Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
V Spehar was under their desk when they went viral.
And they’re still there now.
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What started as a relaxed way to make a chill and casual news recap on TikTok as a hobby has become a new career for them. Don’t get us wrong, they take the news seriously and want their viewers to, too–but being serious doesn’t have to mean being intimidating. So, instead of talking about everything from student loans to Senate elections from your typical newscaster’s position behind a sprawling desk, they get a little closer to the carpet and break things down.
“The basics of it is that it’s daily, simple explainers on what’s most interesting in the news that day,” Spehar–who has a culinary background and has worked at organizations like Hungry Harvest combating food insecurity–tells Tubefilter. “The goal is that people hear something that piques their interest, go research more and think more about it, and have conversations in real life.”
Overall, Spehar says, “They don’t have to be scared or bombarded by breaking news every second.”
@underthedesknews Today was LONG yall.. whew! #news #creditcardpoints #tiktoktaughtme ♬ original sound – UnderTheDeskNews
This approach–and their rapidly growing TikTok account, which is now at more than 2.7 million followers–got Spehar a job hosting the Los Angeles Times‘ TikTok account. And, recently, it’s gotten them another gig: They signed with podcast studio Lemonada Media to make V Interesting, a weekly show that’s billed as an expansion of their TikTok account where they can have the kinds of discussions they’ve always hoped their TikTok videos sparked for viewers.
Check out our chat with them below.
@underthedesknewsFolks who already listened to the show – what did you learn? Help the non pod people out ❤️♬ original sound – UnderTheDeskNews
Tubefilter: When and how did you end up on TikTok?
V Spehar: I started my TikTok back in April of 2020, really at the early stage of the pandemic when kind of everybody started their TikTok. I actually started off making funny culinary videos and trying to learn the platform, how to use the tools. I really just thought of it more as like a place for entertainment.
Then, after a while, I started doing explainers on stuff that was going on in politics, like Biden’s first hundred days in office, which escalated to doing the news, and then I got hired by the LA Times to host their TikTok accounts. And the basics of it is that it’s daily, simple explainers on what’s most interesting in the news that day. The goal is that people hear something that piques their interest, they go research more and think more about it and have conversations in real life. But overall, they don’t have to be scared or bombarded by breaking news every second or just the worst things that are happening. I try to keep it pretty balanced when it comes to good news and sort of harder-to-deliver news.
Tubefilter: So what’s your background? Are you a journalist by trade?
VS: Nope! So I’ve worked in a lot of different industries. My primary background is in the culinary industry. I was the head of impact programs and women’s entrepreneurship for the James Beard Foundation, and I’ve worked in food security programming. I have a political background in that I’ve been in rooms where politics happen, but I don’t have a journalist background in that I didn’t go to school for journalism and I didn’t even really set out on a journey to be what “Under the Desk” has become.
Tubefilter: So how did you end up there? Culinary is obviously a huge thing on TikTok, especially since the pandemic started, so how did you end up shifting to news instead?
VS: So I’ve always been really good at explaining complex things to people in a way that makes them feel included and empowered. That’s a lot of what I did in the culinary industry. If you go back like decades of my career, I was cooking and working in catering in front-of-house and restaurant management and bartending and all that. But then I transitioned to be more of a food systems educator, and really it came from being in that life and having a boots-on-the-ground kind of understanding of how food was circulating in the world and then applying that to solutions that needed to be found.
I had done really well in the food industry and I had decided that I wanted to do something that was more useful to the broader world, so I started working on food security programming and health equity programs. My first job there was with Hungry Harvest. We essentially made ugly produce cool. But being in the world of something as complicated as food insecurity and health equity, and being able to find common-sense solutions, explain them to other people, and connect supply chains, I think it’s just a natural skill of mine to take something really hard and break it down in the easiest-to-understand ways, and then disseminate that out to people who also want have a conversation about it or feel smart.
Tubefilter: I feel like that’s a rare skill. There’s a hard balance to strike there where you’re not coming off condescending.
VS: That’s why I’m under the desk. The purpose of being under the desk was I wanted to help people understand what was going on. Especially after January 6, coming into Biden’s first hundred days. So many folks had such an interest in that world and I understood it, but I was like, “I don’t wanna sit at the desk, though.” I don’t wanna be just another authority figure telling you what you need to know and how you need to know it.
I was kind of like, well, if we were just friends, right, and we’re gonna have a conversation about what’s going on, we would maybe have it at the water cooler, but I didn’t have a water cooler in my house. But I did have under my desk, and I was like, let me just be under the desk in this kind of world where it’s a safe place to just talk and learn and listen and explore ideas. It’s not coming from a place of authority, it’s coming from this kind of like silly, safe space.
Tubefilter: You definitely give that vibe.
VS: I give it because it’s authentic. That’s where I’m at in the journey. Asking the audience what they think, putting out what I think, being able to clearly outline facts from multiple different stories and points of views and quickly put them into “here’s what I’m seeing,” essentially, reading between the lines of all of this and “What are you guys seeing?”, “What are you thinking?”, as opposed to “Here’s the one single universal truth and that’s it.”
@underthedesknews Im not sorry she lost. #greenscreen ♬ original sound – UnderTheDeskNews
Tubefilter: Why did you pick TikTok in the first place, as opposed to another platform?
VS: I often call TikTok the community theater of social media platforms because people root for you on TikTok. Instagram is where you go if you want to see somebody’s perfect life, and I just didn’t have that kind of photography or video editing skill, and Twitter can be a really hard place because it is such a fast-moving kind of authoritative kind of snarky place—at least my experience with Twitter was.
