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Saturday, April 01, 2023
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Q&A: ‘Stranded on State’s’ Jake Jennings, Matthew Shaw put the spotlight on students

Every weekend, thousands of students flood to State Street to meet up with friends, grab a bite to eat, or just have a good time. Do you ever wonder what they all could be thinking?

For over a year, Jake Jennings and Matthew Shaw have been getting to the bottom of it. The two friends came together to start an account on Instagram called “Stranded on State.” They have recently branched out to TikTok, where they have had numerous viral videos of over 100,000 views. Jennings and Shaw travel around Madison, getting authentic answers from real UW students. 

The Daily Cardinal recently sat down with Jake and Matthew to ask them about their inspiration, goals, and plans for “Stranded on State.”

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What inspired you to start “Stranded on State?”

Shaw: A lot of it was being interested in and wanting to show what was really happening on the streets in Madison. I was really inspired by this show called “Side Talk” in New York City. I saw a space for that here on campus, just with how crazy State Street is. There's always people out. I had a drive to pursue the creation of media, and the creation of content — which we've been wanting to do for a while. 

Jennings: I always had a passion for content creation ever since I was a freshman, and we're both now juniors. I had always had an interest in creating something on my own, and I always had a passion for journalism. Once I became a sophomore, and then took some real journalism classes, that's when I started to realize how I could accomplish this. I was already friends with Matt, but then we worked together in our second semester in Journalism 202 and Journalism 203. I realized Matt and I really worked well together, and this is something we could totally pursue. So then I came to him with this vision, and I'd say ever since then it's all just fallen into place and clicked.

Did the account start as how we see it right now? Or were there a couple of kinks you had to work out in the beginning that led it to transform to what we see today?

Shaw: Our idea was always that we wanted to do short form videos from day one. However, that came with a definite learning curve. The first video we made was not as good as what we make now. That was just us learning, and the trial and error of creating media isn't easy. Especially, when you're trying to get a lot of people to watch something.

Jennings: A huge change too is us learning how to capitalize in this media landscape. Not just focusing on Instagram, but also utilizing TikTok, the personalized hashtags, the sounds and all that stuff. The videos are definitely way better now, and we just are way faster at producing content.

Do you think the initial goal of Stranded on State has changed?

Shaw: It's definitely evolved over time. The first couple times we went out to shoot video, it was just something fun to do; it was an experiment. We cared but we didn't know other people would care. So, now we're coming to a point where it's like there’s almost an expectation, when people follow our account, when's the next one coming? That wasn't how it started out. There wasn’t a demand. Now, we're really working hard every week to push out more stuff. You know? How can we make it better? How can we do more? What are the other forms of content that we can create, to broaden our audience?

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What is your favorite part about running the account and content creation? What's one of your least favorite parts?

Jennings: My favorite part is definitely the magic behind the scenes. The things that I do that no one else knows about. The casual viewer wouldn't fully understand all the steps Matt and I go through to make sure that every video is perfect and posted on time. That's always really exciting. My least favorite thing about the account? Honestly, it's [not always] fun, because there'll be some nights when you just keep swinging and missing on getting people to answer your questions.

Shaw: My favorite part is probably hearing real people tell me they like the channel. It's one thing to see on your screen, you know, this many views, this many likes, XYZ, whatever all the statistics are. That's completely different than someone saying, “Hey, I really enjoyed watching this video.” Whether it's my friend or someone I don't even know that recognizes us from the videos. I love that type of energy, because we work really hard. We want to leave people entertained and laughing [and] show the identity of Madison’s college campus. I would say my least favorite thing is just the fact that it’s really difficult to have to come up with something new every week, making sure our stuff is on trend and on schedule.

How have your majors and hopeful career paths influenced the account?

Shaw: I've always really been interested in social media management. I was really into film in high school. I did black and white photography, and I always loved doing that type of creation documenting. When I came to Madison I didn't really know what I was going to do. Freshman year I eventually ended up choosing the J-School which has been amazing and opened my eyes to all the different ways you can use film skills by making films and taking photos. That kind of kicked up that social media energy in me. I’ve managed a few social medias before, so I was like what can we do? It was something we looked at as our own little project. If we fail, we fail. However, if we do really well, we'll be recognized for our media creation skills.

Jennings: I’ve always had a passion for video journalism. Even in high school, I worked on doing broadcasting with my friends. When I came to college, I was determined to maintain that sort of content creation. I just didn't know what that was gonna look like. Matt is very interested in the video editing side of things. I'm interested in the creative development side of things. I think the biggest thing for both of us is utilizing our skills through this account to build a professional dashboard that can help showcase our skills and talents in the job search in a couple of years.

What's one thing that you have learned from talking to so many UW Madison students? 

Shaw: I think what we really learned is what simple works best. When we ask really complex questions, the reaction isn't as good. It's not as funny. It doesn't hit as well with the viewer. When we just go very simple, it allows that space for the person who's being interviewed to fill that with whatever they want, rather than guiding them to the answer. 

Jennings: What I've learned from them, and our experience, is that they need our content. Jokes aside, they do need our content. More recently, especially towards the end of last semester, people would recognize us going out on the streets to film. “Are you Stranded on State people?” “Oh, you guys are the interview guys.” Even last week, this group of guys came up to us, and they're like, “We see you guys out here every week, like, love to see you grinding.” I think that's more what I've learned is that people are very receptive to what we do. They do appreciate it, and that's not something I totally anticipated beforehand.

What are your favorite spots in Madison, whether it be to film or just for your own time?

Jennings: I'd say to film I really like the Bascom shots. We do those every now and then, those are sick. I also feel like a lot of classic videos happened in the Mondays line, or in that little spot on state. Those are just iconic places. Whenever I walk past those in my own free time, I always think of a video shoot that we did. I'd say in my own time. The lake when it's frozen over 1,000%.

Shaw: Also, the Danny's Pub line. There's always some characters in that line. There's always some funny people, and it's less of a tight sidewalk. Aside from filming though, I definitely love the lake, obviously in the warmer months I love running the Lakeshore path.

What do you think makes the culture of Madison's nightlife unique?

Jennings: I feel like Madison has always been elite. Even before I came here Madison has always been advertised as a fun school. I don't think you really see that until you come here. State Street is a huge hub for everyone, and I don't feel like that can be replicated. I'd say, it’s very unique for the nightlife to be so centralized. There's such an overlap of people going from place to place. It makes it super great for Matt and I, because we can just hover from place to place, and interview different people.

What do you guys hope for the future of Stranded on State to look like?

Shaw: I'd say, I want us to be more than just a content creation outlet. I want us to be really active in the community. Whether it's promoting local businesses or raising money for causes that are Madison-based. We really want to achieve, once we get our following to a greater number. We're really keen on not just being those funny guys, but really being able to make a difference in the community. 

Jennings: We're still not exactly where we'd like to be yet. We're still dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the smaller projects, the weekly videos, the memes and the stories. Those little steps will get us to where we need to be to have those brand partnerships we want. 

Last semester something we'd always talked about is how amazing it would be if we could make it in the school paper and now that's happening. We're achieving all these, miny accolades which are awesome and very exciting. 

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