In the Worst of Times At Least We Have The Hard Times
Photo by Senny Mau
Few publications capture the zeitgeist of extreme music fandom better than The Hard Times. More than a humor page vaguely centered on punk and metal related jokes, the mock news site offers a sometimes irreverent but normally incisive view into the fabric of American life from the perspective of someone who may wear a leather jacket and Doc Martens, or may not.
It’s the kind of outlet that can write a fictional article about the celebrity roast of Glenn Danzig, post it the day after the actual Comedy Central roast of Justin Beiber, and get more memorable laughs out of the same concept.
In these dark times, at least The Hard Times can provide some levity, and a glimmer of hope as well: here is an independent publication that competes with entities backed by Disney and pays its writers. People are looking for new ways to succeed in content distribution on the internet, and The Hard Times may hold the key as to how.
Founder and editor Matt Saincome would have been just one punk kid who wrote a viral article about a guy fucking a dolphin if he hadn’t started The Hard Times. Now he’s a model for media success in the internet age. Saincome told us the story of how his publication came to be, and revealed to us a few of the secrets to its coemdic success.
So what's your story? How did you get into metal?
Well, so I got into punk music when I was a stupid young kid, right, punk music and then hardcore music. And so, I started off as a little street punk and then as I grew up, I got into straight edge and then I got into hardcore. Then once you get into hardcore, you start to learn more about metal, right? Because then there's all these hardcore bands that are kind of crossover. I just sort of like did a little bit of both.
And after that, I dug a little bit deeper but I would never really consider myself like a metal head. And a lot of times, when I find myself hanging out with friends who are, like real metal heads, they know. It's kind of like when a punk talks to a non-punk. Like my metal head friends just know so much stuff that I don't know. So what we've been doing actually, the Hard Times... because the Hard Times just always have like the... It's like hardcore, punk and metal mixed into one song so it leans close to punk but, like I love to include metal stuff in our site. So what I've been doing is recruiting my writer friends and my comedian friends who are from the metal world to help supplement it so that we have some insight into that world too. Part of the whole thing with Hard Times is just getting the right group of people together, people who have insights that I don't have. I've learned pretty quickly that having people who come from different backgrounds or have different, real, intense focuses in their interest in music, right?
I was like straight-edge, hardcore punk. Like I can make those jokes all day long, right. But when it comes to really like the nitty-gritty of metal, I usually hand it off to somebody else who works from our site. Because I feel like it's always best to have the person making the jokes be really, really intimate with whatever they're joking about.
When I was growing up, hardcore, metal, and punk were completely inseparable. At least where I grew up, the scene was so small and your opportunities to experience music, particularly in the live setting, were so limited that you could not also be familiar with crust and with straight-edge punk.
That's definitely true, especially if you turn into one of the kids like me who's at a show every weekend and multiple days during the week. You're gonna get familiar with everything. I've played with atmospheric black metal bands when my band was on tour, because sometimes when you're a punk band, you get booked on whatever, so I'm not unfamiliar with metal at all compared to a normal person. I have a lot of experience with it. But part of the Hard Times, which I think makes it successful, is people making jokes about things that are like truly their lifestyle. When we run a straight-edge joke and I'm writing it or editing it, it's truly my lifestyle. So it's not gonna be off-putting. It's not gonna be like ‘S.L.C. Punk’, where someone else is making up like these characters that they don't quite understand. So even if I am familiar with a lot of this metal stuff, I like to hand it to some guy who wears a black denim vest with metal patches on it.
I think the advantage of being someone who spends a whole lot of time at shows is that the jokes that even I'm not super familiar with still hit. One of my favorite Hard Times headlines was, "“This Is An All-Inclusive Space,” Says All-White, All-Male Audience" I look at that and say "Yup, I've been in that audience cringing.” It just works.
