Now I know that this post won’t excite a lot of people, and to tell the truth, before I spent a week in the Media Room it wouldn’t have excited me. It’s not that I thought that what they do in there is boring or easy or whatever. It’s that I’ve NEVER had a single thought about what goes on in a Media Room.
It was amazing. It’s a very well hidden but completely essential aspects of a major meet.
My experience started when Jason Marsteller of Swimming World contacted me through this blog the week before the trials (Thanks Mike Thompson!), and asked if I was interested in covering the trials for them. Of course I was! Then the details were sorted out and I was given the green light the day before the trials. My job duties were pretty clear. I was to do an article after the heats and finals of each day. And I wasn’t to do a recap, but rather talk about interesting things that happened. In other words, to find human interest stories.
I arrived on the first day and was sent to the Media Room. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It was a windowless, subterranean concrete room, freezing cold, located close to the diving end of the magnificent PanAm Pool in Toronto. (I’m not kidding about the cold – almost all Media Room dwellers spent the whole week in there wearing coats).
And that’s when I finally faced up to something I was putting off. I’d never done a human interest story before.
The Media Room
This room never stops. From before heats start at 8 am to after finals end (about 10 pm), this room is active. There was always somebody from Swimming Canada to help us, and always journalists banging out stories. If I needed a picture, Scott Grant was there to take it (and wow is he good!). If I asked for an interview with an athlete, or a coach, or Swimming Canada personnel, they’d try to arrange it. And they were endless fonts of information of all kinds.
I should point out that Swimming Canada’s Nathan White was the quarterback in this room. He was tireless, patient, and seemed to be involved in virtually every aspect of the meet. I have no idea how he kept that up for 6 days. He’ll probably sleep for a week once it’s all over.
There was one major surprise for me, and again, probably because I never thought about it. The TV broadcasters who cover Canadian swimming, Byron MacDonald (my former coach) and Steve Armitage, sound so natural in their broadcasts. Well it turns out they show up in the Media Room as much as 5 hours before the broadcast to go over every lane in every final, figure out what to say about different athletes and their background and coaches, what their best times and splits are, etc. And somehow after all that planning they make it seem so natural on tv.
There was also one incident that spoke volumes about the professionalism in this room. On one of the later days, after they brought some space heaters in a futile attempt to warm the room up, the circuit breakers went. While we had lights, we had no power and no internet. And everything just continued on without a fuss. We used our laptops to write, our phones to gather information. In less than an hour the power was brought back up, and the routine continued without a hiccup.
Being incredibly new to all of this, I was in a constant state of discovery. And one of the things I discovered is that I really like interviewing people. I think being a former swimmer helped, as I kind of knew what they were going through after their races. Teasing out the interesting parts, and what went according to plan and what didn’t was fascinating to me. And hey, interviewing elite swimmers is definitely fun for a swim nerd like myself!
Interviewing Swimming Canada officials was also fun. They’re incredibly passionate about what they do, and all I really needed to do was to start them going and then sit back. Every once in a while I’d nudge them in a new direction, and off they’d go.
Without any set agenda for my articles, I was constantly trying to find those human interest stories. Before a session I’d prepare 5 or 6 possible stories and do some research in preparation, and then hope that one worked out.
As an example, if the target of my story didn’t do well in their race, then I didn’t write about it. (I know. That shouldn’t have stopped me, but I really didn’t think I had the skills or writing chops yet to interview someone whose dreams just went up in smoke.)
The next difficulty was getting the interview, and getting to ask the human interest questions that weren’t of interest to the other journalists. Sometimes I just didn’t get the chance, as the athlete needed to head off to warm down.
And lastly, once I had the interview and the information, then I was under a deadline. Not a really strict one, but a deadline all the same. That article needed to go out sometime within the next hour. Once it was ready I sent it to the incredibly patient Jason Marsteller at Swimming World, and waited to see if he had any suggested changes.
It was definitely an experience I’ll remember for a long time.
Oh, and if you’re really interested, you can find my Swimming World stories from that wonderful week right here.