TransWorld Skateboarding Online and Contributing Editor, Blair Alley talks the current state of skateboard media, how to get a job in the industry and the most insane ad they’ve ever run.
I started my interview with Fitz by asking if he thinks print is dead and what he thinks the roll of print will be in future. What are your thoughts?
I can echo pretty much what Mike said. Print is definitely not dead and won’t be anytime soon. To survive, it will continue to adapt and change to retain its value. Mag covers and interviews are still the holy grail to skaters.
How do you think they will adapt?
Well, we’re not making a magazine just to do it because there’s no alternative anymore. There are so many alternatives and outlets, but now magazines are collectibles. More and more people are amassing and taking care of their magazine collections and trying to track down back issues. So that’s what we’re making now and the content needs to reflect that. The very best photography, writing, and art direction that will be cherished for decades to come. It’s really an entire package you can’t get online or on your phone—at least not yet.
How/when did you start skating and break into the skate industry?
I started skating probably around ’88. I was born and raised in San Diego, so everyone in the neighborhood was doing it around then. Broke into the skate industry when TWS Business was hiring a part time editor, this was 2002. I had magazine experience already from working at a local music magazine in San Diego, plus a Bachelor’s degree in Art. That’s what got me that initial job. In 2004, Skin Phillips asked me to slide over to TWSkate to be the online editor and help edit the print mag, too. I was stoked outta my mind to get that opportunity. Been doing that ever since.
How did you get that first job at TWS Business?
My buddy’s girlfriend saw the job listing in San Diego State’s student newspaper, so shout out to her!
What does your day-to-day entail now?
Current title is Online Editor/Contributing Editor. Day to day is anything from planning and executing web content to writing articles and editing photos for the mag, facilitating, responding to hundreds of emails, reviewing footage and web edits, skating our skatepark out back, watching skate videos with the staff, shooting the shit with pros or photogs who stop by—anything can happen.
You have a background in photography. How did you get into it and how does it help with your job now?
Photography was always the elective skaters took in my high school, which makes sense. This was black and white, shooting film on SLRs, developing and printing your own prints. So of course we all shot skate photos of each other. Around my last couple years of high school I knew I’d never be pro, but working for a magazine seemed like the raddest job ever.
Since I’ve been at TWS, my learning curve skyrocketed being able to be a fly on the wall with Skin, Mike O’Meally, Oliver Barton, Seu Trinh and more as they discussed photography, critiqued contributors’ photos, and going out in the streets with them and seeing how they work. I’m so lucky to have been able to experience all this. So now, when up and coming photogs hit me up for Proof Sheets or send in photos for consideration, I can basically pass on the knowledge. Which I love doing.
I’m out shooting as much as possible. Pretty much every weekend I’m out in the streets with my boys, and I get out on some trips, shoot contests and stuff regularly too. Still very much in love with it.
Over the years at the magazine, how has the focus shifted from print to online? At this time is there a greater importance placed on one over the other?
When I started, web content was looked at as an afterthought. Now it’s kind of the place where news is broken, videos are premiered, and a lot of skaters get exposure that couldn’t in the past. As far as importance, we put the utmost focus in both print and online. They’ve both got to be professional, dialed in, and stay consistent with one another and our message.
When speaking with brands and advertisers, what are they most interested in: print or online content?
Both. It’s a wide spectrum when it comes to what brands want. Some want both, some only want one or the other. It’s a cool position to be in, to work with every brand and see how they’re doing it and what works for them. And TransWorld has the platforms and outlets for whatever they want: online, print, events, our annual video, the TWS Awards, contests, our online shop, and more. It’s rad to be able to help out a brand, give them a strategy they might not have thought of and then watch it do well and see the brand grow.
Some are quick to criticize digital content due to its fleeting nature. However, others point to the ease in which it can be shared and archived; the ease it can be found and consumed years down the road. What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of digital content?