Right. Hard Times I feel is actually pretty extraordinary if you think about it. Because you and I, we haven't met, we haven't talked before this phone call but that moment is somehow a shared moment in our life. Because we have both been in different cities, at different shows but experiencing the same exact thing. And a lot of these things are the things that people don't say aloud, out of fear of criticism. They don't like to be exiled from their little sea of 40 people or whatever. Actually one of the best things about starting Hard Times, was that I felt this really intense bond with the underground music community. All these people started relating to these things that I thought. Sometimes it feels like you're the only one who sees it. Sometimes it feels like you're the only guy that's going, "This is kind of corny. Does anyone else realize this is kind of corny?”
And, of course, you have your small group of friends who will joke with you about it in the van, on the ride to the next venue or whatever. But to put it out there and to have so many people relate and so many people? Pretty interesting.
I thought it was funny too that it really was a powerful, unexpected feeling when the site started getting popular. Because when we started the site, I thought no one was gonna read it. I did not think that people were gonna be interested. It was just something that I wanted to do, but it's just taken off like crazy and the reason is just exactly what you said. You have a specific article you can think of where you've been at that show. You've seen the white guy with the white band in the all-white audience, talking about diversity. And you thought, "Come on, this is embarrassing."
The thing that I think that you really hit on, that I know a lot of other websites struggle with is that such a huge part of this lifestyle is about shooting the shit and making jokes. If you read Alternative Press or Decibel Magazine or Invisible Oranges and you're an outsider, you could completely not get that at all.
If you go on tour with a band or like your band tours with another band, so you're with a group of four guys or guys and girls and you're together. They're 15 minutes on stage, right? But, 23 hours and 45 minutes out of the day, these guys are cracking jokes. They're farting on each other. They're telling satirical jokes about the scene, laughing their heads off, telling jokes all the way to the show in the van. And then they get up on stage and it’s like, "This band is a dark band, they're like super, super serious.” You read their interviews and it's super, super serious but they're not even serious people.
So I think part of Hard Times is about exactly that, the culture of telling jokes in punk is actually really rich. Obviously, there's an element of people getting offended and taking things pretty seriously, but the truth is you go out, you go on tour and you sleep in someone's house, and you're likely just gonna end up telling jokes the whole night. At least that's my experience.
The Hard Times book shows, and a lot of bands, they get out of the van and they run right up to us, and they say "Are you guys the ones who write Hard Times? You tell jokes that we joke about ourselves in the van all the time. We read your site a lot in the van." And I think what you're saying is, if you haven't been in a van or you haven't been really closely involved with the scenes, you might take it as something where everyone is deadly serious the entire time. But the truth is there's like a whole culture of joking around, and ribbing each other and having a good time that kind of ties it all together. At least when I was in a band, that's what it was like. Half the band practice is joking around and then the other half is playing music.
I think that's true and I think that there's this push-and-pull relationship with seriousness. Right? I just did an interview with Eerie Von from Danzig and I asked him, "Why does everyone shit on Glenn Danzig so much " and his idea was that Danzig really, really does take himself seriously.
And that just makes him this glaring target.
That guy knows him so he knows exactly what he's talking about but I would agree 100% with that. I think part of that is if you become known as a super-serious person, that whole culture of ribbing, and satirizing, and making fun gets drawn to you. Because that part of joking around, especially with well-known people is that the way they react makes it funnier. You tell a joke about someone and it like blows them up. Kind of like Donald Trump, right? You tell a joke about him on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and he's on Twitter complaining, it's fucking hilarious. It makes the joke a million times better getting that reaction. So I think that that is part of the Danzig thing. I was reading that comic ‘Henry and Glenn Forever’, where Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig live together. I read this quote about Danzig being on a plane and someone asking him about [the comic], and him just being fucking pissed. He points at a cellphone down in the crowd and says "I'm gonna stop the show if anyone takes a picture of me." That is quite a comedy character to me. That seems like an Andy Kaufman character about who could be the biggest, fucking asshole or front man ever. So I think when he acts like that, he just becomes this huge target.
But it's interesting because there's not really that many people [who react badly]. We've made fun of people and a lot of times their response is, "Oh, my, God, I'm so happy, I made the Hard Times." They don't care. They laugh at themselves too.
Can you tell me the Hard Times origin story?
