like let's collaborate let's like you know find ways one plus one equals three to use a simple business truism what have you found as you know trying to park your bus on this corner of local journalism regional journalism. Have you found more friction or have you found more kind of openness for collaboration between outlets?
Matt Stroud: Between outlets I've seen less interest in collaboration though there is a Point Park initiative going on right now called Bridge Pittsburgh that is trying to change that yeah so it's putting together outlets like public source and Post Gazette and us to work on big projects together.
I think that's a really interesting idea it moves in the direction of what you're talking about but you know these are all companies operating in a competitive landscape and so a lot of them are really hesitant to work together with individual content creators I find that they are very interested in collaboration particularly if you can help them achieve a goal that they haven't been able to achieve yet or don't have the time to achieve yet and so really it's a conversation everybody's open podcasters and particularly people in particular people who produce video like they do their own work they need means to help promote it get out to more people and reach a broader audience and collaborate and so that's been really great and trying to put together a media outlet that helps those folks and works along with them has been something that I've really wanted to do for a long time.
Watson: Makes sense. Matt it’s been great. Thank you so much for for sharing so much time with us today and for braving all the traffic to get over here. Before we aim towards wrapping up and asking our signature last two questions anything you're hoping to share today that I didn't give you a chance to?
Matt Stroud: Oh yeah. So, I just published a book with McMillan and metropolitan books it's called Thin Blue Line Failure of High-Tech Policing and it is a book about technology and policing and the big businesses that have grown out of selling to police departments. We didn't talk about it today, it's not a big part of what I do with post-industrial, but it is something that I spent quite a bit of time on and that is interesting to anybody who knows what a taser is and has ever gotten themselves into a conversation about body cameras or weapons that police use. Like I give you the business history of how a lot of those weapons and tools became big business
Watson: Are you against body cameras? Is there an argument against body cameras? Is there an argument that that's not a direction that things should be going for police officers?
Matt Stroud: So, we can get into this if you’d like.
Matt Stroud: The body cameras, I have been very supportive of body cameras. I think they're a good idea, but what happened the way that body cameras were sold a lot of the selling of body cameras happened in 2014 after Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. Do you know that story?
Watson: Yes, of course.
Matt Stroud: Part of what happened at that time is you had police leaders and legislators legislators all the way up to the President of the United States making an agreement that body cameras were going to be expensive they were gonna be distributed to police departments there were going to be contracts to sell body cameras to police departments and that part of that deal was that body cameras going to be available the footage would be available too and as time has progressed in the last five or so years what has occurred is that that body camera footage has become harder and harder and harder to get and the reason why is you've had legislatures like the legislature in Pennsylvania putting together laws that make it virtually impossible to get that footage so we are spending millions and millions of dollars on the municipal level to purchase body cameras for police officers and then the footage that is produced by that body camera is you know basically impossible to get in in the state of Pennsylvania in order to get body camera footage you have to know the name of everybody who is in the video footage itself without seeing the fridge you have to know you have to know everybody's first and last name in the footage and you have to make it make a request to get that video within 60 days of the event itself. So, to give you an example, if I'm aware that there was a shooting that is connected to a case that is going on right now and the case that is being tried and I want to see the video that's related to that but the video was recorded like a year ago I have no access to it and Pennsylvania law makes it so it's impossible to get and so you're seeing laws like that being passed around the country.
Matt Stroud: That just kind of make body cameras basically useless for the public and so that's that's where the problem lies.
Watson: I can see the impetus behind the book
Matt Stroud: Yeah there's a lot of stuff. There's tons of arguments like that in the book. It's a good read, fast. Check it out.
Watson: I will be sure to link that in the show notes for this episode. I also wanna make sure that people can check out Postindustrial. What digital coordinates we provide for people who want to learn more about that.
Matt Stroud: Go to postindustrial.com you can gain access to all of the podcasts that we host you can get one-year or two-year subscription to the print publication and you can also read our daily newsletter, The
Record, which is one of the most comprehensive daily news analysis newsletters that you will find in any region I think it's made by a great writer and thinker named Adam Shuck who's been doing a newsletter called to eat that read this podcast and we just rebranded is the Pittsburg record you should check it out um so yeah postindustrial.com no space no hyphen, postindustrial.com
Watson: Thank you fantastic. We're gonna link in the show notes or find it in the podcast player for this
episode. Before we let you go Matt, I want to give you the mic one final time to issue a challenge to the audience .
Matt Stroud: So, I have two challenges that's related to things that we talked about the first is
I challenge the audience- do I have to give them like a deadline on this?
Watson: I like a deadline because it gives you, like, an actual framework for acting on it. Sometimes it goes too broad. It's like “decide what you want to do with your life and then go do it” and that's like a little too open-ended.
Matt Stroud: So, we talked a little bit about politics one of them is that any time you see a measurement that shows you the the likelihood that a particular candidate is going to win like it says like you know Donald Trump's chances of winning the presidential election in 2020 is 85% and you find yourself going back to that and like seeing whether it's 87 percent or 75 percent ignore that please like so your deadline on that is November 2020. Please ignore that kind of journalism because I don't think it's helpful and then the second is I mentioned my book. One of the basic premises of the book is that you have police departments and governments that make decisions about technology that are going to spend a lot of money on based on what the technology has promised to do not what they want to actually accomplish and not what the tool has actually been proven to do so the example that comes up in the book quite a bit is the taser like the taser that officers used to subdue people tasers fail about half the time and they kill a lot of people and they are still at this point purchased by police departments in droves for millions and millions. They support a multi-billion dollar company at this point with the premise that they are going to stop shootings from happening that's just not that's just not true it just doesn't happen and so it I make the plea in the book that we need to be more careful about the money that we spend and know more about the weapons in particular that our governments are purchasing and I think that advice leads me to ask your listeners to really pay attention to the money that is being spent by your governments and make it a point to support an outlet like publicsource.org which is a great one that's local that does a lot of work trying to substantiate how government money is spent and what that government money is doing and what your politician what politicians is doing pay attention to publications like that that are really trying to help you make those decisions so that you can be better informed. It's better for communities and it'll be better for you I think as a news consumer.
Watson: I love it. It is a large challenge but one that we all need to take steps towards. I appreciate you heeding the call and thank you so much for listening. We just went deep with Matt Stroud.