Grindr’s new lifestyle magazine Into is “seeing the world through a queer lens.”
On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Kara and The Verge’s Casey Newton talk with Zach Stafford and Trish Bendix, the editor in chief and managing editor of Into — a queer lifestyle magazine published by the dating app Grindr. Stafford says Into has been able to tap into Grindr’s killer feature, knowing the location of its users, to push out regionally-specific stories to the people who will be most affected by them.
You can listen to the entire interview here or in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the creator of an app that helps lonely monks find love called Shrindr, but in my spare time I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Play Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today I’m in San Francisco with my co-host Casey Newton, the Silicon Valley Editor of The Verge and host of the upcoming podcast on the Vox Media podcast network. You know how to say that, Casey, you have to say it with a great, grand way.
KS: Casey is joining me for several episodes of Recode Decode this month and today is his fourth and final week on the show. Are you ready for your own podcast?
CN: I knew I was gonna get my walking papers from you eventually. But it came too soon.
KS: Well, can you snatch the pebble from my hand is the question. It’s an old reference for older people. [“Kung Fu”] was just the worst show ever. But, we’re delighted to have two guests in the studio with us, so you have two people to work your magic on.
CN: Double trouble.
KS: All right. Zach Stafford and Trish Bendix, the editor in chief and managing editor of the digital magazine, Into. It’s a queer lifestyle magazine published by the dating app, Grindr. Zach and Trish, welcome to Recode Decode.
Zach Stafford: Thank you for having us.
Trish Bendix: Thanks.
KS: So, I’m gonna let Casey take it, because you’re going to run the show today.
CN: All right. I’ll do my best.
KS: Plus, you’re an active user of Grindr.
CN: I certainly have been.
ZS: Oh, but that’s so good.
CN: Yeah. And, we’re gonna get into all my Grindr stories, so stay tuned.
KS: Wowee wow. Okay.
ZS: We’re always looking for them.
CN: Yeah, but for … There may be a handful of straight people listening to this podcast so for their benefit, tell us what Grindr is.
ZS: Yeah, so Grindr is kind of the first geolocative social networking device or app, rather, not device. It’s primarily used by gay men. But, lately we’re seeing a lot more folks under the queer umbrella using it. So, it was the first to really utilize a grid or cascade system to show you who’s close by who is also on the app that probably in the beginning was just another gay man. And, it works anywhere globally where you’re at. So, it’s kind of like a real life gaydar.
KS: Right, so what was interesting about it, years and years ago there was another one that was, similar technology, and I actually called up Jerry Yang of all people and said you’ve gotta invest, I think it was M2Mforsex.com. I think it was something like that. It was something, and I was like, this is location-based and you can find people and it would sort them based on your preference, your sexual preferences and things that you like. And, he was like, “No one’s going to use that.” I’m like, “Oh, you’re wrong, gay men will. They absolutely will.”
ZS: They’d love it.
KS: Exactly. And, it was a really interesting … At the time I was sort of fascinated. And, that one didn’t work out. It was a little pornier than most. The location-basedness was sort of pioneered by gay people, essentially. A lot of the internet was, by the way.
ZS: Yeah, a lot of the internet was. And I think gay men were the first to really use GPS technologies in this way. So this was around 2008, 2009 when the iPhone kinda comes out and is really becoming what it now. So you see gay men really okay with having their bodies shown on a grid and being able to be found at any moment. And, a lot of it is because they assume that it was just only other gay men. So it was an in-group mentality that they got used to.
There were other version of Grindr that sort of coming out that were trying to cater to women or other gendered folks, but it was usually gay men that were the most successful on it and feeling the most safe around it. And, then you see Tinder launch, which uses a swipe tool. But, it doesn’t show you who’s as close by you.
Like, I’ll be in my apartment sometimes and someone says they’re 82 feet away. That could be really freaky to some people. I know it’s my neighbor Joe, but it’s fine. But, in the beginning that really freaked people out. And, I think gay men in the beginning really were always looking for each other in close spaces. And, due to cruising culture and other versions of, or parts of queer culture, this kind of closeness was okay for them. But, now it’s grown and a lot of people use this type of system to find love.
CN: There really is a kind of genius to it, because for most communities you would never want to let anyone know how physically close you were to anyone else. But for gay people that’s actually oftentimes the most important thing. It’s like, are there any other gay people around me who I can talk to right now? And, I do think that without Grindr there is no Tinder. I think you can definitely see a direct connection.
ZS: Yeah. I said that before I worked at Grindr. I was like, yeah, there’s an obvious kind of culture there that gay people always lead the way whether it’s in books, media or even hookup apps, if you want to call them that.
It is really magnificent to see it grow and people become really interested in connectivity because you’re right, gay people are always looking for each other. I remember when I was in college when Grindr came out and I used it in Chicago and went back to Nashville, outside of Nashville in a smaller town, and I realized that there were a lot of gay men in my town that I had no idea were there. And, that, for me, made me real excited to go home over and over. So, now that I’m part of the company, I was like, oh, it’s different.
KS: Let’s talk … Trish, one of the things that’s also in that talking about gay pioneering and when talking about the media stuff, because you guys are doing something different which we find, we’re not really clear why you’re doing it.
CN: We need to know why you want to help gay men find sex.
KS: I mean, one of the chapters I wrote, when I wrote a book about AOL in 1997, was one of the chapters called The House That Gay People Built, essentially. Because AOL was the first meeting point. I don’t know if you are old enough to have used that, but it was … I certainly am, but it was a place where people could acknowledge that they existed, all kinds of outlying groups, essentially.
TB: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I’m 34, so I was old enough that I was on AOL. Unfortunately, I didn’t know I was gay until I was 20 so I wasn’t able to capitalize on it as I should have. But I think, for me, moving into my job at AfterEllen where I spent 10 years, the forums, the community were my first real foray into seeing how women met each other there. Lots of women would meet in the coming out forums and the Xena forums and very specific fandoms that they met their partners, their wives. And so to me it seems like a direct parallel to now where we’re moving into with Grindr and all these dating apps where there’s content and dating and relating to people in the same space.
KS: Well, you worked at AfterEllen, what did you do there?
TB: I was the, when I left, I was editor in chief.
KS: Editor in chief.
TB: I started as the blog editor.
KS: That was started by, who was the founder?
TB: Sarah Warn.
KS: Sarah Warn. That was a really interesting time. My ex was the CEO of Planet Out. So that was the other early thing which was a, not a competitor, but it was just a different paradigm, which was a content site. It was a content site. And, before that there was the Advocate and Out magazine. And they had digital versions, and at one point Advocate was gonna buy Planet Out or Planet Out was going to buy the Advocate. I think there was all kinds of different machinations going on at the time. But, talk about, just very briefly, AfterEllen, like that content space and then the others that were available like Planet Out and others.
TB: Yeah, I remember reading Planet Out. I mean, at the time, in my … I came out at 20, and I was reading the very few LGBT sites that were available and any that covered women, specifically. And, so that was fewer and farther between, sadly, and still sort of the case today.
But AfterEllen was created in 1997 after Ellen came out on television because Sarah Warn was trying to find any sort of writing or community space about visibility, representation for LGBT women. It just did not exist. So she had to create her own. And then from there, there was fewer depictions of lesbians on television and film. But, they kept growing and eventually got “The L Word,” which was a huge boost for AfterEllen and the lesbian community and culture in general.
It was mostly about entertainment and visibility. So it started a lot of more like academic essays but then it became TV recaps and then it became movie reviews and then lesbians just found it as the No. 1 lesbian site. So then it started to open up more into lifestyle. It really broadened with the community. It was, “What do you want, women? What are you coming here for?” Because there’s not really any other home for you on the internet.
KS: And, Zach, talk about Planet Out, because I think that was probably the biggest. It was the biggest. It was backed by AOL. It had funding. It had, I don’t know, 30 million, lots of funding.
ZS: It was huge in the early ’90s and then it kind of teetered off as we hit around the 2000s. But it was a content site. People did also the dating profile.
KS: But it didn’t shift into dating as much?