The Hard Times origin story is I'm a little punk kid, street punk, blah, blah, blah. I have a punk 'zine "Punks! Punks! Punks!" And "Punks! Punks! Punks!" is pretty much a comedy 'zine. So I just always love to tell jokes. I just tell jokes nonstop. I had joking reviews. I would give show reviews where I would judge everyone, including members of the crowd, individual people, and take away punk points from them or give punk points to them based on like stage dives or stopping someone from stage diving, or whatever it was. It was all this horrible kind of satire thing.
When I went to college, I had to choose some sort of major there so I thought, "Okay, well, I like magazines, so maybe journalism." And once I got there, I started taking actual classes about how to become an actual news writer. And then I started talking to myself, "Well, what if I did like news writing about comedy and punk, mix all those things together? Like I learned news writing, I was doing punk comedy writing, what about I mix them all together?" And I made a news section in "Punks! Punks! Punks!" That's the original idea for Hard Times, was a comedy news section inside my little 35-copy 'zine called "Punks! Punks! Punks!" It's only a Bay Area 'zine.
So I came up with a plan for it and I wrote it all out. I even wrote this one when I was in college, like probably a freshman, sophomore, something like that. I even wrote three or four Hard Times stories. It didn't have the name Hard Times yet, but I wrote them out. I came up with this plan and I showed some people close to me like, "What do you think of this?" And they said, "No. That's a bad idea. People are gonna get mad at you. it's stupid."
I was busy at the time. I was doing other things and I think I kind of took them a little bit too seriously. "Maybe you're right. Maybe it's not worth the trouble." So I put it on hold and I thought, "Maybe later". I started writing for SF Weekly. I started writing for Noisey. I became the music editor at SF Weekly. I started becoming an actual journalist and writing for publications.
I was working at a hotel and then I thought, " what, I'm gonna go. I don't wanna work in a hotel. I wanna be a writer. I wanna be a journalist. I'm gonna go gung-ho and I'm gonna try to become freelance full-time. I just got a couple gigs writing for Vice and Noisey and they were paying me enough, 150 bucks an article or something. I thought, "Okay, I could write these many articles," blah, blah, blah. I'm trying to figure it out. I had a bunch of saved-up money from the tips at my hotel job. And I quickly found out that I couldn't really freelance full-time. I didn't have enough contacts in the writing world. There wasn't enough to even get a practice. I just wasn't there yet. So as my money just kept dropping, dropping, dropping in my savings account I had more and more free time. I would wake up in the day and be like, "I'm gonna write something today. You have no assignments, you have done nothing."
I thought over about this whole idea I have, right? My punk ‘zine was dead by now but I still had this old idea. I looked back at it and I was like, "I still think this is a good idea. I know that my friends told me it's a bad idea but reading through these articles, I think they're funny." There was the whole Vice generation out there but not really a strong comedy element that's been established in the music world, in that alternative underground world. I think “I could do this. I think this could work.”
So I put out a post on Facebook, because I have a lot of writer friends on Facebook. "Here's my idea. Does anyone wanna help me with this?" and a bunch of people jumped at the opportunity. One of them was Bill Conway, a stand-up comedian who I met through the punk scene, who had had me on his podcast. It's called "Edgeland." He said, "I think this is an amazing idea and I'm all in. Do you wanna do this? I'll help you all the way, and here's 50 ideas for headlines." And so that second time that I put it out there, I got like a positive response, not a dozen negative response, I thought, "Okay, I'm gonna fucking do it then."
I had, I think $800 left to my name. I put all of it into a website. I got like kind of a fancier one with a nice-looking package to it. So it wasn't like hardtimes.org or wordpress.com, anything like that. I felt like, "If I wanna do this, I'm gonna do it right." And we planned for, I don't know, six months, three months, something like that and then we launched it with the stories I'd written those years ago and some new ones. And it was almost immediately a success. It just spread like wildfire, way past any of my wildest dreams. I think in our second month, we had a million views or something like that, and our first month was 300,000 or something crazy. It just goes up and up and up.
When was your first month and when was your second month?
