Content Marketing

A Conversation With the Man Behind Overheard in the Newsroom

This post originally appeared on Contently’s sister site, The Freelancer. It has been modified slightly.

One of the benefits of building a newsroom is the jokes that come with it; we journalists are trained in the art of wit, dark humor, and self-deprecation. It’s actually a job requirement. Which is why Overheard in the Newsroom hits such a funny nerve: The now-5-year-old website, run by professional art director Kevin Cobb, has a huge following thanks to ridiculous user-generated quotes from journalists, editors, photographers, reporters, and anyone within earshot of media madness.

After a few years as an art director at The Washington Post, Cobb is looking for his next project. Hopefully it’ll be plenty quotable. I gave him a call to talk about Overheard in the Newsroom, his career, and why size doesn’t matter (just wait—we’ll get to that.)

Office email: “please xcuse the typos and lcak of capitals. am eatimg cupcake with other hand.” — Overheard Newsroom (@OHnewsroom) July 29, 2014

How did Overheard in the Newsroom come about?

I launched the website in January of 2009. I was just sitting at home one day on Twitter, and it was kind of new at this time, and people were tweeting things like, “Oh my god, my editor said this funny thing,” and they would put the quote on Twitter.

At that point I was focused on print, so I thought, I didn’t have a website, and the things came together where I had a project in mind and I wanted the skills. I emailed people originally saying, “If your bosses say anything funny in the coming days, I’m launching a site in a week.” I figured out how to do things on my own. Through the site I launched a Twitter page [which now has 94,000 followers] and a Facebook fan page, and I took a class in letterpress print, and I launched a page on Etsy.

What have been some of your favorite Overheard moments?

When I have downtime I’ll go through people who follow me and follow people back, and they’ll tweet, “I got followed by Overheard in the Newsroom—I feel like a real journalist!” It’s funny how people relate to it. They feel like getting posted on the website is like a real honor. When I launched it, I knew all these experts had these crazy stories and funny quotes because it’s so stressful. Everyone’s on deadline, and journalism tends to attract a certain type of personality, so people are saying these crazy things all the time. I knew this was the sort of environment where there’s a constant supply of people saying funny quotes and yelling across the newsroom. The newsroom environment is always full of goofy moments. The website is completely outsourced, so I have never submitted any quotes I’ve heard myself. In meetings people will look at me and say, “Don’t post this on the website,” but I’m not going to post something at this point. That’s just to protect the news environment.

What’s your submission volume like? Has it gone down since newspapers have started collapsing? [Laughs.]

Probably average, on a day, there’s 25 submissions. On the weekends it’s slower. But people can tweet submissions, or some people post them on our Facebook wall or message me on Facebook, or email me, or submit it on a form on the website when it’s not down. There will be days when there will be a lot more than [25], depending on what’s going on in the news.

Do you ever have issues with things that people submit? Are there things you don’t post?

While I don’t stand behind every post, I will sometimes see a submission and say, “I don’t feel comfortable posting that.” And that’s from personal reasons why. Usually I tend to stay away from some topics, such as anything related to child abuse, or very personal abuse, whether physical or sexual. And it’s not like frequent submissions, but every once in a while I’ll get one and wonder why someone submitted that.

Alcohol and booze or inch jokes. Anything funny in a college newsroom. Funny sex jokes. Drugs. Fart jokes, old food sitting around on the table, deadlines, dealing with the public—those seem to be the themes. We’re really keeping it high-quality content over here.

Will you continue doing Overheard in the Newsroom if you leave journalism? Should we expect to see an Overheard in the Ad Agency or other new venture from wherever you end up?

For the foreseeable future, I’m sticking with Overheard in the Newsroom, even if I do leave the industry completely, I’ll always have my newsroom experience with this. I don’t see myself starting another Overheard site. One reason is because the money isn’t really coming through. [Laughs.] It’s a project of passion, and I’m pretty stubborn, so I’m going to stick with it.

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