ZS: It didn’t shift into dating as much, but there were ways to connect with other people. So that was kind of the beginning of a lot of the gay blogs and gay websites. Like gay.com or gay.net.
KS: They merged.
ZS: They merged. And they would …
KS: Gay.net merged with gay.com and then they all merged with …
ZS: Yes, they all came together. So, they were combining the very beginning of all this digital queer space. There was content and hooking up and connecting all in the same space. So that was kind of the genesis of the internet for queer people. Because we needed one space to do everything together, just like the bars became that, too. The bars where you got your local gay paper. It was also where you got a drink. It was also where you organized. So these kind of spaces sort of replicating digital and physical, and that’s what we see us doing now with apps.
CN: Also, I think this is a great place to talk about why Grindr decided to get into the media business. As a company, Grindr has made money before by advertising in the app itself and then it sells subscriptions so that you can have what, frankly, are essential features such as push notifications. But, now it decided it wants to go into the media business and I think it’s unusual for me and Kara as people who are in what is, honestly, the most difficult business in the entire world, to sort of carve out a sustainable space for yourself. To see a software company, which traditionally has super-high margins, why would they want to play around in the content space? So tell us a little bit about how this whole thing came about.
KS: Yeah, because you’re going … Planet Out did go through it’s difficulties. I remember when the Grindr people came to see me at the time, because that’s who … and Megan at the same time, talking about it. And, I was like yeah, do the dating. I was like that’s where you’re going to make the money. Because content even then was hard to do.
ZS: Yeah, it is.
KS: It was going to be something else. Grindr was gonna be, I forget what it was, but it was going to be more of a lifestyle site.
ZS: Yes, so there and we’ve been and this is part of that kind of effort to expand the brand obviously. And, a lot of it’s just the response to how users started using the app. So, as we saw in the beginning, people were using Grindr very kind of in myopic ways. They were only thinking of it as a hookup app.
KS: Because that’s what it is.
ZS: Well, this is what it was built as, I guess, in many ways. But it was a way to connect with other people. And, then when people were traveling to other cities, they were realizing I could turn it on in Barcelona and meet other people around me too. If you did want to hook up that could happen, but you also could get restaurants, get other recommendations, which harkens back to kind of these other queer spaces. That’s where travel was the thing.
KS: What was the Travel and Gay Con? There was a travel, there was a fantastic … It was subscriptions …
ZS: I forget, because then it went to Out Traveler after that. Out Traveler kind of took over the space. But, yes, there was always like travel in these spaces.
KS: Yeah, this is a safe area. There’s a ton of that stuff.
ZS: Exactly so, as the app was growing. Every day we have 3.3 million people on it that spend at least 54 minutes a day. You don’t spend 54 minutes a day only hooking up. That’s, like, impossible. Some of us would love to try to do that but we don’t have the time.
CN: Speak for yourself, Zach.
ZS: I know what you’re doing, Casey, in San Francisco.
KS: He has video games to play.
ZS: I have a whole other life. And, what we realized through our users is that they were on there looking for other things. They were looking to meet, but they were also looking for information. They were … And when we did surveys, we found that they wanted content, too.
So, we thought, let’s not just join, let’s join these things together and see what happens. In the very beginning, in the beta testing before Trish was there, it was really successful. We saw people really interested in various forms of content that wasn’t just travel and sex. People assume that on Grindr all we do as editors is commission sexy things. And that’s not true.
KS: That’s all we do here at Recode.
ZS: Yeah, I thought so. I assumed it’s Recode. Very sexy.
KS: Today, new features on the iPhone.
ZS: But what we saw is that they were really wanting to see themselves in a variety of ways. I remember we did a test around Syrian refugees doing a pageant. And we pushed the content through there and it had huge click-through rates because we can blast it right into their phone into the app whether in their inbox or in an interstitial.
And we saw them really sitting in there. We saw duration times of like three minutes. I think it just kind of spoke to young people, who not only wanted to see other queer people in the world but they wanted to see content that was really dynamic like they were. And because we reach so many places, we saw, especially as editor in chief, I saw like, okay, now I need to commission work in Georgia, the country of Georgia, by queer people there and what they’re going through on the ground. Because we’re actually touching them.
KS: City by city.
KS: How is that different from Snapchat, Trish? I mean, because Snapchat has added on. It’s a communications service, it’s not a hookup service, although it could be, I don’t know.
CN: Probably not hookups. But definitely a lot of nude stuff. Lot of nudes flying around on Snapchat.
KS: Yeah, but the concept of introducing content when they’re doing something else. In that case it’s communication. In this case it’s meeting.
TB: Well, I think what Grindr has been so successful at is really being able to read its audience and what kind of things they’re looking for. Speaking for myself, on Snapchat, I tend to click away from the things that they give me. I don’t think they really read me very well. I think we have the ability to know what is going to work and what’s not going to work.
I’ve only been here for three weeks so I’m much more new than Zach. But, they have been able to test, survey, do everything they can to make sure that the readers are basically going to respond positively to what they’re given. And everything has been successful so far, I’m happy to say.
But I’m also brought on to Into to make sure that queer women feel like there’s a part for them at Into specifically. So while I’m under the umbrella of Grindr, Zach probably could speak better to those sorts of things because I’m not as much of a user as he is.
ZS: You don’t use Grindr every day? It’s amazing.
CN: Let’s talk a little bit about how this stuff gets delivered. Because I do not have Grindr. It’s been about six months since I’ve had Grindr on my phone, so I would like to know about how it may have changed. Because when I used Grindr, you’d open up the app. You’d see the grid of everyone that’s close by. There was no kind of tab in the app where you could see stories. Is that something you guys are working on or you’re sort of setting in app notifications?
KS: Explain how it works.
ZS: Yeah. So there’s different slices. So, currently Slice One we are playing with kind of the tools we have there. So that the Grindr user experience doesn’t change terribly much. So, when you log onto the app. So, when you go home and download, Casey, and if you’re allowed to be on right now, what your partnership situation is.
But when you open it, there’s two forms of content that you can get. You can get an interstitial or prestitial that drops down and looks like a magazine cover. And we treat those like magazine covers because they’re in front of millions of people every day. So that’s hyper-curated content that can go global. But we can also specify it by city or area. You also can get an inbox message. So when you go into where you get messages from lots of men hitting you up, I’m sure.
CN: Just countless.
ZS: Just countless, overwhelming messages, you’ll get one that is an Into, it’s branded as Into. And, the brands look very different because Into does live on its own website platform. So it’s just an integration within that. But future rounds and slices of Grindr will have a different form of integration as we move forward and see what people want most from content, because this is the first time that you’ve had content and geolocative services together. Because we do do things geotargeted. Like, I’m trained as a geographer, that’s what I went to school for, so I think about things in spatial ways.
KS: So, right now, it’s a platform where it’s just you’re creating the content. You all are creating …
KS: And, not, it’s not a platform for other people’s content?
KS: They way, say, Snapchat is.
ZS: It’s all in house. We have a full team. We have a team of 12 people in Los Angeles at a newsroom there. We have a contributor network of over 150 people so far that have contributed. We do video, written, every form of content. We have reporters. Like, this week, Doug Jones’s son came out as gay on Into. We have done the coming out of LCD Soundsystem Gavin Russom. We do international reporting out of Chechnya. So we have teams, we’ve hired people from like from Rolling Stone, from other outlets, that are trained reporters.
Like, Trish comes from AfterEllen. But I was at the Guardian for years as the police reporter and a columnist doing investigative journalism in Chicago. So we all are queer journalists bringing that content to the app and we’re able to do things from a Blake Shelton piece … We did this really popular piece about 50 men who are hotter than Blake Shelton that did really well. Bu, we also can do pieces that are “Here’s what’s happening in Chechnya right now,” when we’re talking to the refugees that have gone to Luxembourg.
So, we’re kind of … because we have to think about the global audience. We did something in Mexico City around how do you have a Mexico City Pride experience that isn’t what is being catered to in this one space. So we work with writers on the ground and then we pushed it through the app in those areas so people could actually utilize it. Many days, it feels like service journalism because we’re kind of … I always think of it as global reporting but local delivery.
