Life After Instagram for Overheard LA?

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Overheard LA is an Instagram account that lightly skewers a certain strain of millennial culture that seems to flourish in Los Angeles.

Its founder, Jesse Margolis, started the account — which now has 1.2 million followers and seven spinoffs, including Overheard San Francisco — on a whim in 2015, after listening to a stereotypically L.A. conversation at a health food store.

Now, Mr. Margolis is steering the brand in a new direction, with (gasp) a printed “newspaper,” The Overheard Post, which features a “millennial weather report” and satirical “obituaries” for things like plastic straws.

The brand now has five staff members and employs freelancers.

Recently, I talked to Mr. Margolis about getting Overheard ready for life after Instagram. Here’s our conversation, edited and condensed for length and clarity:

Jill Cowan: Hi Jesse, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Jesse Margolis: I appreciate it. My job today has been literally delivering newspapers. (Laughs.)

Yeah, so tell me about that. You decided to get into the print game, which I can tell you is tough.

We’ve got these eight accounts now with cities and themes and we’re kind of exploring how that brand manifests itself in different areas.

The newspaper idea is our first foray — it’s half marketing stunt. We’re essentially going to be doing a newsletter. My idea for our newsletter is it’s offline only, and then if you want to actually read it online, you might be able to get it 24 hours later or a week later.

Are you worried at all about Instagram as a platform for your business?

That’s one of the reasons we started to explore these other things like a newspaper, the newsletter, because we have a great presence on Instagram but we are kind of siloed there. We don’t want to be on just one platform.

I am sure you’ve been asked this question a million times, but do you make any effort to vet whether these things actually happened?

We aren’t journalists — we basically do our best. I think half of the overheard stuff is legit overheard strangers. I think a lot of it is like a group of five friends drinking and talking. And someone spontaneously says something funny and the friends send it in.

We’re curating user-generated content, but we’re also directing it toward millennial themes in a different way. The reason the accounts are successful is because we’re not just posting some dumb quote — we’re focusing on these themes of dating and digital life and food and fitness and Instagram culture and all that stuff. So we definitely do our best.

Obviously, the account plays to the more absurd elements of L.A. But do you feel like your perception of L.A. has been shaped at all by the work that you’re doing?

It’s interesting because our account captures the sort of extremes that we’ve all seen a little bit living in L.A.

We’re trying to make fun of the bubble and occasionally we can get caught in the bubble ourselves by doing that, and not necessarily showing just how unique and diverse L.A. has become. I wish the whole of L.A. was reflected more in the account.

But I think the other thing I’ve learned is just how clearly we are now living in two worlds: the real world, IRL. And this “Black Mirror” thing happening.

What makes me laugh about the newspaper is that I’m old enough to remember when everyone was off line scrambling to establish a presence online. And now I started something online. And I’m trying to establish its presence offline.

[Read more about how Overheard LA was founded here.]

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.




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