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To find out more behind how Climbing Magazine got its start and what’s in store for the future, Josh interviews Climbing Magazine editor-in-chief, Matt Samet
More about the episode...
Josh sits down with Climbing Magazine editor-in-chief Matt Samet. For decades Climbing Magazine has delivered some exceptionally captivating stories, reporting, reviews, and features keeping us entertained and connected with the climbing world but, have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of all those captivating headlines? For current editor-in-chief Matt Samet, his introduction to climbing magazine was a mix of great timing and the drive to follow his true passion, climbing. Having continued building the Climbing Magazine reach and community, he was also fortunate to help build an online video series aimed at improving backpacking, climbing, skiing, and overall backcountry skills, aptly named AIM Adventure U. With the climbing community seeing a major boom in entry-level climbers, AIM Adventure U is perfect to help hone your skills as a climber but, what exactly when into rounding up each athlete and building the course work? You’ll have to tune in to find out!
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What let you to become the editor climbing magazine?
“I’ve been climbing since age 12, I think… I’ve just always been a really fanatical climber, like I need to go three to four days a week or I get super unhappy… I came to Boulder, Colorado to go to College in 1991. A lot of my criteria for going to college was are there good rocks nearby. I got into that and got into a degree in journalism and when I graduated I was moving to Europe for a while and, I knew some of the folks who worked at Climbing Magazine, it was based in Carbondale. The magazine was really big then, it was about 150 - 160 pages so they had a need for content… I called Mike Benge who was the editor at the time and said ‘hey, do you need any reporting from Europe?’...”
Did you know you always wanted to get into writing and editing?
“To be honest I think it was my father who pushed me in that directions and wisely so. I was a little directionless when I started college. I saw the science prerequisites and I quickly bailed after barely getting through geology 101, I’m not very science minded. I think I defaulted to journalism because my father said ‘well, you like climbing. Maybe you can write about climbing one day’... There wasn’t some kind of grand lifelong plan, unfortunately…”
What was your first experience getting into climbing?
“We lived in Albuquerque and there’s mountains right above town, the Sandia mountains. They’re really pretty, they rise to 10,500 ft right from town which is at about 5,000 ft so they’re very dramatic and I’d go hiking up there with my day and mom. At the end of our hikes, there are all these granite boulders around the trailhead and I’d always ask them to stay another hour or so so I could scramble around on the boulders in my tennis shoes… At that point, I didn’t have a chalk bag, I didn’t have rock shoes, there weren’t climbing gyms at that point, this was like the early 80’s...I don’t know if there was anywhere at that point for a kid to go and be mentored or tourtoed on how to be a climber…”
What was it that made you fall in love with climbing enough to want to make a career out of it?
“I really like the places you get to. I think that more than anything is one of the biggest draws… I think a big part of it is being in these really peaceful, beautiful, exposed serene places. I think another aspect of it is the problem solving, the mental, physical, and intellectual engagement it takes to figure out a route that’s hard for you. You can spend days refining your beta, your sequencing until you realize you need to move your hip, like, half a centimeter and suddenly you can do the route…”
What is it like being the editor for such an influential magazine in the climbing world?
“I think for me one of the coolest things is seeing how psyched readers get when you present something new to them that they might not have seen before in an area they might not have seen before in an area that haven’t heard about or some technique… It’s such a hands, tactile, and engaging sport where you can literally rub elbows with your hero. I think climbers from all stretches take a lot of inspiration from the title and always have. I really like working with the contributors too because, you’re getting stories from all over the world about aspects of the climbing lifestyle that you wouldn’t necessarily know about, otherwise…”
What is your day to day look like at Climbing Magazine?
“It’s definitely a little bit all over the place. We’re on a six issues per year cycle. Near the end of that cycle we’re in production mode and our heads are down and we’re getting stuff ready to print. There’s a lot of writing and editing and a lot of back and forth with contributors but, there are days where we’re out field testing… There are days where we have an online educations thing we’re doing with AIM Adventure U… An editor will always be along on those shoots so there might be times where you’re gone all week…”
Is there any specific moment that stands out as one of the best parts about working at Climbing Magazine?
“Putting the courses together, almost all of them are instructed by professional climbers… for me it’s seeing how these courses has let them convey their wisdom and experience in a format that will be accessible for all climbers, that’s the cool part. A lot of these people, all they do is climb, they climb five days a week, they’re taking big trips, and their life is built around climbing so, they’ve learned a lot about the sport…”
Is there anything that you learned while putting together AIM Adventure U Climbing videos?
“I think I learned a lot more about training that I’ve been able to apply to my own climbing, because a lot of the courses are training based. I think I learned a lot more about movement, like from Justin Sjong’s courses. He does personalized coaching here in the Denver Metro area and my wife had taken some lessons from him but, this was the first time I was able to be there first hand while he was giving those lessons…”
Did you have any mentors who helped you throughout your career?
“I first started writing for Climbing in the 90’s. Dave Pegg, who was an associate editor of Climbing really took me under his wing, and was patient with me, and taught me a lot about how to put a story together, which was interesting because Dave stumbled into that job by accident. He actually had a masters in applied mathematics or something like that… Anyone who was on staff at Climbing, I think I learned a lot from…”
What do you think makes a great editor?
“What makes you a great editor is you trust the author’s innate sense of story and you help them go in the direction that they’re trying to go in. I think if you try to impose your own voice or vision on a story it starts to sound awkward… My philosophy is save the writer from their own worst instincts if they’re going in a bad direction but, otherwise help them clean it up and get out of the way…”
What is the hardest part about being the editor of Climbing Magazine?
“Answering email, probably. Truth be told, I get so much email that I could just spend all day, everyday answering email and no content creation done…”
Do you have any fears in regards to Climbing Magazine and AIM Adventure U?
“I supposed like anyone who’s in a role like this you’re always worried if you’re picking the right stuff to put out into the world and if people are going to response well to it. That’s probably my biggest fear and not because of my own ego. I’m just trying and, you’re not going to make everyone happy especially climbers because every climber has their own idea of what the climbing media should be doing. You just want to make the readers happy…”
What are some of the biggest mistakes that you made?
“I think I’ve written some things that are too incendiary for such a small community… At a certain point everyone really knows everyone in the climbing world and it doesn’t behoof anyone to piss people off…”
What advice would you give someone who wanted to break into journalism?
“I think I would tell them to be versatile. I’d tell them not to set their sites on getting a feature in x, y, or z magazine. If you want to make a living at a freelancer be very versatile… a lot of the manufacturers these days have pretty big media budgets so, look at those opportunity as well…”
What do you think the future is for Climbing Magazine and AIM Adventure U?
“I don’t know. I wish I had a crystal ball, I’m sure everyone who works in media does. You still hear about the death of print but, I don’t think it’s dying. I still read print magazines, I know that people do. I think that with a niche publication like Climbing, print will always be the backbone of our brand because climbing is such a visual sport… Looking at a photo on the web, I don’t think has the same impact as seeing it on the cover of a magazine…”
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