KS: So, Trish, when you talk about that, again, people are still, the use case for Grindr is meeting people.
KS: Men meeting men.
KS: Essentially. How do you then turn that into a wider-ranging kind of thing?
KS: Because they’re not gonna just, “Oh, I think I’ll go to Grindr.” I would not even imagine getting my gay news from Grindr. By the way, I want to get into that in the next section, like what’s happened with media because I used to get Advocate and Out, first Advocate and then Out, every week. I haven’t read it in years and years and years.
KS: Every week. And read it cover to cover. But now, that’s available every … You just …
ZS: It changed.
KS: Yeah, it changed.
TB: Right. I think a huge focus for us is not becoming regurgitators of the daily news. The thing that we really want to do is, besides creating our own specific LGBT international, political and lifestyle, for lack of a better term. I also come from a big entertainment background so a huge focus for us is also not just reviewing gay movies or gay television shows or things like that, but we say it’s seeing the world through a queer lens. So that’s what we want to do with anything that you’re talking about. Whatever’s trending. Whatever’s hot. Whatever’s new. We want to present it to our readers through a queer lens.
So that means that nothing is off limits for us because it’s not gay or because it’s not queer or something like that. We’re trying to hit all areas of interest because queer people are not … We’re multifaceted. People think that gay people just want to see one type of thing. I know that I felt that, as a lesbian, that people decide what I’m interested in.
So my job is to hopefully curate and bring in people specifically, part of my job is bringing queer women, non-binary people, trans people. I’m just so lucky that we have a very diverse and inclusive, intentionally inclusive mindset at Into. And I think that people may be a little … I think they assume because of Grindr and what it is that it’s just a bunch of gay men that sit around and talk about sex all day. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth, from my experience.
And, that’s actually, at first, Zach and I laugh, because we both turned down offers from Grindr at first because we were like, “This can’t be, this isn’t gonna be for us.”
ZS: Like, “What are you talking about?”
TB: Right. And, so it was a little bit of a hard sell. But so far it’s … I’ve felt very excited about the opportunity to be there because there’s so much room for growth. And, also, queer women never get access to the kind of budgets, advertising revenue, the kinds of things that we can benefit from, and so that’s what I’m trying to impart to other LGBTQ women is that, yes, I understand that while you might be trepidatious, Grindr is the owner of this, but we are actively able to utilize these things for the betterment and more visibility of ourselves.
CN: And, you guys live on the web and that gives you a really broad reach. I am curious, Grindr is an app where you say hi to somebody. If they don’t like your face, they block you.
CN: So, I’m really curious what it’s like when you give them a notification, hey, here’s a meticulously reported article about the experience of queer women in Georgia. And you have a bunch of guys sitting around their apartments looking at it, they’re like, “You know what? Forget about hooking up, I want to get inside of the Georgian queer mind right now.”
KS: Why are you the only person I think that would do that?
CN: Well, as they said, I have many facets, Kara.
ZS: I mean, it’s so new. We had a conversation the other day with Roy Moore. So something that brought …
KS: With Roy Moore?
ZS: Not with, about Roy Moore, I’m sorry. Thank you. But, something — as we both said at the beginning, we’re like, “Why Grindr?” But, reach was the biggest thing for me. When Roy Moore was up for election in the special election, we realized that oh, there are thousands of Grindr users in Alabama that may not be voting this round. So, why not, we do this really intense, well-reported piece about why Roy Moore’s really dangerous and we blast it to Alabama, which would hit like at least 10,000 users, which was kind of in the …
ZS: Yeah, 20,000. So, we have a big base there that maybe we can swing, presumably all the gays are voting for Doug Jones anyway. But we saw that a lot of people around the world, when we blast it worldwide, weren’t interested in that. And, we have very real conversations …
KS: How do you gauge that?
ZS: Click-through rates. We see anywhere from tens of thousand people to hundreds of thousands of people click through the content. That’s how, within the first two months of launch, we were No. 3 most-read LGBT site in the world. So, we’re up there with Out and the Advocate immediately. Just through Grindr’s immediate reach.
And we’re seeing that people either didn’t want … like, the content, they hated the reporting or they don’t want to see Roy Moore in their app. They logged on at 6 am to see another man. So, we’re doing a lot of A/B testing around …
KS: Well, the one outfit is nice. The leather thing is nice.
ZS: We’re doing a lot of A/B testing around time of day. So, people log on to Grindr maybe in the morning because maybe they’re wanting to meet someone for sexual relations, for coffee, for something later that day. So we have to test what are users looking for in the morning and what about in the afternoon? What about regions? When we launch something at 6 am Pacific time that’s actually late night in London. What type of content goes there? We are literally being cartographers of our publishing and our editorial.
KS: That’s a fascinating thing.
ZS: And, that’s what we talk about all the time is that like, it’s really about space, place and queerness. And what type of queerness? Because we have to think about our Western Africa users when they get content. Like, they don’t know what it’s like to watch “Will and Grace” so we can’t push that over there. We have to think about those things.
And I think that’s really why, when people say, “Why is Grindr getting into media?” is that we have all these people that know what Grindr is. They sit on it all day. They are looking for some type of connection.
KS: Something else. Oddly enough, this is just what I was talking to Evan Spiegel about, is like we’ve got them here doing this, let’s see what else they might want to do.
ZS: Yes. Let’s expand. Yeah. So, we’re testing it and we listen to them. And what’s interesting is that they’re responding to things I didn’t think … I was like oh, you want to listen to Roy Moore?
KS: We’re gonna talk about that when we get back. We’re here with Zach Stafford and Trish Bendix, the editor in chief and managing editor of the digital magazine Into. It’s a queer lifestyle magazine published by the dating app, Grindr. And I’m here with my co-host Casey Newton from The Verge.
CN: For one last ride.
We’re here in San Francisco. I’m here with Casey Newton, the Silicon Valley editor of The Verge. He is my co-host for the last four weeks. Our last one.
CN: The time is going too fast.
KS: I’m training him for his new podcast, which is coming up, called Converge. It’s a work in process, isn’t it? Is that correct?
CN: It’s going to be insane. Yes.
KS: It’s going to be insane.
CN: It really is.
KS: All right.
CN: You’re going to look forward to this one.
KS: Okay, good. So anyway, Casey’s trying some podcasting out and today we’re here with Zach Stafford and Trish Bendix, the editor in chief and managing editor of the digital magazine Into. It’s a queer lifestyle magazine published by the dating app, Grindr, which is an unusual thing. We are both perplexed and fascinated to hear why.
So, let’s talk about that more, of what works and what doesn’t work, because again, what Casey said, it’s clear: You’re on there for one thing and you’re trying to shift them to … You’re trying to, essentially, take advantage of your audience and make them want something else.
CN: I’m wondering, maybe it’s like a consolation prize. Like, hey, that guy you wanted to hook up with, he’s not coming over, but you know what we do have? Information about the Alabama Senate race.
ZS: Yes. It works. There you go. It’s like talking points for when you meet someone.
KS: It’s what Jason sees. Because I don’t fire up that. So, you’re No. 3 behind the Advocate now, right?
KS: How do you look at them as competitors? Both of you, I’d love to hear.
ZS: That’s a sensitive question for me because I was the editor at large of Out magazine. I love them dearly.
KS: What’s the editor at large?
ZS: Editor at large, so I report to the editor in chief. I was brought in to help diversify what a lot of the magazine looked like, who was coming there, to attract new people. They were under fire for being too white and too straight. So, I came in from the Guardian and was like, let’s try these things out.
I think Out and Advocate are really great, but they’re very segmented in the types of content they each produce now. So, as they’ve grown, the Advocate’s become very news.
TB: Which it always really was.
ZS: Yes. So, it always really was and then …
TB: And then the celebrity interview.
ZS: And then Out is celebrity and fashion, and it’s very male oriented. There isn’t a lot of diversity in gender, sexuality or geographies. So, it wasn’t as expansive for a digital landscape …
TB: For both of them.
