Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Interview With Nicholas of PSAMP

You're in for a treat today. For the fourth installment of my Pittsburgh Sports Blogger Interview Series, Nicholas, aka, Tecmo, of Pittsburgh Sports & Mini Ponies ("PSAMP") agreed to share his thoughts about mini ponies, his terrific blog, and much, much more. Enjoy!

How did you start Pittsburgh Sports and Mini Ponies and why mini ponies?

I figured I'd give a ton of detail, cos I might as well have these stories saved somewhere. Sorry for the long answers, but indulge me.

I started PSAMP my final semester of college at St. Vincent. As a history major, I could choose to finish my Senior Research Thesis fall or spring semester of my 4th and final year, I chose fall so I could get it out of the way. During my final semester, I was spending a ton of time in the library computer lab for reasons I'll maybe finally disclose in the future, and eventually got to thinking I needed a place to house my writing and humor.

An adjunct professor in some English class had once asked us to write a paper on whatever topic we wanted, and I chose the Steelers. This was like Junior year or something. This paper was incredible, better than any of the lazy junk topics English professors normally force you to write. And she accused me of plagiarism based solely on the fact this paper was better than anything I had previously written. She assumed I had lifted it. I could've accepted an F for the course or fight it at the Dean's. I know my strengths, sports, and stood behind my work. I prevailed.

As for the ponies, they've always been the OTHER thing I love in life. I mean, I love dogs and pets and any animal really, but dog-sized horses always made me all pumped in my younger days. It probably begins from the 80s, we took a vacation to like Tennessee where my Great-Uncle Mike had horses, and kid-me rode a mini horse named Buttons. I actually have it on tape, thanks Dad!

When I started PSAMP, lolcats and cheezburgers were starting to dominate the Internet, and frankly I was scared that someone would scoop my love for mini ponies and I'd look like a biter if I finally put my love of the critters to digital ink and someone else already had a site of similar ilk. Deadspin was starting the sports blog boom, the Schrutebag incident happened...and then Mario announced the Pens were staying in Pittsburgh, and I felt it was time to start something. My first post was about the Pens staying.

Like a few months after starting the site, MTV's "Rob and Big" premiered their own mini horse, so my foresight was strong enough to get in there before it looked like I was copying someone else.

I'm a simple man, not one to create some catchy, pun site name. I listed the two things I wanted to combine, and left it. Well, the original url was pittsburghsportsandminiponies.blogspot before I changed it to the easier acronym like 2 days later. My original banner was Church Sign Generator with the blog name. Had that for like a month or two. That was the best.

Whenever I see a mini pony or any pony or small horse, I immediately think of you. I'm sure that I'm not alone in this. How does it feel to be the go to mini pony guy?

It goes back to my original point of wanting to combine the 2 things I loved, and also wanting to not get burnt and beat to the mini pony punch. Cos this is the Internet, and someone at some point was gonna have a mini pony site of some kind.

Now, I'm incredibly blasé about my site and humor style, I write what makes me laugh, and keep doing it because why not? But the mini pony thing is actually a bit more businesslike. I strictly set out to become the authority in a field, and that's a hard thing to do. Basically any idea has been done before on the Internet. And with starting a site right around the time of the sportsblog boom, you needed to stand out or get burnt out in a month writing the same thing as everyone else and trying to get noticed without Twitter and the ease of access to readers we have now. So it was trying not to be that biter in getting to the mini pony parade before anyone else, while also establishing a voice and style of presenting it so it readers felt the need to participate.

So it's pretty awesome to constantly have people interacting and taking my love of mini ponies and making it their own as well.

Have you ever been approached by any mini pony groups?

Rarely. I've had a few people trying to sell their ponies. And I've helped several history centers or museums get together information on where or who to contact, but with being a humor site, there's a limit on what I can do. When I said I set out to become an authority on a subject, it's more about the pictures and written love of the ponies, not really the health and upkeep and social/civic aspects of the ponies.

Is it a challenge getting new mini pony pictures?

