January 10, 2023

Exploring the intersection of outdoor recreation, conservation, and the economy with Matador’s Tim Wenger [EP 363]

Show Notes

Rick Saez
Exploring the intersection of outdoor recreation, conservation, and the economy with Matador’s Tim Wenger [EP 363]

Welcome to episode 363 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast brought to you this week by Tee Public. Go to ricksaez.com/teepublic and show your love for the show with one of our Outdoor Biz Tees.

Today I’m joined by travel journalist, author, and snowboarder Tim Wenger. After finishing a BA in Communications from Fort Lewis College, Tim jumped into the back of a Ford Econoline and spent a few years playing guitar in dark bars while falling in love with adventure travel. He’s been unable to rest his pen (or his feet) ever since.

Brought to you this month by TeePublic

Show Notes

I gotta hear about those years in a Ford Ecoline playing guitar in the dark bars while falling in love with adventure travel. Where, first of all, where’d that idea come from?

So basically I played guitar in a punk band for about a decade. A couple of them over that time, but primarily one that was more serious and, we toured around the Southwest, playing bars and now and then when we’d open for a bigger band and we’d get to play in a theater. But usually, it was bar-level gigs and sleeping on people’s couches and, trying to imitate our heroes. We never quite became the next Blink 182, but, we certainly tried. I always tell people, playing in a rock band is a great thing to do when you’re in your twenties, right? Because you’re staying out till 2:00 AM all the time, which you’d probably be doing anyway. You’re hanging out at rock clubs, you’re getting in a van, driving around. It’s fun, but it’s not something I’d wanna do now.

So is there a particular story or event from that experience that was maybe uniquely fun or maybe not fun?

I would say that my favorite thing about it, traveling as a musician, was the camaraderie among the other bands. You know, when you are a working band showing up at a rock club in some random place, you have an instant connection with the other people that are there with the other bands that are going through the same things that you’re doing. You know, everybody’s got a crappy day job back home and, you’re trying to be like your heroes.

How did you become a writer?

I went to school for communications. Journalism was kinda my thing. I was on the high school newspaper staff, yada, yada, yada.

And after the band, you know, I started getting a little older, mid-twenties, starting to get into my upper twenties. I didn’t know what I was gonna do. Obviously, this isn’t paying the bills, so I started looking for writing gigs and ended up getting a weekly gig for a website that paid $50 a week to do a column about the local music scene in Denver. So that was, that was my first actual paid byline that I ever had, was writing for these guys. And that sort of gave me some clips that I could send out to other publications. It allowed me to be out on the town saying, Hey, I’m writing a story about this. Do you wanna talk to me? And then that leads to more connections. So it’s a very self-starting thing, very much like being in a band. So I was kind of able to borrow some of those skills and move them over to keep networking my way into better and better writing gigs.

Your Matador bio says that you’re the transactional content at Matador. What is the transactional content editor?

Basically, it’s a fancy name for affiliate marketing. So I run all of our affiliate marketing content, be that Airbnb roundups or product reviews, or hotel features. I oversee that stuff and I also do a lot of outdoors content. I’m more of the outdoors content, whereas I’m editing the affiliate stuff most of the time.

You write for a number of other folks also other than Matador, right?

Right now I have three active contracts of which Matador is the largest. I also write edited a company called Static Media also, and I’m currently working on the Fodors travel guidebook for Colorado that will publish, I believe, next July. So I’m doing four. I’m updating and fact-checking four chapters of that guidebook.

How’d you get involved with Matador?

It kind of came about through social media. Originally I was working at a music magazine in Denver, that I kind of parlayed myself into through my other gig. I worked at a magazine called Music Buzz for four years, and they folded in 2020. Shortly thereafter, it literally couldn’t have been two weeks, I was scrolling through Facebook and an old friend from high school shared an article from Matador on their feed, I clicked on it and started reading that article and then a few others. And that was the first time that I ever heard the term digital nomad, or ever realized that there were all of these people working on laptops, you know, basing their lives living in a van or traveling around Southeast Asia or basically doing all these things. There’s a lot of ski bums, there’s a lot of people doing the same things I’ve always been doing, but there was a formal name for it and there’s like a community and I knew instantly that I had to be a part of it.

So  I signed up for this writing course that they had, and one of their editors reached out to me and was like, hey, you look like you’ve got some experience. Why don’t you try writing this article? And it just kind of progressed from there, that was in 2015. I wrote for them consistently, about Colorado and Denver primarily for two years, and got on staff in 2017.

So tell us a little bit about Matador. What, do they do? How do they do it?