ZS: For both of them. So, they’re tripping up because people demand, like with Teen Vogue’s rise, people love that you can go to Teen Vogue and get fashion, news, breaking news, video, everything. So people are wanting a lot in one space, and those two are such iconic spaces that have only done a few things.
KS: Well, what is the benefit of being iconic today? I don’t think there is any.
ZS: It may not be anymore. If you ask advertisers, maybe not. But it’s … For me, it’s really important to look backwards to see what queer media has done for us because we, many days, we just tell queer stories and we’re looking to see what has been told and what has not been told before and who we’ve given space to and who we haven’t. So we see a lot of our role as expanding that space, which a lot of those outlets were not as expansive as people want now.
CN: It seems to me too, there’s also a question of the Advocate and Out are probably targeted at much older consumers. You mentioned that you guys had a story about Doug Jones’ son last night, or at least I read it last night. The headline is: Doug Jones’ Openly Gay Zookeeper Son Is More Than Your Thirst Trap. Probably not the headline that the Advocate would have written. Right?
TB: And, I don’t want to misrepresent. We definitely have some sexy stories. Like, we’re not all political.
ZS: Yes, there’s some …
TB: There is some other …
KS: I don’t even understand that headline.
CN: Zach, could you please explain the thirst trap to Kara Swisher?
ZS: Yes, I can. So, what happened with Doug Jones’ son is that he had never come out publicly, and a few other blogs sort of outing him because he posts thirst traps, which are photos on Instagram that are meant to attract sexual inclinations or messages.
CN: So, just come and say, “Damn, you’re hot.”
ZS: Yeah, like all this stuff like can slide into my DMs. Yes. So, we led into that because he didn’t know what a thirst trap was, but he was all over the internet being called a thirst trap. And, he’s a zookeeper from Alabama that lives in Denver that’s father is now the most famous Senator in America, for the moment.
KS: All right.
ZS: So we knew that our readers skew very young. They’re millennials. And that readers love headlines that are really snappy. We learned that a lot from Jezebel and Gawker. So we fused that. So it gets you in, and then we have this really deep profile of a young person that has been thrust into the spotlight and now has to talk about being gay because his dad was in this special election. So, that’s working for us.
But, yeah, thirst traps really do well for the young people.
TB: Right, so I think maybe just a little bit of a younger mentality in terms of how we approach content than the Advocate and Out. And also, just as a queer woman, I feel like the only time I really see myself in the pages of Out is when they do their Out 100, because then they’re like, “We have to throw some women in there. We can’t just do all men.”
KS: I get on that list a lot. I don’t even know or hear from them.
ZS: Yeah, I was like, I feel like when I was there, you were on the list, yeah.
KS: Oh God. I used to get on all the power couples lists, because they had to find a gay couple. I didn’t know what they did when I got divorced.
TB: Right, so they’ll be like, “Okay, what woman can we put in here?” And so it always feels like the women are an afterthought at those places, and so again, my concern was for that also at Grindr, but luckily so far I have not felt that way. Zach has been great in helping me to make sure to commission just as many women writers if not more lately.
KS: I can’t imagine … I don’t mean to be rude to gay men, but I don’t think they’re very interested in lesbian issues. Right?
TB: Well, they’re not.
ZS: Yeah, they’re not. No, you’re incredibly right. Trish and I …
KS: I live in the Castro. I know.
ZS: Yes. Something I’ve reminded some folks — I think I said this at an editorial meeting and I don’t remember if you were there yet — but I said, “What makes us really special” — and it was mostly … It was before you were there, it was mostly gay men sitting in the room — and I said, “You know, what we get to do every day is we get to push content in a place where people go to for desire.” And, I think as a person, desire is a great place to start changing people’s lives and changing how they think about the world. And I was like, if we can produce content, I call them thoughtful thirst traps. So, you give someone a hook, that’s like a hot guy doing something, someone interesting, and get them engaged and use that moment to turn it and make them think about the world more broadly, we’re helping change desire. And that could help us do a lot of great work around sexual racism, where people on the app are feeling rejected because they’re black or Asian.
We can actually produce content in the app, and we do this all the time, where we show like a person that isn’t super muscular as the object of desire when someone opens up the app at 7 in the morning. So, for me, I find that to be as someone that used Grindr a lot growing up in my early 20s, I think that is amazing that we can do that with content. And I think that’s what we get to do with even lesbian content on the app, is like, “Hey, I know you don’t go to this usually, but here it is. It’s knocking at your door. Engage with it maybe. Give it a try.”
CN: Let’s talk about that issue. Something that I wanted to talk to you about because you guys are clearly very thoughtful around diversity issues and inclusion is really important to you. Grindr is the app that I’ve seen the most racism on of any app I’ve ever used. Constantly, people in the profiles will write “no Asians,” “no blacks,” that kind of language, right? It’s tremendously upsetting to me. I’ve doled out many a block to those kinds of guys. But why does that language still persist on the app and what else do you think Grindr can do about it?
ZS: That’s a really good question. So, I think with sexual racism on the app, Grindr being the first and the biggest, people started replicating a lot of the language they found. So, as a black person, I felt that a lot growing up in the South. You hear one person use the N-word and they get away with it and you see it keep happening and happening and happening. Digital apps, because they’re kind of like billboards, you see how one person’s doing something and you’re assuming they’re successful because they keep using that language. So they keep perpetuating it many times.
Other times, people do see this app as a place where they can really voice their very unsanitized desires and people do really not want to be with black people or Asian people. But we need to bring them to a place where they interrogate why. And,I think that we at Grindr, we have a … our customer service team does respond to issues around racism or other derogatory language when it’s used to attack other people. So we do intervene in there to work with folks.
We at Into produce lots of content around sexual racism, how to talk to people who are gender nonconforming and you want to hookup with them or you want to engage with them in a relationship. So we see our task as editors to really engage those people because they are getting that content every day. And that’s where we see the most kind of hate mail, is when we launch a piece that says like, “Here are x men of color in Hollywood that you need to know.” And we see a flood of messages to the writers being like, “Why would you do this? I don’t like this because I don’t like men like that. I don’t like being called problematic. I don’t like having all this stuff happen.”
People — it’s funny — people are willing to be really racist on the app, but they’re also really willing to talk about it and kind of defend their stance. So, we launched a column called Hola Papi that is by this guy named J. P. Brammer. It was the first column we launched, and it runs on the app on Tuesdays, and, it’s written by a guy named J. P. Brammer who’s pretty popular on Twitter and he’s Latinx. We field questions that people send mostly through an email that we have on the app where they get to ask questions around desire and romance and it’s very Dear Abby style. And we get so many messages a week from Grindr users around the world, so we use that as a space to let people say things like, “I don’t like black people and I’m white, am I a racist for that?” And we put it in the column and we blast it.
CN: Yes. The answer is yes.
ZS: The answer’s yes. But we have the conversation and we get to have it very, like, very transparently on the app, on the website, all that. So it feels good to do that. Sometimes it feels like a form of reparations as a black person who’s been rejected by every man on the app who’s like, “I don’t like black guys.” And, I’m like, haha, now you have to read my content.
KS: Talking about that, does having more diversified content, does that mean more diversification of what Grindr is, essentially?
KS: Is there gonna be a lesbian version of it, or …?
TB: This is a question we get asked all the time.
ZS: All the time. People pitch Grindher all the time.
TB: There is a “her.”
TB: She’s a lovely woman. An entrepreneur who created it.
ZS: They’re lovely people. And, for us, right now, having a lesbian-specific app isn’t on the table. We have recently expanded the user features of the app to be more gender inclusive. There was a lot of headlines recently that Grindr’s not for straight women and that wasn’t necessarily true. We just changed it to where you could self-identify your gender in a really expansive way. You could be cisgender, you could be gender nonconforming, you could be gender fluid, you could fill in what type of gender pronouns you wanted.
