One month ago today, celebrity news site The Blast launched, and two Valencia High School alumni have been putting in long hours every day since.
Managing editor Gary Trock and senior web producer Jeff Mazzeo are both veterans of TMZ, the site named for the Thirty Mile Zone that defines local production for Hollywood-based TV and film shoots.
During his nine years at TMZ, ultimately as senior producer, Trock worked with founder Harvey Levin and news director Mike Walters. Trock said he “learned the ropes from Harvey,” and was grateful to him.
Earlier this year, Walters, a co-founder of TMZ.com, producer of the Emmy-nominated TMZ syndicated TV show and an executive producer of the TMZ Live syndicated series, left to launch The Blast.
Trock, one of several TMZ employees to join The Blast, “felt like it was the right moment to make a move.”
He and Mazzeo met as teammates on an 8th grade Warriors Pop Warner football team. Both are graduates of Valencia High School, Trock by way of Charles Helmers Elementary School and Arroyo Seco Middle School, Mazzeo via Castaic elementary and middle schools. Both are graduates of California State University-Northridge, and they were each in the other’s wedding.
Trock has had his own brush with celebrity, having been portrayed by Bobby Moynihan in a 2011 Saturday Night Live sendup of TMZ’s newsroom TV show. “Bobby is great,” Trock said, and “that is certainly one of my highlights.”
As managing editor, he is responsible for “how we present the news and our brand in ways that are accurate, meaningful and interesting.”
He admits that there will be some similarities to other celebrity news sites, but said that The Blast will use social media a lot more, as well as video.
“We’re presenting the news a little differently, in line with how millennials like to get their information,” he said.
That might mean packaging the highlights of a story in a thirty-second or one-minute video. That could be all some viewers look at, while others will also read a longer accompanying story.
Producing those videos is Mazzeo’s forte. “My strength is getting the video and audio clips up quickly, which is based on my background in journalism,” he said.
After getting a degree in journalism from CSUN, Mazzeo worked at KABC and KLOS in post-production. He said the pace of journalism is increasing. “It’s no longer a matter of preparing a story and sending it to an editor or a producer,” he said. “Now the person shooting the video is editing it and producing it and posting it.”
As an example of The Blast’s approach, Trock cited a video Mazzeo produced when news broke of Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant. “It was an awesome stylized news video, and it got hundreds of thousands of views.” Such short-form videos are how many people prefer to get their news, Trock said.
One month in, he said the site is “getting a lot of great feedback, and I’ve been amazed at the number of other media outlets who have been willing to help us out and who have picked up our stories.”
“We’ve gained tremendous credibility in just a few short weeks, with stories picked up by Us Magazine, Entertainment Tonight, Page Six and E! Entertainment News, among others,” said marketing director Carolyn Fenton.
Media outlets in Brazil and France picked up a story about the arrest of Vito Schnabel, Heidi Klum’s ex-boyfriend, on charges of possession of drugs at the Burning Man festival.
Trock and Mazzeo remain grateful for lessons learned growing up in Santa Clarita and continuing support from friends here.
“When Dr. Priesz was still principal at Valencia High School, he’d give me a hug and tell me how proud he was of me when I came back for football games,” Mazzeo said.
“It wasn’t that long ago that we had Coach Stiman and Coach Muir yelling at us on the football field,” he said. “We learned that we’re stronger when we work as a team, and you form bonds that you keep. It’s a tight-knit and family oriented town and we learned good traits there.”
As for The Blast, Trock said he and the “lean and mean” editorial team of about 15 expect to continue to “pull some very long days,” breaking stories about A-list celebrities. He said the site is already held in the same regard as companies with 200 employees, and that the fun has just started.