TikTok was a place where you could build community and you could kind of, I don’t know, just explore a little bit more. Plus their creator tools are very easy to use and you get a finished, really polished product without having the videographer skills you need for YouTube. I just felt like TikTok was fun. It was easy. A lot of my friends were doing it. I liked the way you could meet people from all over the world and truly feel like you were creating a community and a connection with them. I didn’t feel like with other social media platforms that that was really the point of them, or that was even as possible.
Tubefilter: I’ve heard that from lots of people, that TikTok and YouTube Shorts are eradicating the videography barrier to entry for people.
VS: Yeah. Plus it’s fun. I got a lot of positive feedback even when I was doing the culinary videos, and when I switched over to do explainers, every night people commented on the news, but it was fun. It was just fun, and people liked it, and I liked watching other people’s content. It became addicting because it was fun.
Tubefilter: At the time, were you still working another position full-time?
VS: Oh yes. Yeah. I had a lot of guilt actually about initially considering leaving my job to go full-time as a content creator. I was at the time working for this company called Everything Food, and I had built up this program that essentially connects chronically ill patients with fresh produce delivery. We had found a way to get hospitals to pay for it, so it was incredibly important work, and I didn’t want to give that up because I felt like that was so important to the world and the people who relied on us to do this work. So when my TikTok started to get popular and I started to find myself really gravitating towards seeing this as a place that I could help people too, I went through…I think I stayed at my job for like a year of being very popular on TikTok, because I wanted to make sure there was a really solid handoff from that real job to becoming a full-time content creator.
Tubefilter: What was the point where you were like, “Okay, this is gonna become my job”? That’s a big step.
VS: I have an in-real-life talent for keynote speaking at entrepreneurial workshops. That is a very big part of my job. So I never went into this thinking “I’m gonna be a full-time TikTok creator” or “I’m even gonna be a full-time content creator.” And even to this day, up until doing the podcast, TikTok is really a great platform to build a name and some recognition for yourself, but TikTok doesn’t pay. I don’t really make money on TikTok. And because of the type of accounts I have, I don’t have sponsors. Like I don’t even, I never got the Coldest water bottle, and everybody got that one. I didn’t get that one. So I don’t have sponsored content. Every so often I’ll get one or two, or maybe I’ll do something with my in-real-life clients who want me to do something for TikTok.
My main job is and will always be in facilitating entrepreneurial workshops and doing keynotes. And now of course doing the podcast, which I’m able to live on that money. But yes, I am very honest about the fact that TikTok is not a place that you are likely to be a full-time creator.
Tubefilter: Yeah, I’ve seen some of the stats on the difference between what people make on long-form versus short-form and it’s dismal.
VS: The way that I think folks assume the money you make on YouTube is gotta be comparable to what you make on TikTok…It’s not at all. If we take the Depp/Heard trial, for example, I didn’t cover the Depp/Heard trial because I don’t really cover stuff like that. But I said one thing about it, like when I read the verdict, and people were like, “Oh, I bet you made like $6,000 on that post.” And I’m like, “Man, how did I make $6,000 on this post?” And they’re like, “That’s what people on YouTube are making. Lawyers talking on YouTube are making like $100,000 a month on views because of the Depp/Heard trial.” And I was like, “Babe, I can promise you that ain’t happening ever.”
Tubefilter: What does your average day look like in terms of doing this daily production?
VS: I absolutely love people who ask me if Under the Desk is my full-time job, and it is in the fact that I spend the most time on it. But like I said, you have an in-real-life challenge and you have to be able to show up in real life to make the kind of life you want, if you’re not gonna essentially be an influencer or model.
So I wake up, I check how the news from the night before was received. I’ll scroll through a couple of my favorite TikTokers, see what they’re up to. I read almost all of my DMs and comments, as many as I can, because I want it to be a conversation between me and the audience, so I’m really curious what they have to say, what they thought about it, and what they care about. I spent a good amount of time doing that.
Then I’ll kind of look and see like what’s happening. I’m a newspaper person, so I will check the LA Times, New York Times, The Post, and kind of just see what they think is trending. What’s interesting is sometimes what they’ve got on the front, I don’t think is that exciting, so I won’t talk about those things. So I’m just kind of information-gathering, vibe-gathering. What are people caring about? What are people gonna be asking about? What are they gonna be seeing?
Sometimes I’ll post something in the morning, but normally every single day at 7 p.m., I post the news, because that’s when people are looking for quick little clips that are gonna make them conversational. It’s not sensationalized headlines where you can really get enough just watching to say you’ve got the whole story. It’s just like, “Okay, I heard that, I’m curious, so I’m gonna look up a little bit more.”
Then I am working on the podcast almost all day. I had no idea how much effort and time and research would go into building a podcast like this, so that’s been really fun to try and learn that.
If anything breaking happens, I’ll post something. I’ll oftentimes try and think like, “Okay, are there any decisions or bills that are getting passed that folks maybe wanna hear about?” I do a good news-only episode because I want people to not be afraid to engage with the news, and I think we have been conditioned for so long to expect the news is bad news or it’s freaky news and it’s so heavy, so I want folks to be excited to tune into the news and maybe some bad stuff happened, surely some challenging things and stories are gonna be in there, but also there’s a reason to stay excited for tomorrow. There’s a reason to think that we can change things. There’s a reason to stay curious.
So that’s kind of the goals of the day. And then I just ride that wave. I’m still kind of out here winging it, man, just following what people are interested in, what I’m interested in, and truly treating it like…I know I used to get in trouble in school all the time for being too talkative. And I feel like now I get celebrated for that, where I’m like, “Oh my god, I heard this crazy thing. I can’t wait to tell you about it.” Like, “Lisa, oh my God, did you see this?” With Under the Desk, it’s like all these things we’re curious about. And now I can make that my career.
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