That was not because we saw more trans people or women on the app, it’s because they’ve always been there and Grindr, as a company, we’ve never acknowledged them in a public way. So we worked with Jen Richards, who’s the Emmy nominated writer/actress behind the …
KS: “Her Story.”
ZS: “Her Story,” thank you. And we worked with her and other people at Peppermint from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to kind of change the app and promote language around it to get people interested in knowing that those folks are there.
KS: Is there gonna be a woman’s app?
TB: We are not working on a woman’s app, but we are working on partnerships that will make sure that women feel included and receive our content directly. That’s all we can really talk about right now.
KS: So you could put your content on other apps.
KS: So, you more than other places. But, why isn’t there a Grindr woman’s app?
ZS: I mean, Her is in many ways.
ZS: But women …
KS: Why isn’t there one from Grindr?
ZS: Grindr? Oh, God.
TB: Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, they haven’t, as long as I’ve been there, they haven’t discussed moving into that space. I think that they actually really respect Her for having that space and I’m not sure what else we could really talk about at this time regarding that sort of thing, but …
ZS: We just aren’t doing one right now.
TB: Yeah. We’re working on it.
KS: So, lesbians will read.
ZS: They do, yes. So in terms of content, yes.
KS: They will consume.
ZS: Yes, we are producing content and trying to figure out ways to get content in ways similar to Grindr to lesbians. But, Grindr as an app isn’t becoming a lesbian app. We have left that space for Her really to kind of explore. Even how they designed it is very different.
TB: I think, and Tinder for sure.
ZS: And Tinder.
TB: And I think that queer men and women, for as much as we have in common, we also are very different and I think that there would be … Grindr does a really great job at what it does and I think that they want to make sure that we are capitalizing on the things that we are strong in and then we are going to partner with other people or work on partnerships with other people that are doing that …
KS: But, you’re not creating content that’s just Grindr audience?
ZS: So, what do you mean? Just content …
KS: I mean, if you were just doing content of Grindr audiences, I could guess the top 10 stories.
ZS: Oh yeah. No, no, no. That’s what everyone thinks. They see Mashable did this article the other day called “How Grindr Launched The Best Magazine On The Internet.” And it began talking about with you’d expect it to be this way, but you go to it and it’s nothing like you thought. Which is kind of how we think of the app in many ways. If you go on there, it’s sure you get this one picture. But you can also have a lot of different types of experiences.
It’s just different. And bringing up the female version of Grindr, we had a conversation with the Her people the other day because we talk a lot within this tech space of dating and I was talking to Robin about how just the design of Her has to be very different than Grindr. Like, lesbians were not as interested in a cascade. They wanted more of a profile, where you had a more expansive place to talk about yourself and you had more safety around your geolocativeness. And I saw that in my own work as a geographer doing research was that women weren’t as interested due to gender and violence and how spaces were thought of like gay men were.
So like the apps have to respond to that and Grindr has a system currently that a lot of folks within a certain part of the gender spectrum really respond to. And that’s why Her has become a great space and really fast-growing. I didn’t realize how big they were until the other day. And they’ve done it in a very different way than us.
KS: So, let’s finish up talking in this section about Tinder.
KS: They don’t have a media anything, right?
ZS: They’re flirting with it right now.
TB: Not yet.
ZS: They’re flirting.
KS: Flirting. So talk about them, how you look at them as a …
ZS: Look at them? I see them as a brother.
KS: Because they’re everything, right?
ZS: They’re everything.
ZS: They’re everything. You know, it really plays with my self-confidence. They’re everything.
TB: But, they have been having issues lately with trans women being kicked off of their platform.
CN: Really? Because there was such a big deal when they announced like they have the most gender categories, I think, of any app. So why are they kicking …?
TB: Right. But people can still report them. I mean, we just wrote something about this, yeah. Unfortunately.
ZS: Like, there are issues … When I was at the Guardian, I did a whole series on this. It was about their flagging systems, when you respond and say someone’s a different gender that shouldn’t be there, they immediately block them after a certain amount of …
KS: So, it’s kind of like Twitter?
ZS: Yeah, like Twitter. The same. Like after you hit someone a few times with complaints it just disappears. So they’re trying to work through that. And we’ve spoken with them and they’re figuring that out, which is great. But, with Tinder, they are all-inclusive of everyone. Currently with content, they’re not pushing in-app. They are working with celebrities to do content on their website and their social media. But I will not be surprised if they move into this field too.
We do, I mean, Tinder, Grindr, we do a lot of similar things. They do in-app advertising. We do in-app advertising. So we kind of do this dance together. I can’t wait to see what their magazine’s called. It’s to going to be Into. It would be called …
ZS: It would be called Here.
TB: On the lesbian side it’d be like, do you want to have a threesome? Like, that’s what lesbians say about Tinder.
Sean Rad: Oh gosh.
KS: Oh, Sean Rad. How’s it going over there? But seriously, it’s very transactional.
How do you look at the state of media right now? I mean, in terms of … Casey was just making that note.
ZS: I mean, something I think a lot about is social media’s impact on publishing. Seeing how everything’s measured around shareability on Facebook, how Facebook can also block that. So it feels very that you put all these resources and time into content, but then you can’t control who sees it or how to get it to people. That’s always been a concern of mine before I came to Grindr, and that’s probably why I came to Grindr is that we can actually, we kind of step over that hurdle of social media. We can be right in someone’s phone immediately.
So media just feels kind of in flux and not around the content. I feel like people are doing amazing stories. Like I see some really incredible journalism at even like the Outline or Washington Post. But, it’s just getting it to people has become the hardest part. I saw that at Out magazine. It was that Out magazine has continued to do really cool stuff, but no one picks it up anymore.
TB: And there’s just so much now. It’s just like television. You don’t have enough time to get through all of it and that’s so frustrating because there’s so many missed opportunities, because even with our own content, we can run 20 things a day and how many things can you have on the front page at one time?
KS: Talk about how you deliver that information. Because I do look at the Snap Discovery stuff. They actually, they’re sort of turning a corner on how people consume them or how people look at this stuff, rather than just read a text. I think today, I was reading the Everest piece in the New York Times. I wished it was done a different way … It sounds crazy, but I love the visuals that were on my phone, but then the text was sort of, I felt like, I don’t know how they would have done it differently, but it was sort of a weird combination and I really enjoyed it and I kept thinking how would you do this in a mobile-only mentality?
How do you think like that? Trish first and then you, in terms of making stories, because you can’t just do your typical schemes of text.
TB: Exactly. I mean, like right now we’re working on something that we’re launching tomorrow that’s gonna be a completely different look for something that we’ve been doing that’s going to be much more magazine style. We’re working with our developers to try to play around and see. It has to be as mobile friendly as possible because so much of our readership is mobile, especially from Grindr. It’s just direct to mobile.
I think right now, it’s really interesting being so new because it’s only been around now for three months, like it’s online for three months. So, we’re really testing a lot of different opportunities. But for me, I just think about what I respond to best, what I like best. And also, we have been doing a lot of … with Roy Moore, we also created a video that we then ran in our social and it was on the app too, wasn’t it? The Roy Moore video? And seeing what that click rate is through with some basic facts about Roy Moore we pulled directly from the article about how terrible he is. Does that do better than just posting the interstitial that just has like a picture of him raising his finger angrily? Like which of these …
KS: There are lots of those.
TB: Yeah, exactly. What are people responding to the most? And, so, luckily, our social teams are also millennials who are very good at having their finger on the pulse of those things. That’s the balance, I think, is trying to do serious journalism but delivered in this sort of fun way in which people are still going to be attracted to it.
CN: Is the idea that the kind of core app with its subscription fees and advertising will be able to subsidize Into forever? Or is Into going to become a sustainable business in its own right?
ZS: The goal’s a sustainable business in its own right. We are attracting new advertisers with Into. As you can imagine, Grindr had a very, smaller pool, when it came to advertisers being ad supported because only specific people thought about Grindr in this way. Into’s allowed us to expand it a lot. Also, being able to get a lot of different people who may have not advertised on Grindr, now advertise on Into and kind of push that through the world.