We launched in December 11, 2014. I actually just looked up those numbers. I'm wrong. It was actually 200,000 and 300,000 unique viewers, right, not views, and 1 million unique for the second full month. So it's closer to 2 million views. So there were a lot of people on there right away. This last month was our best month ever. We had about 5.8 million views on the website in December. We're geared towards analytics and making things work so I pay attention pretty intensely. I'm a poker player so I'm the type of guy who loves stats and analyzing, then optimizing. So last week, you can take our Facebook engagements, you can take Noisey, Reductress and SF Weekly where I used to work, and combine them all together and Hard Times had more engagement on Facebook.
We don't have any offices. We don't have a financial investor. It's a company owned by a couple of punks, ideas from writers, punk kids. Not everyone who writes for our sites is a writer. Some of them are really just my friends from the punk world who I'm helping train, whatever editing process and shit. It's like if you put a remote control car in like a NASCAR race and then it did like surprisingly well, like it got a third.
That doesn't surprise me at all, actually, that you perform so well among all those sites.
It definitely surprised me. I guess maybe I'm getting used to it still. My friends at Indiana will say, "Hey man, this big band just pulled in our town and someone told a joke onstage and someone said, 'Oh, my god, it sounds like a Hard Times article’ into the mic" It's weird how it's become like this force within the subculture that I grew up in. It's a very bizarre feeling. I just never would have thought. We booked Judge, one of my favorite bands of all time. And when Judge got out of their van at Gilman, they wanted to talk to me about how stoked they were to be playing a Hard Times show. I wanted to talk to them about, "Holy shit, I can't believe my band's playing with Judge!" There's also some negative things to it, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
I'm curious what the negatives are.
If 5.8 million people look at something in a month, there's gonna be some like people in there who really, really don't like it and then in turn don't like you. So it has brought me some unwanted attention at the same time, which is a mild price to pay for being able to do this awesome, creative, fulfilling thing. But there are definitely times where I kind of wish so many people didn't know my name or what I was up to.
Like for example, we were booking a show at [famous punk venue] 924Gilman once and in a Gilman meeting came up [someone said] that “Hard Times is not gonna be involved because Hard Times is owned by Vice.” Of course it's not owned by Vice. It's owned by a bunch of punks. Just because I used to write for Vice doesn't mean it's owned by Vice. So it's like this weird kind of push and pull where you're happy that people know who you are. But at the same time, you're gonna have to deal with a lot of nonsense that you wouldn't if no one knew who you were.
It's got its pros and its cons. Definitely, the pros outweigh the cons and I'm getting better at dealing with the cons, not exacerbating them. But it's been like a growth process for me because when I was younger and in a punk band, if someone said something bad about my punk band, I'd go, "Fuck you, motherfucker!". I've learned now not to do that around Hard Times.
It's been actually kind of interesting to see... Because my band toured and we had this controversial gimmick where I was like this bad guy pro wrestler who, instead of a normal front man I was a satirical character called "The Champ" and I was aggravating crowds, challenging them to fight me. From time to time, you'll see someone in New York or someone in Florida saying the Hard Times is run by that guy who threw a bag of chains into the crowd at the Snake's Pit or whatever. It kind of makes me uncomfortable, how widespread it is.
What band were you in?
I was in a band called Zero Progress. It was a hardcore, straight-edge punk band. It started more in the punk world and ended up more in the hardcore world. About two years in, no one had noticed us and I always had this like satirical sense of humor. And I'd broken up with a girl who I was dating for five and a half years and I was really sad and I just watched this Andy Kaufman documentary. Have you ever seen that one about Andy Kaufman's wrestling career?
I'm aware that it exists but I've never seen it.