It’s, a daily digital travel magazine based in San Francisco, but the team is remote. I believe the only person now actually in San Francisco is the founder, Ross Borden, who says, and he’s not wrong. This is the best description I’ve ever heard of Matador, but he says that Matador is if Nat Geo and Buzzfeed had a baby. You got the adventure travel, the outdoors, the kind of conservation, you know, the sustainability angle to it, but it’s aimed at millennials. So the bulk of our readership is millennials, so it’s, it’s shorter articles, not 5,000-word features like you’re gonna see in Nat Geo.

And did they do anything with podcasting?

Well, they didn’t until myself and my now co-host, Eban Diskin started a podcast independently and, ran it for a year, and then we ended up selling the rights of it to Matador. Which was under the table. You know, we knew that this was always our goal when we started was to merge with Matador or someone similar, But they did not know that at the time.

We started independently and then wrote them a pitch after we had a year’s worth of episodes to show.  And that’s the No Blackout Dates Podcast.  The Unfiltered Travel Podcast.

So you, Rachelle, and Adam gave a great presentation on pitching at the Outdoor media summit, just pitching editors and whatnot. Do you have three tips for listeners when they’re pitching editors on a gear review or an idea for an article? Is there anything that you always try to incorporate or do?

Yeah, absolutely, I’ll give you, I’ll give you two tips and one way to optimize those tips.

The first thing that anybody that works in media will want to know is, why is this piece of gear relevant right now? It could be seasonally appropriate, or maybe it’s an upgrade of an existing product that you’ve made better. Why am I writing about this right now? That’s the first thing that needs to be at the top of any pitch. The second would be what specific problem is this piece of gear solving, which I think is overlooked by a lot of gear companies because it’s very common nowadays for an outdoorsy person to be out on the trail using a piece of gear, and be like, okay, I wish this piece of gear did this. I’m gonna go make that and then I’m gonna sell it. That’s awesome. But you need to hone down your pitch when you are on the trail having a problem. Because that’s what makes something newsworthy and, that’s what makes something different. Why is yours different? Why is yours solving a problem that split boarders have or that the park snowboarder has? What problem are you solving?

And then to kind of tie those two together, I think it’s really cool when a PR person or a brand or a writer, whoever it might be, includes in their pitch some sort of a creative use case. You know, like this could be a trip planning angle, like this is the first helmet that was ever taken on this crazy ascent of this peak in Antarctica or something. Whatever it is that might be like, oh, damn, no one else is doing that. I, I need this piece of gear right now. You know, if the editor is thinking that, you know, the readers thinking that. If you have a good use case for your product that wasn’t just, Hey, like I created this new product because I love to go hiking in the backcountry. What is the use? That is demonstrating the problem that you’re solving.

Let’s talk about the No Blackout Dates podcast. How’d that get started?

It was a pandemic project. So one of the Matador staff writers, Eban Diskin, approached me, I guess it was the summer of 2020, and asked if I wanted to start a podcast with them.

And, you know, I hadn’t been on the road in a few months and we were both longing for travel, so we figured we might as well start talking about it at least. So that was the launch of it and, we started interviewing people that summer and launched in October of 2020, the first four episodes. Now we’re about to hit a hundred. I think by the end of January or February we should be there.

Tell us a little bit about it

It’s travel related, our pitch is that it’s the Unfiltered Travel podcast that talks about the stuff that the other travel podcast won’t talk about.

So, rather than giving somebody a PR spiel about why they need to visit a place, we’ll talk to the foreign correspondent that lives there about what the scene is actually like in that city. For example, we just interviewed a correspondent that lives in Taiwan about how the China-Taiwan conflict, will impact travel. We interviewed, Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired Magazine about his new project Vanishing Asia, where he traveled around Asia for 30 years and took photos. So we’re trying to tell untold stories, through a lens that is not something that has to pass into print publication, not filtered.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks that want to get into the outdoor biz?

The best thing that’s helped me more than anything, no matter what I’ve been doing in my career is going to places and just networking. Like Outdoor Media Summit, you’re going to the happy hour and everybody that’s there has both a skill that they can offer and a problem that they need to solve, just like you do.

And the more people you can connect with, the more you’re gonna realize that you can solve their problems or they can solve yours. And that’s the fastest way to catapult your career.

What are a couple of your favorite Books?

I would start by encouraging everyone to read, Let My People Go Surfing by Yvonne Chouinard. I know he’s super trending right now, with his recent announcement about Patagonia, but he breaks down the best mantra on not only running a business, but on living your life based on your priorities.

Probably my favorite book I’ve ever read is Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, which, it’s a little, it’s a little abstract, in the sense this being an outdoors podcast, but I really like the way that Vonnegut breaks down his characters and their struggles and how they overcome those struggles in a very self-conscious manner

I also run a substack called Mountain Remote that I would love to have people check out. It’s a free weekly newsletter I do as a resource for remote workers who build their lives around outdoor adventures. So if you wanna sign out or sign up, you can just go timwenger.dot net

Follow up with Tim