So that’s kind of changing on the revenue side of it. It’s a different model of thinking of how these two properties work together around traffic in a media space. It’s its own kind of person that stands alone, which can be scary at times.
But, in terms of mobile, you’re talking about engagement of media, I think a lot about the fact that most of our content is read on a phone and there are tasks, like I have so many screens in my office now and I have certain screens open that are the mobile phone views of Into. And, I think, I scroll through and hold my breath sometimes and look at graph breaks. Because we’re breaking graphs in more like a print news way. To where, while, sure, this text would in a traditional magazine form would be really thick paragraphs, like five, six sentences, we’re doing one-sentence graphs because the phone is such a smaller space and you have to think about attention. So it’s like as you scroll as actually scrolling my phone three times, I want to maybe take a break, so maybe a GIF pops there or another piece of artwork or how the artwork can be something that you play with. So it kind of feels childlike in many ways, that you’re giving someone a toy, a few toys and making them stay in one play space while touching the same type of stuff.
I’m always looking at my phone, and I remember being at the Guardian and they launched a mobile app and that’s all they were talking about was how does, how do you tell a story when you only have a few inches of digital space because when you get to these long-form pieces people get tired of that. If you scroll these amazing New York Times Magazine stories and it’s like my thumb’s going to fall off after a while.
KS: It’s not.
ZS: It’s not.
KS: But it’s a mentality. Yeah, I definitely was …
ZS: It’s fatigue. I think people have this weird thing about reading and engaging in content.
KS: I stopped reading the New York Times piece. I’m done reading here. I did and I know I’m interested in this.
TB: Right. It doesn’t matter how good it is sometimes, and that’s why it’s frustrating.
ZS: And you also have other notifications going on so you have to like deal with those.
KS: Yeah, you know what I did? I’m like, I think I’ll go to Twitter. What’s going on on Twitter? I didn’t know because it’s so easily consumable. Whatever your business model, it’s the way I’m responding to things. I almost don’t want to write anymore, I just want to write tweets.
TB: But even like threads on Twitter, I’ll find myself getting bored after six tweets and I’m like, okay, I don’t want to read the rest of this, I get the point.
CN: This sort of gets to what I want to talk about with the Time Well Spent stuff. If you’re not familiar with Time Well Spent, there’s this guy Tristan Harris, he was a former design ethicist at Google, I think he’s been on your show, Kara.
KS: Yes, he has.
CN: And one thing that he did to try to understand how people feel about the way that they use the apps that they do is that he asked them to use this app called Moments. So they got tens of thousands of people who had been logging how much time they spent in various apps and then how they feel about it. So I went to the site to visit and to my great surprise saw that Grindr was No. 1 in the amount of time that people spent. So you dropped a stat earlier. The people who used this app, it was actually 71 minutes a day that Grindr users were using it.
ZS: Oh wow. We’re going to update everything now. 71.
TB: But none of them were good.
CN: No, but here’s the twist though, is that 77 percent said that using it made them feel unhappy. I could understand that as a former Grindr user myself. Grindr is this slot machine where you open it and sometimes there’s messages from beautiful people who want to meet you and sometimes there’s nothing. And you’re kind of on this Ferris wheel of just up and down and up and down and up and down. Sometimes you’re having these great experiences and sometimes you’re having really bad experiences, too. Right?
KS: So it goes back to high school.
CN: It can feel like high school, yeah.
KS: Why did you take it off? I’m going to ask you. Why did you take it off?
CN: I was tired of that Ferris wheel. I was tired of feeling like …
KS: Ferris wheels are never fun. Never fun.
CN: The app had a control over me that I felt uncomfortable with.
KS: You had to check in all the time?
CN: Because it was constantly lighting up. I wound up paying for the version that actually lets you get a notification when you get a new message. Yeah. So, I helped pay for the launch of Into.
ZS: I appreciate it.
CN: And so the phone would light up. It’s lighting up while I’m at work and a lot of these messages are, frankly, not work appropriate, so half of your mind is like elsewhere while you’re trying to work on a story. I finally felt like I need to get off this Ferris wheel. And, when I saw that stat, I thought wow, like, this is clearly an issue. It’s a hamster wheel. There’s clearly an issue for a lot of folks. Not to be a complete hypocrite, I should say that I did eventually download Scruff. So I have Scruff on my phone, which is a similar app and it has similar issues. For whatever reason it just feels a little calmer. But I think about deleting that too, all the time.
The larger issue that I wanted to get to is just this issue of the way that these apps can have a negative effect on self-esteem. They do make a portion of their user base feel bad. Whether that’s something that you feel you can reckon with at Into, because whether you’re at Grindr or not, I think it’s undeniable that Grindr is changing the gay community. And I wonder if that’s something that you feel like you have this space to explore and whether that’s something that you feel like you can maybe work on improving in …
KS: Sort of like working at Facebook and suddenly you start the next greatest journalism there. I’d have a problem working there because it was being funded by … Then again, I worked for Rupert Murdoch at one point so I shouldn’t talk. I left as soon as I could.
ZS: It’s always … The devil’s always in the details.
KS: No, I left as soon as I could.
ZS: No, I appreciate you asking that. I guess as a Grindr user, a long-time user, as a journalist that wrote about Grindr, now someone that’s the editor in chief of Grindr, I think about that every day. I was in a bar in New York recently, it was right after my job was announced. And people, a lot of friends were talking about it and I looked around and saw all these golden … You’ve been in the gay bar, you’ve seen men check it because it gets gold on their face. And I realized, I am now tasked with pushing a magazine cover content to every person in moments like this. When they’re out there looking for love, for sex, for a moment of pleasure, something.
It weighs on me maybe more than I want. My therapist probably gets mad about it. But I think it’s a great site to do that work to kind of begin changing that kind of favorability or the experience someone’s having on the app. Because we keep going back to it. Like, why do we keep going back to this? What are we looking for there?
ZS: Love, yeah. Love starts with a connection, something. I’m willing … I think every day we’re trying to explore what that something is. Some days it is RuPaul dropping a music video on Grindr and we’re helping out. Some days it may … it’s not Roy Moore, who keeps becoming the joke. But as a gay man …
KS: Still hasn’t conceded.
ZS: Yeah. And still hasn’t dropped his music video. But, I think some of the content we are doing is helping change that. We get messages from people. I was in Iowa recently, we were shooting a short documentary outside of Des Moines and a young trans woman who was at a local college there — called Drake University, that’s it. She came to me and said, “You know, I just wanted to meet you because I know that you’re the editor in chief of Into.” I was like, “You know what Into is?” And she’s like, “Yeah, I read it every week on my phone because here, there’s not a lot of Grindr users. So I notice the messages.” And, she’s like “It’s a nice change of pace from a bunch of older men trying to tell me I’m not trans. Or why am I a woman, that I see trans content on here.”
KS: Yeah, I remember the same thing when Megan was running Planet Out. She’s like, “I get 2 percent hate mail and 98 percent love.” It was the difference. Because a lot of people would reach out in areas of the country. I remember they had a certain amount of members from Vatican City, for example, probably all of them, but it was interesting. Like places you couldn’t be, they had a lot of members and, at the time, it was a lifeline for so many people. AOL for sure.
ZS: Oh my gosh, in the chat, Instant Messenger.
KS: In the chat rooms, before Instant Messenger, even before that it was chat rooms. It was really critical to start to … And they were the first company, interestingly, tech was the first area to welcome it. Same thing with Apple and others, but it was … And not shy away, not think it was controversial.
ZS: Exactly. And I think that’s what we’re tasked to do every day, is think about. Like, I grew up on the chat rooms. That’s where I met the first boy I ever hooked up with. First boy I ever dated. All of these things. So, I think about those every day with Grindr because since we’re global we have to deal with, we deal with things in Egypt with entrapment and police. We have to think about the safety of the users there. In Chechnya. And, now content is interwoven in that. So we do know this rejection is a huge thing. So, we’re thinking about the layers of experience, because every day it’s just a person logging onto an app trying to find something, and now we have to give them some written word.