Nope. nopenopenopenopeetcetcetcetc.

I started the Mini Pony of the Day feature as a joke and to stand out from the jillion other bloggers starting sites every day. I thought I'd run out of pictures in Google Image Search in like a month or two. This is without every researching the depth of the Internet and how many mini pony pictures are out there.

As an aside, I use the term "mini pony" as my own summary of every small horse. Some people get pissed if it's a mini horse or a pony, and don't like the term "mini pony" like I'm purposely misnaming a certain species or something. No, I use the term independently because we feature ponies, full-sized horse baby foals, dwarf ponies with medical conditions, Shetland ponies, mini horses...basically anything that looks like a horse and can pass as a dog.

And as I said, I wanted to create an atmosphere where people could discover their own love of the animals while wanting to contribute. For the first year or so while I wrote for like 20 people, and spent the first couple months of year 2 rehashing the mini pony pictures that I used the year prior since I was gaining new readers and I wanted them to experience the stuff they missed.

Now it is nearly impossible for me to run out of reader submissions. Twitter and smartphones have helped tremendously...you have people everywhere with an easy way to upload a picture and send it directly to me without fiddling with digital cameras and email. The Internet is vast and real life is even bigger, these awesome dog-horses are everywhere in both places and people immediately think to get them to me. I couldn't be happier with each submission.

Let's switch gears to the first part of your blog's name. I think we have a similar blog sensibility. What I mean by this is that while other blogs will focus on the games, stats, players, etc. (and we do this sometimes too), we also write about the other stuff. For example, you have the Pittsburgh Sports Stuff in Hip Hop series and Great Moments in Unlicensed Pittsburgh Sports Merchandise series. I guess I should have a question here. Um, how did you come up with these ideas?

Thank Internet trolls first and foremost. At first, I focused a lot on recaps and strong opinion pieces. And you get the commenters and emailers who think your opinion is bunk and think you should burn in hell and whatnot. And those things help burn out newer and inexperienced writers and bloggers.

So I decided that if I wanted to really explore my humor and not hate everything, I'd scrap the script that most bloggers use. Yeah, you'll get readers who want the game previews, and game recaps and highlights of every local game and all, but how many sources do you really need doing that? Much love to all my bloggers buds that put in the hours to do that, but that just didn't vibe with my style and presentation and mini ponies and all that.

The Hip Hop/Music/Hollywood series helped, as did Unlicensed Merch.

With the former, it is a reflection on me, personally. As a Pittsburgher living in NYC now, I get pumped every time I see a Pirates hat even though it's probably some Latin King or someone who doesn't care about the Pirates. So spotting team logos and gear in the wild among celebs or musicians or actors or anyone is a bit of a thrill.

With the latter, it is also a reflection on me, but also the flip side to the Hip Hop/Music/Hollywood series. I grew up rather poor, and most of what I wore to support the teams were bootlegs from Big Lots or the Strip District. When you're an insecure kid, you hate it, cos all your friends have officially-licensed gear and you stick out like the poor kid. But as an adult, I learned to love my history, as well as the dedication of the generic merchandise hawkers. This series started because I was leaving for a trip to hike Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina for a few days, and needed some auto-publish posts while I was away that didn't really deal with timely issues. So I photographed every generic thing I could find in my apartment. And then readers took off with that too and I still have an intense backlog of generic merch in my inboxes.

China Jack provided toasts for the Penguins playoffs this year and several years ago. How did you start your relationship with China Jack?

Jack is the best. I love that guy. Easily the reason the Pens won the Cup in 09.

About, I don't know, 6-8 months before the Cup I was going through Youtube to see if anything new with a connection to Pittsburgh sports had been uploaded, for a post or something. I came across this new video of a classroom full of Chinese kids doing some sort of taunts at Pittsburgh sports opponents, or chanting Here We Go Steelers. I posted it with my usual commentary.