So Andy Kaufman did this awesome thing with the wrestling world where he became a pro wrestler and ruined his career. It was so funny. So we came to this character that would be a mix between a bad guy pro wrestler and like all the negative things about a hardcore front man. Hardcore front men act like they're all tough with their body language. Mine would be kind of like a mix of that but I would deliver it in a Rick Flair style promo. "The toughest guy in hardcore, blah, blah, blah," that sort of stuff. Right? I would dress up in these outrageous outfits. It was pretty clearly a joke, in my personal opinion. But from time to time, people either wouldn't get it or they would get it but still disagree with the idea that I would say things that a bad person would say while I was playing a bad guy character. If you look at the roots of punk, there's plenty of examples of people using that as satire, and shock value, and all these sorts of things. it's part of punk's background.
One of the most frustrating things about running a music-content website, particularly an extreme music-content site recently, is the intersection of politics and identity politics versus shtick. It's a really hard balance to strike as a fan, as a writer and as an editor. I like to think of extreme music as like stand-up comedy, where it is at its best when there's no holds barred or pulled punches, but at the same time, if you make a joke that is in bad taste, you should take the licks for it. You don’t argue with the audience right?
And if you're in a band that does a fucked-up thing, take your licks for it. One of the things I like about the Hard Times is you seem to embody that middle ground with a lot of grace.
I appreciate you saying that. Those are things I think about every day and things that I've learned. Sometimes we were messing up. I was young and I didn't have professional comedy experience or anything like that. I did take my licks for it. Then I learned and then I adjusted. If you look at the beginning of the Hard Times versus the end of the Hard Times, we're getting better and better at controlling our jokes and making sure we're hitting the right targets, making sure we're not punching down. I spend all day, every day, thinking about those things. And that middle ground and calling things to attention without being cruel or demeaning and all these sorts of things. I accept that as unwieldy. It's hard to control at times, especially when you're new to it. It's like we're constantly learning and getting better. And I'm really proud of like how far we've come.
It really bothers me when someone goes "Yeah, but in 2010, you were in a basement in Florida and you threw a chain into the audience." I was trying to do this thing about how the hardcore guys are like overly tough. Sorry it didn't come out exactly right. But I've been learning every day since then and then so pretty much, I just wish I could get judged a little bit more based on the things I'm doing now, because I feel like the things I'm doing now are much more well-crafted. When we do make mistakes, we're much more like ready to own up for it. It's a human thing. We want to be judged on the things that we're doing recently because those are the things that show what we've learned. And the Hard Times is a really good example of all the things that I've learned from the punk scene.
So I love the fact that you can call me and say, "Hey, it seems like you guys are doing a really good job at understanding all this stuff," because that's growth for me. I haven't always been that guy. I haven't always been that able to guide and craft satire so that it is portraying the right message. I've done both actual journalism and satire. With actual journalism, you're writing facts and you're writing how you feel. But with satire, you're using characters and exaggerations to give a message behind the words. You don't' just come out and say it because if you come out and say it, it's not subtle and if it's not subtle, it's not funny. So when you're doing this writing where we are exaggerating this characteristic in someone to show that we don't like this characteristic. Now, as the story develops, what does this characteristic do, what are the negative aspects of it that we're gonna bring to light through comedy but still saying what we wanna say? It's a bit difficult. If you look at the first Hard Times articles, they're not as good. We've grown over time through studying our mistakes.
People will compare us to, The Onion. I consider that a great compliment. If you click an Onion headline and you read their thing and then you click one of our headlines or read one of our things, they really are different. It has a lot to do with the style that each of us have crafted over time. Our particular style is 350 words of subculture satire with character development in that short time-frame, a hook and a kicker, an escalation. Most of our articles follow a certain formula. I'm so proud of all that. I think as time goes on, you get better and better at these things, is pretty much what I'm trying to say.
One of the problems with The Onion is the headline is the joke and it is the entire joke. To an extent clicking on anything they do is superfluous.
So once I started the Hard Times, I wasn't a huge Onion fan. I really didn't even read them at all. And once I started the Hard Times, everyone was like, "This is an Onion rip-off," or whatever. Okay, well it's time for me to study The Onion then, Right? Once I started studying them, one of the first things I found was these articles were the headline and a photo. And then you click on it and there's actually nothing there, not even a little bit. I guess that's a leftover relic from the print days where they used to have the same space on a magazine or something like that. It sounds like news in brief. Don't get me wrong, they're always hilarious. But I clicked and I didn't get anything. What the fuck? There was a lack of reward when I clicked.