TB: Right. Especially like, we’re lucky enough to live in LA where there’s plenty of opportunities to meet people in the flesh and plenty of opportunities to see other people like ourselves. But I always try and remind myself of getting outside of that bubble and going back to the me that grew up in Michigan and if I logged on to Her, how many lesbians I would have access to around me.
And I’m hopeful that that person, that that Michigan lesbian, would feel a little more validated and not necessarily down on herself. And I understand, dating is always like, there are parts of it where you do not feel your best, I understand.
KS: You’ll find love or marry me.
CN: Why do you think I’m doing this podcast? It’s one or the other. I’m either going to get some fan mail and get married or it’s you and me, Swisher.
TB: There are couples that have met and married from Grindr.
CN: I should say, I have been to a Grindr wedding. They’re happily married.
TB: Oh, see.
ZS: See, they have them. They’re real.
KS: Grindr wedding.
ZS: Grindr wedding. I’ve been to a Grindr wedding before I worked at Grindr. Everything I say is before Grindr, I did this.
KS: I want to finish up talking about what content works. And, we’ll finish up and … What does work? Is it still celebrity stuff or what? Why don’t you each go through what you think works.
TB: Sure. Of course.
ZS: You want to?
TB: I mean, go ahead.
ZS: I publish on the apps, so if you want to talk about the outside I can talk.
TB: Okay. Go ahead. You start.
ZS: I’ll start. Okay. Celebrity works. Any famous person on the app, people click through. So anything shirtless, hot and someone famous people are interested in.
KS: Like who?
ZS: Like Daniel Newman from “Walking Dead” did something and we had over a million hits immediately. That does great. Drag queens do really great. So RuPaul Drag Racers will do stuff on there and that does well. We know that content that’s regionally specific does really well. So we did a piece on drag queens getting … So, it was a double. Drag queens and the South. There was this town in Tennessee banning drag queens, and we were tipped off because I am from that county. We did one of the first national pieces about this ban happening. So we published it on Into and then we pushed it to the Southeastern region and it tipped off the ACLU.
KS: They can ban drag queens?
ZS: They tried to ban drag in bars.
KS: How can you?
ZS: So, it was putting it as …
KS: You can’t.
ZS: It was putting it as adult entertainment. And then this town did not allow for adult entertainment. It was some crazy thing.
KS: That’s a mistake.
ZS: It was crazy.
KS: I wouldn’t want that to happen to a town. They don’t know what’s coming for them.
ZS: So, when we dropped the scale of content delivery to places where it’s newsworthy so it operates like a local LGBT newspaper, high click-through rates. So in Alabama, high click rates.
KS: Because there aren’t any more local papers.
ZS: Yeah, there’s not. So we find that we’re stepping into that space.
KS: The Blade closed.
ZS: Yeah, so we’re stepping into that space of being oh, this area needs to know something, so let’s localize a thing.
KS: Because you’re like Nextdoor for gays.
ZS: Right. There we go.
TB: Exactly. That’s the goal.
TB: For me, I mean, I’ve done a lot of celebrity-driven things and that’s hopefully what I’m gonna keep doing with Into because inevitably that is what people are going to gravitate to and then hopefully they stay for the rest of the things. But what I really have just tried to do with my own career — whether it’s been freelancing for other places, because I’ve written for Elle and Vogue and other more mainstream places that are now getting hip to the queer inclusion thing. They’re like, “Oh, you’re the lesbian. You can write the lesbian thing for us,” you know.
What I try to do to approach it is, what is the thing they’re going to read here at Into that they will not get anywhere else? That’s what I mean about writing it through a queer lens or through a queer view, is having something, and it’s not asking … like I’ve read in other gay publications, like “who’s your girl crush?” I don’t want to do that. I want to actively speak to something that’s more queer, even if it’s not like, so tell me about a lesbian kiss you had in this television show five years ago, because I’ve done that. I did that at AfterEllen. We definitely did that. But now that I’ve done that I want to do something bigger than that. My hope is that … We just did this great interview with Guillermo del Toro of how queer “The Shape Of Water” is. There’s so many different angles …
KS: It is.
TB: And aspects to things that maybe you wouldn’t read in a mainstream magazine review.
KS: What did you do for “Star Wars” then?
ZS: Oh, we did do something. We do this column called Best …
KS: You have to. How much gay is going on in “Star Wars”?
ZS: There’s so much.
TB: Yeah. Laura Dern.
ZS: We do a weekly column called “How Gay Is X Movie?” So every week the new release, we do an analysis of like what’s … We have a film reviewer do it. So, it’s like, things like that. Queer people can read every review at the Times for the general. But if you want to know how much gay kissing there was gonna be, how much of myself am I going to see? You come to Into and see that.
And that stuff does well. We’ve realized even the authorship does really well now that everyone has a digital presence. People want to see that their community member’s actually writing it and behind it, so we do a lot of commissioning. And I’m seeing, even in the past few weeks, Trish has brought in so many queer women writers. And I’ll be on Twitter and see an Into article going viral for some reason, I would have never thought about doing this. It’s amazing to see queer women who have not had any space kind of running to Grindr.
KS: But it’s not the same themes. For some reason, the other day someone put up the Ellen clip when she came out, which was a huge moment from a media perspective. It chilled me when I saw it. I was like, “I remember this.” It was fascinating. There’s no moments like that anymore, because … So what do you do then to distinguish, because everyone … Like, I don’t necessarily want to read the gay take on everything. Although I would read a gay take at movies.
TB: Right. Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing too, is like us being multifaceted people like I happen to have a very gay job so my life is very gay. But most gay people don’t go and be gay at their jobs all day. Like they live a pretty heteronormative life otherwise, because that’s the way the world is set up. So I like to think of us as the place that you come to that you would be able to see things through that queer lens, but not in a hitting you over the head type of way. There are, like, even just the Hola Papi column. It’s gay but it’s not overtly gay. You know what I mean? It’s a sensibility, not a we’re gonna just make a bunch of inside-baseball gay phrases and things.
ZS: Yeah, they’re not like super campy or cheeky. Some of the gay outlets, like queerty.com is very cheeky. We have a travel section and we send writers to go to X city. And they may not even go to a gay bar. But the fact that they are queer and moving about the city, to me make it queer content. That’s kind of the space we’re trying to build. Sometimes it’s the cheeky, how gay is “Star Wars”? But other days it’s how to go skiing for the winter with your partner and you don’t go to a gay bar at all on that trip. So, we just are here.
TB: We’re still thinking. Go ahead, sorry.
CN: It also sounds like there’s just a lot to be done with people who are transgender or gender nonconforming. There still are margins of society that are underrepresented and it sounds like, this is actually fascinating to me, I think it’s great that one of the ways that you can differentiate yourself is just by being willing to go out on the margins where even more mainstream publications still fear to tread because those spaces still exist.
KS: That’s right. 100 percent.
TB: We have several non-binary and trans contributors.
ZS: Yeah, and we did, one of the first pieces we commissioned was, we sent a writer from western Texas up to Oklahoma to go visit a moon dance with two spirited people. It’s a dance that they do once a year under a certain moon. And we sent an illustrator because we couldn’t photograph it. No one else would invest in this writer doing that.
KS: Oh, sure, yeah.
ZS: And I was like, well, that has an audience with us. It could be a long-form essay written by indigenous folks. That’s queer, and we’re going to respect that we can’t photograph, so let’s find ways that work with both of us. It’s because we know what it’s like to be exploited and taken advantage of. So we were, every day, or maybe too sensitive about certain things. And we’re willing to work with people to find that space.
KS: It seems like you’re writing a lot about safety, too, of people, because that’s one of the … Which I think probably might not be welcome on an app where everyone just wants to have sex. Let’s just underscore this: It’s very unsafe for most gay people around the world. That’s the one thing everyone, everything’s become so normalized. And there’s gay people everything. But, like …
ZS: People are really excited about that. So for us, we have this thing called Grindr For Equality, which operates outside of the editorial arm. That’s led by our colleague, Jack Quintana. And that, specifically uses the app to alert people around safety issues. He oversees all of the programming and content that goes to places like Egypt to work on, with the activists there to figure out how to get them to safe spaces. How to get the resources they need.