There’s just so much stuff coming out, that so few have a big impact. That’s been a huge adjustment we’ve all had to make and people are still trying to wrap their heads around the best way to get their content out and connect with skaters. It’s a wild ride, but I love it. I could never complain about too much good skating coming out. Me being a student of the 90s, there’s still nothing better than going to a full-length video premiere and watching it with all your friends. I hope those experiences aren’t lost on future generations.
With so much content coming out daily, what can media companies and brands do to differentiate themselves?
You’ve gotta have an image and identity. You can’t chase trends. Your product has to be quality.
I see a lot of New York and East Coast focused content coming out from TWS. I know it’s getting consumed and appreciated here on the East. Was focusing on skating from the East a strategic decision to help differentiate TWS from the other West Coast based skate media?
We just saw what was going on in New York, thought it was sick, and wanted to give it exposure. We weren’t trying to differentiate ourselves from anything. Just the skating and videos coming out of NY are so rad—everyone in the office is a fan really, and we all love visiting New York. Plus, TWS has always had a big NYC connection going back to Ted Newsome’s New York Minute articles, NYC sections in the old TWS videos, etc.
What do you see in the future of skateboard media?
It’s going to continue to get cheaper and easier for everyone to film everything all the time. It’s overwhelming sure, but the good stuff will always rise to the top. Skateboarding attracts the best of the creative types, so no matter what the medium, there will be rad stuff to see. I hope to see brands get more creative with their graphics, ads, and videos!
What type of content performs the best on the TWS site? Where do you see the most clicks, views and engagement?
What you would expect: video parts, premiere coverage, How To videos, footage in our skatepark, Skate Nerd. Most recently people really dug the 15 Years of enjoi retrospective.
What about Search? What are the things that kids are searching for most on the site?
Rodney Mullen’s flatground legacy. Honestly, they’ll search for “kickflip,” and then they’ll search for “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” so it’s not always the best barometer to build content around. We’re all skaters, we’re in touch with the next generation and we remember what we liked when we were coming up. As much as things have changed, skaters are still stoked on the same stuff.
What advice can you give someone wanting to work in skateboarding?
Whatever it is you want to do, just start doing it on your own. Shoot photos how you want, film how you want, put up your videos, reach out to the companies you want to work for, work for free to get your foot in the door. If you’ve got a good work ethic and some talent, you can get in there. Speaking of New York, Johnny Wilson and Peter Sidlauskas are two great examples of dudes doing their thing and the whole industry has taken notice. And I love being in the position to help the dudes coming up and give them exposure. I cold called both those dudes and wanted to get involved with what they’re doing.
What did you say to them?
With Johnny, I just wanted to open the door to TransWorld and let him know we’re fans and down to promote his stuff however he feels comfortable. The dude is so productive it’s overwhelming—such a hard worker and a cool guy. He did that Puerto Rico tour video for us this year that was sick as fuck.
With Peter, it’s funny, I emailed him and he remembered meeting me in NYC seven years ago on a random session! I hit him up to do a Reel Talk interview after Trust came out and he ran one of the most insane ads in our mag ever! I’m always looking forward to those two guys’ work and hope to keep the ball rolling with them.
How often do you guys bring in interns?
Pretty regularly. Every school semester we’ll have one in here.
You mentioned you have a degree in Arts. Is a degree necessary to have a position like yours?
No, it is not.
What traits, skills, characteristics, are necessary?
Hard work, soak up knowledge like a sponge, don’t talk to much when you’re new, go above and beyond what’s expected, don’t kook it—and you gotta be a skater.
What is next for TWS? What is next for you?
The 18th annual TWS Awards, January 22 in LA with the premiere of our new video Substance! We’ve got a ton of good shit planned for 2016. We’re gonna be busy, but we’re gonna have a blast. Thanks to all the TWS fans and supporters out there, we seriously love all the stoke and interaction we get. And thank you, Ben for shining a light on us. This website is a rad project.
Thank you, Blair.