A few days later, the uploader emails me. His name is Gavin, and he's teaching English in China, using his affinity for his local teams to help the kids learn new words. It turns out he's from an area not far from where I grew up in SW PA, and he says he'll gladly send more videos. There were a few more in the series with his students, until he introduced me to his drinking buddy in Shenzhen, China, Jack. Using the moniker China Jack, he hung out with Gavin and created a toast for the most recent NFL season. And he made a few more toasts to like Pitt basketball and Sally Wiggin. But the ones that stuck were his Pens videos. They started to take off as the Pens got rid of Therrien and brought up Dan Bylsma, with the team winning an in incredible rate to make the playoffs. Jack started toasting every series as the Pens fought through the Flyers, Capitals, Hurricanes and eventually the Red Wings. So it was the perfect storm that Pens fans could use a bit of a laugh after stressful playoff series.

I try to present it without the subtle racism that would be apparent if we were merely mocking Jack's translations or Engrish or whatever. Jack is a legitimate friend...Gavin has been back in the states, I believe, but I correspond with Jack as if he's an old friend. You cannot believe the incredible emails I get on holidays from Jack. At PSAMP, I try to focus on Jack's odd foreign passion for the Pens, and Jack loves doing whatever he can to support the team and show the fans that passion extends everywhere. I'll say it again, Jack is the best.

Any chance for a Steelers Unauthorized Pre-game reunion with Cotter?

HAHA man we totally should! You cannot believe how fun it was back in the early days of the sports blogosphere (which doesn't even really exist anymore in any recognizable form) to watch games and then try and tape our on-air inexperience while trying to remain funny, before throwing unlimited clips into iMovie or Windows Movie Maker and crapping it out to Youtube. Those videos were horrible, but Cotter and I had a blast. And we got better as they went along, but you know, life gets in the way. We don't always have time to devote to intense video editing on minimal video taping/editing knowledge. So it's easy to get lazy and let it fall off. But heck yeah it should probably come back at some point. I'm gonna go call Cotter about this.

You use Twitter as much if not more than anyone I know. Do you feel that this takes time away from your blog or enhances your blog (or both)?

Both. Twitter is so easy, easy enough that a lot of the old blogs that shut down back in the day just switched over to Twitter. People want that immediacy, and blogs start to look a bit stale and old by comparison. So you have to be that guy that stands out, on either platform.

Back in our blog infancy, and I'm sure you can agree, we had to hustle to get noticed. You had to know how to write, well and interesting, to get any sort of attention. Or you had to create actual relationships with your blogger contemporaries and hope they would read and share links or whatever. And even if you accomplished that and increased your readership, the next day there was 30 new local sports blogs trying to recreate what you just did, with more cunning and want to just email-blast their stories to everyone to bypass the work it took to establish something real. And now, anyone can start a site, reply to everyone on Twitter until they get some followers, and they're basically "noticed."

So I try to use both platforms to my own benefit. I have that old-school mentality where my site is my own hard work, the blood and sweat, because that's always been the deal since day one. Write well, be funny, and eventually they'll read. But with Twitter, I can explore the id, and let it run wild. There's more freedom to talk about other topics, or just say anything that doesn't fall within the typical constructs of a blog post.

Actually when I started PSAMP, it was more of a Twitter-like entity than the "sports and animals" staple it is today. Like for the first week or two I would rant about gas prices, or one-sentence punchlines about whatever popped into my head at the moment. I had blogspot linked up to a phone number on my old flip phone, and would publish dumb one-off stuff like that. But I decided to get away from that and structure it more how it is today, getting a daily mini pony picture/caption, and also having sports stories.

Then Twitter came along and I was able to get back to that absurd place. And it helped me weave more humor into my longer blog posts.

Finally, is this the year for the Pirates not only reach .500 but also make the playoffs?

Full disclosure Sean sent me this question like a month ago and I started answering these questions and never finished, now it's a month later, the Cards and Reds keep losing and the Buccos keep winning. So yes to both question, but this is clearly with less worry than a month ago. Love you Sean.

Thanks again to Nicholas for providing a thorough and outstanding response. Make sure you visit PSAMP at least once a day and follow Tecmo on Twitter.

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