We do HIV programming through it, all that. A lot of that’s not very public-facing because as you’ve noted, a lot of people don’t want that to be … They don’t think of Grindr only in that way. But a lot of it’s about the safety of the user. So we can’t tell them about the tactics in which we do to intervene in police entrapment.
But in the places that people want that information, they do choose to opt into it. So we always give people the option to opt in or opt out. So with the content, you can press an x or you can press “click here.” It depends on where you’re at. In New York, people aren’t as interested in safety. But if there was an outbreak of an STI in New York and we did an article informing people, I think people would click in. It just depends on where you’re at in your day and what you’re looking for.
CN: Yeah. That’s good.
KS: That’s good. Anything else, Casey?
KS: He’s signing up for Grindr right now.
ZS: He’s downloading. I see it.
KS: Are you? Is this gonna make you go back?
CN: I do want love, after all.
ZS: I do consultations of how to make your Grindr profile the best it can be.
CN: Really? I would … That would be great if maybe you could leave us with a tip or two.
ZS: Tip or two?
ZS: My biggest tip for any online dating: Don’t lead with your best photo. You always want to get them with the No. 2. So you hook them with No. 2, which is kind of like the cute photo of you on vacation. It’s maybe a little distant.
KS: Wait. I don’t understand. I’ve never done online dating.
ZS: So, you know how like you, you know, I’m sure you can think of the photo that just like bombed for you. The photo that you look so good in. Someone would click on. So you think about it a little, so you have that one photo. Think of the photo that’s right below that. That is your profile photo. Because if you start there at 2, then you hit them with No. 1, which is like the really hot photo. Then you have their attention, because now they’re gonna want to see more content, want to talk to you. They think things are only going to get a little better.
KS: Oh, I see. So that photo.
ZS: So, not that photo. Like the second photo, No. 2. That’s my big advice.
KS: All right. One other, and Trish you have to have one.
TB: Oh my God. I’m a serial monogamist. I am always in a relationship.
ZS: What’s another one? Point out something in the background of a photo, so a detail. So if someone is running, well, not too creepy. Like, “Oh, hey neighbor, you’re on my block.” But, like, someone has, they have a certain type of dog. Begin the conversation there. Begin a conversation about the t-shirt they have. It also depends on what you’re looking for, because if you’re looking to have a real conversation then that’s where you start. If you’re just wanting a quick back and forth then maybe to hook up with someone, then you can just say “Hey, what’s up?” That’s easy enough.
TB: My tip for women, I will just say that what I hear from women that use apps, everyone’s afraid to make the first move. I think that women just need to get, just make the freakin’ move. Like we’re all too afraid to be like an aggressor or to put ourselves out there and to be vulnerable — until we get in a relationship, then we’re vulnerable as hell and can’t turn it off.
KS: Online dating, it’s the way things are now, right? Online dating. Is that correct?
CN: You’ve never online dated?
CN: Why not?
KS: Because everyone just wants to go out with me.
ZS: I want to date Kara Swisher.
KS: No, but seriously, I have never done it. I don’t know why. Maybe I missed the thing. I just never did. Also, at one point, I know it sounds really crazy, but I’m too famous for Tinder. Do you know what I mean?
TB: Yeah. You should be on Raya.
KS: Exactly. No, but I am.
ZS: You should get Raya. I have Raya, it’s fun.
KS: I don’t need to date. I’m going out with someone.
CN: I’ll be trying to get you an …
KS: No, I’ve been not single since I was in sixth grade.
ZS: Well, if you ever come single, call us. We will figure this out for you.
KS: No, but here’s the thing. I do think about that because somebody’s going to pitch their friggin’ company to me like in a certain group of people …
ZS: It will definitely happen.
CN: If I get pitched to all the time on apps, you’re definitely getting pitched.
KS: Yeah, exactly.
CN: Like, you’re definitely.
KS: Like a friend of mine who is a very famous celebrity was like “I’m too famous for it, I can’t online date.” And, I was like …
KS: I know that, but even then those are kind of douchey people.
TB: Yeah, I agree, yes.
KS: I’ll do, very short story of Tinder. Barry Diller, who was one of the owners of the company. They had had some feature, so he’s like, “Oh, you gotta go on and look at this.” And, I’m like, “All right.” It was in the beginning of Tinder. And I was like, “All right. I’ll go.” I knew what it was. And, I said okay, I’ll sign in.
So I signed on, and I’d been used to … I’d covered the other online dating services. I covered the controversy around the anti-gay one. What was that one? I forget. Match.com?
KS: eHarmony. I had written about that and then he reneged and apologized. So I had written about the area. So I knew, I had written about the business of Match.com. So I went to look at it. I signed up. And then I realized I was just on it. Like, I’d been in these, the others you just were there and could look at people.
KS: But this one was live and then all of a sudden it downloaded all my Facebook pictures, none of which were good. Do you know what I mean? And then I was live on it. Then I started getting … and then it was odd because it was goth women, young millennials from the Castro. Goth women and older lesbians from Oakland. That’s the groups I got.
CN: Oh God, that’s amazing.
KS: And I was like, “What?” And then, I didn’t understand left and right because it was, this was early, early. I was like, “What’s going …? And then I started matching people.
TB: Oh my.
CN: This is the least persuasive Kara’s ever told that she accidentally swiped left on like 900 people.
TB: Somebody’s out there like, yes …
ZS: Like, keep matching, I don’t know what’s going on.
CN: There’s so many lesbians out there with the “Kara Swisher broke my heart” story.
KS: But, the thing is I was married at the time too and I was like, “I’m married” and I’m really well known. And I literally was like, “What the fuck, Diller?” Like, what the hell? And I like deleted the profile immediately because I just didn’t realize it was present immediately. Because it just hadn’t been. This was early, early on and it was really, that was my entire thing.
ZS: Oh my gosh, I’m stressed out for you with that story.
KS: I was like ahh. It took me a minute.
ZS: And some of them do keep you on there for awhile. I know in my last relationship, my Bumble was still live in Boston.
KS: Wait, Bumble’s for women, right?
ZS: No, they have a gay, gay men can be on it. People would text my ex about it all the time. He’s like, “Zach’s on Bumble in Boston.” I was like, “Zach’s in LA. That’s not possible.”
KS: Well, there you have it. Anyway, this has been riveting. We’re very excited to have been here with Zach Stafford and Trish Bendix, the editor-in-chief and managing editor of the digital magazine Into. It’s a queer lifestyle magazine published by the dating app, Grindr. And you should check it out. Where do people check it out? On Grindr or …?
ZS: Intomore.com. And Grindr. Yeah.
KS: Okay. And most people do it through the app, right? Is that correct?
ZS: A majority do, but they go through social media.
KS: Social media.
ZS: Social’s all Into.
KS: All right. And if there’s any suggestions, you just go there and you can see …
ZS: Go there and pitch us your stories.
TB: Yes, please.
ZS: Yell at us on Twitter.
KS: All right. And I want to thank Casey Newton, my co-host. This is our last …
CN: What a long, strange trip it’s been.
KS: Long, strange … And it will continue to be. Casey is the Silicon Valley editor of The Verge, and he’s going to be host of the upcoming podcast, Converge, which is going to be coming to you and apparently it’s insane from what I …
CN: Yeah, word is as it develops it keeps getting new bells and whistles and widgets and I’m getting pretty pumped about it.
KS: Were you in a meeting today about that?
CN: Yeah, I came straight from that meeting.
KS: Yeah, because you were yelling in there.
CN: I have a lot to say.
KS: Really? Okay.
CN: I will not be silenced any longer.
ZS: Oh my gosh.
KS: Oh no. Oh dear. Anyway, thank you so much, Casey.
CN: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
KS: It’s a pleasure. And, Zach and Trish, thank you. It was great talking to you.
ZS: Thank you. It was lovely.
TB: Thank you.
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Author: Recode Staff
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