Part of our whole thing at the Hard Times was, okay, we're not dealing with normal people here. We're dealing with fanatics, music fanatics, right? They're obsessives. So if they click on something, they should get an in-depth joke once they get in there. Maybe the headline joke is something more people can understand but once you get into the article, there should be a joke about a certain track on their second album. There should be some real meat in there. In each article, we try to make the last line kind of like a big kicker which should make you laugh and think, "Oh, good thing I clicked." it doesn't always work still. Obviously, any satire website have an issue getting people clicking over. But I think our fans have begun to really reward us for that hard effort we're putting to making sure that when you click, you do get something in return. And that's why our views have gone up so far. When you look at when people would comment on our stuff, a lot of times the first comment on like Hard Times space we post is like a quote from an article that someone has pulled out, that they particularly like. Which always makes me happy because it's like, "Okay, they're like digging into it and they like it.” They're engaging with it. But at the same time, there aren't always gonna be people who don't wanna do that. And so, we have an Instagram where we just put all the headlines up, not all of them but most of them. "There you go. If that's all you want, whatever. I'm not gonna force you to read 350 words of jokes. If you don't wanna, then whatever, that's your issue.”
When you get a pitch for a Hard Times article, what are you looking for?
The entire Hard Times system is built around things that I didn't like working for other news organizations, even down to the invoicing payments. I once wrote an article for a news publication and they offered to pay me $15 for it. I said, "Fine, here's a blog post." And I waited 6 months and I got a check for $15 and I cashed it and it bounced and then I got a $35 bounce-check fee from my bank. So our invoice system is: you get paid the month you write the story through digital payments. You send them directly to me and everyone gets paid and everyone's fine. I personally take care of it to ensure it.
One of the things I didn't like writing at other news publications, was this idea that there was this one editor. Let's say it's a music publication and you pitch to them through their email and they look at it. This is me sometimes, I was this editor. They look at it, and they decide, and that's it. So you live or die by the editor's discretion, even though no one person could truly understand the depths of music to really, really know if this is an interesting story. No one person is gonna be such a great music editor that they're gonna be able to really know that this is valuable. So the way that the Hard Times pitches work is before you get to pitch, you have to pass a test. And the test is you have to write 10 headlines and you have to send them to the editor group which is me, Ed Saincome, my brother, and Bill Conway, my co-founder and we decide if you're good enough. I would say we get like 1000 pitches and then 20 of those people make it in. It's a very low percent, right? But once you make it in, you get added to a group that's on Facebook and then instead of pitching an editor, you actually pitch to the entire group. What that's done is helped me eliminate my blind spots. So for example, I'm straight edge and so there's certain jokes that revolve around weed culture or drinking that maybe I wouldn't understand. But what we have now is like a group of people who have all passed this comedy test that I agree, okay, these people have something that I enjoy about their sense of humor. And they pitch to the group and the entire staff of the Hard Times looks, hopefully, looks at this pitch and decides is this pitch good or not. At the end of the week, we look at all pitches no matter what. We grab all the ones above a certain amount of approvals, based on other contributors liking them.
Then we discuss them, because you can't just let a group of people decide because there's inherent biases in the group. Like they're all comedians, so they think stand-up comedy jokes are funny. Or sometimes, they think something's funny but it's off-putting for us or whatever. So there is still an editorial oversight process where we say no. There's also these pitches, they get pitched that no one likes them but we see something and then we run them. You don't live or die by the voice of the group, right? But I think it adds an extra element of. All of our headlines are kind of pretested, which I think helps all of our content be very engaging, and it really helps us have a wider perspective than one editor could ever have.
