Interview: Whitney Matheson

Whitney Matheson is culture queen at USA Today, where she writes the PopCandy blog. Yet while her own interests and her many readers influence much of the blog's indie content, Matheson also gets ideas from pitches, kits, and PR professionals.

Whitney Matheson is culture queen at USA Today, where she writes the PopCandy blog. Yet while her own interests and her many readers influence much of the blog's indie content, Matheson also gets ideas from pitches, kits, and PR professionals.

PRWeek: How did you get to where you are now, writing your own blog for USA Today?

Whitney Matheson: I've been with USA Today for nine years, believe it or not. I came here in 1999, and I started out actually working in the news section and I moved over to entertainment shortly thereafter. The first thing I [did] was a weekly column called Pop Candy. It's kind of grown and grown over the years. A few years later, I started a separate blog, and that became pretty popular too. They both became big, and so I decided to merge them, so I called the whole thing Pop Candy, which is what you see now. So really the blog is a mixture of the weekly column that I was doing and the other separate blog, which was done without serious blog software and stuff. So it's sort of the culmination of what I've been doing here for nine years.

PRWeek: How would you describe what you cover?

Matheson: I cover all sorts of pop culture, but mostly, what everything has in common is that it's all things I'm particularly interested in. The pop culture I write about is mainly stuff that you don't often see in the print version of USA Today. It's not mainstream pop culture, it's indie music, independent films, comic books, TV, but [also] cult TV [such as] Lost and Battlestar Galactica and sci-fi and shows that have a really core cult audience. That's all stuff that I'm really passionate about [that] has also found a big audience.

PRWeek: Do you write anything for the print edition?

Matheson: Sometimes the print edition is interested in my stuff as well. I'm going to Comic-Con in July, and I'll file for [it] too, and file my own stuff for Pop Candy. Occasionally [the content does] overlap and I write two things. And occasionally, I'll be crazy and I'll do something just for print that I'm not doing for the blog. But since the blog takes up so much of my time, I don't have that much time. Once a week, they run a Best of Pop Candy in the paper too.

PRWeek: What's a typical day like for you?

Matheson: It's pretty crazy. I get up at a quarter-to-seven and start working. My first post is generally the most popular post that I do, and that's a roundup of news and links and stuff that I post at just about 8 am every day. So I get up and start working on that. I usually work on it a little bit the night or late afternoon the day before. I [write] a couple posts in the morning that I do every day; I have a Reader of the Day [post] that I do every single day. I kind of have a rough idea of maybe three or four posts that I'm definitely going to do everyday and then I probably post between eight and 12 things every day, that just kind of run depending on whatever news happens or whatever kits I get or whatever. Each day is a little bit different.

PRWeek: What's your interaction like with readers?

Matheson: I'm pretty constantly interacting with readers on many levels. I'm emailing them, obviously, and commenting back and forth with them. And then, we have meet-ups in different cities…if I cover a certain event like a music festival. When it started out, we were just meeting in bars and it was no big deal. Now it's at the point where so many people show up, you have like 75 or 100 people show up, and it has to be planned – It has to be this huge thing. We had this huge thing in San Francisco where we had Tim Sale, a comic book artist, come, and he did sketches, and there were like 150 people there. It's pretty cool to meet people who just know me through reading the blog, and then they are also interacting with each other. A bunch of readers just organized a vacation in Las Vegas together and they hung out and had a great time. They are people who just met each other through the blog.

PRWeek: Where do you get the ideas for your pos for what you are going to write about each day?

Matheson: It's a mixture of stuff. Some readers give me tips, which help, and then some of it comes from things I'm interested in or interviews…that I cover. Some of it comes from PR people who send stuff to me. And I try to make it a mix of that stuff, because I don't want it to be all reader-based or all based on press releases. I want it to be a blend of things and things you can't find on any other blog.

PRWeek: What is your relationship and interaction like with PR professionals?

Matheson: I talk to them pretty constantly though e-mails because I don't have time to talk to them on the phone. I think that once PR people figure out what I'm looking for and what my blog is about, then it's a really great relationship and there are definitely certain people I talk to more than others and they are incredibly helpful. Then there are some people who you can tell don't read what I'm doing. That can be some of the most frustrating parts of it. They aren't really familiar with [the blog], and [they] keep pestering you about something that doesn't really fit. Once I can tell them, ‘This is what I'm looking for, this is what fits the blog,' then I have a great time working with them.

PRWeek: Do you have any specific advice for someone who is looking to get to know you better and get to know your blog better?

Matheson: As long as they look at the blog. I can tell who has looked at it and who hasn't, just by the things that they pitch me. There are simple things too, [such as that] I totally prefer an e-mail over a phone call. Just being familiar with it really helps. Yesterday, I had a good conversation with somebody who sent me an e-mail. She was just checking in to see what kinds of stuff that I'm looking for and what's helpful and what's not helpful, so she can send me the right kinds of pitches in the future. And it was really good because from now on, she knows exactly what to send me and why I don't use the things that I don't use. She was sending me several e-mails a week and probably wondering why certain things didn't get in. It's just about knowing the material.

PRWeek: You've done a lot of experimenting with different kinds of online media, like Twitter and podcasts. What is that experience like? What advice do you have to PR professionals who are interested in getting involved with that?

Matheson: I'm always willing to experiment with different kinds of media like that. Twitter is really great, but it can be exhausting. It's great if it's used the right way. Twitter is perfect if I'm on the road or at a show, and I can tell people how it is when I'm right there. I certainly recommend it to everyone, as long as it is used the right way. And then there is a danger of feeling like you're never away from work, which I can feel like sometimes. I'm totally willing to experiment with every new thing, and so far it's good, and I think that as long as it's honestly done, it works.

PRWeek: What publications or Web sites do you read on a regular basis?

Matheson: I read every Web site and publication – so many. I read every major news publication, I read tons of music blogs and film blogs and I have so many, I can't even begin to tell you. You can check my blog roll.

Name: Whitney Matheson

Title: Pop Candy blogger

Outlet: USA Today

Preferred Contact Method: PopCandy@usatoday.com

Web site: http://blogs.usatoday.com/popcandy/

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