So for example, each of these people now, in our contributor pool develops their specialty. And when someone pitches a metal headline, let's say it's about a specific band, there are certain contributors that I know of who have very intense metal background. If one of them likes that post, I can talk to them and I say, "Well, what is it? Explain to me the subtext of this joke, what it was poking fun." It's a big group effort and we kick people out of the group, we bring people into the group and it's all based on like work ethic. We all just kind of like grow together as this big hive mind and I think it's a lot more powerful than one person looking at pitches in an inbox and saying yes or no, which is how a traditional pitch and editor process works. It has been a key to our success. And not only that, it's based on the idea that I wanted to be a freelancer full-time. I felt like I wasn't part of the company that I was working for. Even though they sent me paychecks, I felt like I could never tell when other things were coming out. I can never understand what else was going or who else worked.
Hard Times now has this community to it. I don't just update a couple people, "Hey, we're gonna be running this article." I update all these people and I say, "This is what we're doing. We're branching out into video. We're doing this." From that whole community vibe that we have, we elevate people. So we go, "Okay, this guy wrote a really good article and maybe now we need some video. Maybe he's good for a script."
I think if you listen to the origin story where I put out a Facebook post to see who wanted to help me with this and then we ran the editorial thing through a Facebook group you can see how it's like, "Okay, well, then, an idea is born on Facebook, and operates through Facebook, no wonder we're doing so well on Facebook," right? So much of our traffic comes from Facebook. But if you think about it, that's our nature. I think it's probably because I'm the head of a company and then I'm only 25, right. So Facebook is more like in my blood than SF Weekly where the publisher is, I don't know, 45 or something.
All this stuff is just things that I'm sure you've experienced it too writing. You write for places and you see these things that they could be doing better. When I was at SF Weekly, I actually made a packet of things that they could do to better their social media presence and their internet presence. This was like a pretty decent packet, right? I got other people to contribute to it and say, "Okay, these are the the moves we should make." I gave it to my boss and he loved it but then his boss and his boss, they just ignored it. There was some other stressful thing and they never got around to it. But I was writing these 3000-word stories and there wasn't a Facebook share button on the fucking website. I was like, "Guys, come on!" The thing that's crazy is, I would write these cover stories for SF Weekly, and they would take me weeks to report it, and no one would read 'em. So many more people will read my Hard Times stuff. Because I was doing both and I was like... it's killing you, doing all this stuff and there's not a Facebook share button and we don't have a good social media strategy. Or post some things at the wrong time, with bad captions, with misspellings and other stuff. It was killing me. It was just killing me to work at a place where things were being done in a way that I didn't think they should be done. Everything about Hard Times is just me learning by working at other places as a freelancer, as an editor, as whatever, and then deciding the way that I think I best.
But how do you bridge the generation gap? What you did is you just ignored it.
Well I tried to say it. I said, "Hey guys, here are some ideas I have. Let's try to do it." And they listened to me a couple times, they really did. Like I got them to do a hashtag on a cover one time or something like that, to try to get people involved. I've pushed a couple things. The thing was they were in a struggling time. They didn't have time to listen to the newbies, together to talk about these stupid ideas or whatever. But it is frustrating when you feel like you have an idea that could help the entire publication and it's not being used. And that is a big, big, motivating factor for the Hard Times. Like we change things when they don't work.
You can look at some of our content like throughout the years or couple years that we've been around and we try things. And sometimes they fail, and they go away, and we try something else. Because it fucking killed when we would continue to do things. "Well, here's something that's cold. It's gone five years and it's gained no readers. Well then cut the stupid [thing]”.
Could you tell me about one Hard Times story that is particularly special to you?
I can think of the one that we did recently, is the one that "DNC Offers to Help Drop the Ball" and we put it out on New Year's Eve. I didn't write it but I thought it was just great. You think about punk is kind of like about critiquing a system, and this was the same thing. It's really easy to paint just one side as a bad guy. Like, "Oh, yeah, Trump is this bad dude" but it's also really helpful to be like, "Listen, the DNC fucked up too." So that particular one, when that one came out, I felt really proud of that one because it felt like it was us, getting in between that punk is inherently political, and critiquing the system, and then also critiquing both sides. I felt like it helps balance out our coverage a little bit. So I think that that one is just like kind of particularly special to me, although that changes on a weekly basis.
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