HOW I WAS A REPORTER AT THE WORLDS
Last week world’s biggest annual figure skating competition came to Boston for the first time, bringing along the athletes from 37 countries and selling out the TD Garden arena several times in the course of the week. To cover the event, 350 members of the media came from all over the world. As a Boston blogger, I was incredibly lucky to get a media accreditation to the event. So I took a vacation from my day job and became a reporter for the better part of the week.
Growing up, I actually dreamed to be a reporter and even studied at one of the best journalism schools in Russia. But that was…many years ago. In my spare time, I write about leisure and travel on this blog but have not had a chance to cover a sporting event…until now. [UPDATE: Sporting Events is now a regular feature on my blog!] I am however a life-long figure skating fan and have been following the season very closely. It would be impossible to do this assignment without being a fan of the sport.
What does a “media access” mean?
Figure Skating Worlds is made of eight events (short and long programs in ladies and men singles, pairs and ice dance competitions) spread over four days – in addition to two pre-event official practice days. You can get to see it all with an all event ticket pass (or buy separate event tickets without practice access) but as a member of the media you also get the privileges of going to practices at the supplemental rink, talking to athletes in mixed zone and at press conferences, and riding the official bus with the athletes to and from the hotel. (Many reporters took advantage of the long rides through the busy center of Boston to interview the athletes.)
Where are the media seats?
At the TD Garden there is a media section on level 5 with several rows of tables. You could also sit at the adjacent “regular” seating section designated for the media or at the “press box” way up high above the arena.
Many journalists preferred the space at the press box so they could have a bigger and quieter working area to spread the equipment and work on filing daily pictures and texts away from the noise on the main level. You could still see the skaters way down below on the ice (and on the big screens) but you were also “away” from the audience.
Personally I loved my media position in the middle of everything on level 5. I could see all the action on the ice and in the stands pretty well. A Finnish journalist to my right gave me pointers on the quality of the elements while a Russian journalist to my left got me up to speed on figure skaters’ social life.
A legendary Russian figure skating coach Tatyana Tarasova (who led her skaters to eight Olympic gold medals and numerous world titles) was doing live commentary for a Russian TV station right above me:
Here is Sochi’s Ice Dancing Olympic champion Charlie White working for the Ice Network.
Skating legends came to say hello or were being interviewed right at the press area (there is a TV studio at TD Garden which recorded the segments for TV and to be transmitted into the arena).
Media Seats: No Cheering!
There is typically no cheering on the media seats. Being a huge fan of the sport at my first Worlds, I found it hard not to cheer. And there was one time (OK, three) when I got up and cheered (for a minute). I will tell you about my favorite competition moments in my next story from the Worlds.
What about the photographers
Photographer positions are chosen daily…by a lottery! If you are lucky, you get to sit in the middle of the arena, right next to the judges, at the first row. If not, there are also designated photographer seats at the media section on level 5. As a blogger, I was taking my own pictures from my “writing press” position on level 5 and considering that I did not have any super special equipment (you know- full frame/telephoto lenses), I did pretty well!
“Mixed zone” is a special area near the arena where skaters are required to go through and talk to the journalists right after their competitive performances. It was amazing to see my favorite skaters so close and hear their immediate reactions right after the performances. Needless to say, I have seen happy and sad faces, and everything in between.
I saw people taking pen and paper notes (like myself), but many had their Dictaphones up to get the quotes right.
While you are in the mixed zone, the next skater is up on the ice and you miss it! This is how I missed the best short dances from the medal contenders! In the long programs, the last group is made up of the strongest competitors, so I really did not want to miss anybody on the ice and made a decision not to go the the mixed zone. Representing my own blog, I was free to make that choice, but many journalists on assignment with daily publications had to run back and forth up and down the stairs between their media positions and the mixed zone to get the “quotes” from the skaters.
Those journalists who wanted a more detailed sit down conversions had to file a formal request at the press office. (Some used their “special connection” with the skaters and coaches to get the interviews. But these connections take many “Worlds” to build).
Press Conferences take place right after the small medal (and draw) ceremonies following short programs and following an award ceremony after the long programs. Only top three finishes in each event are invited to talk to the press (Actually, they are required to by the rules!)
Small medals for short programs are being awarded right before the conferences.
Media gets to see (and report live!) as the skaters draw their skating order for the long program. (Their group is determined by the placement in the short program, but the order within the group is drawn.) The order is very important but is often a personal preference: some skaters like to go first in their group right after the ice warm up. Depending on how others skate and your state of mind, going last in your group may make or break a champion.
I enjoyed sitting at all the conferences, but not every skater is used to (or enjoys) talking to the media (although I’d say after 15 thousand audience members just watched you skate at the arena and millions more on TV screens around the world, nothing should scare you).
Some skaters’ personalities really shone through during the conferences. How about this quote from Ashley Wagner: “I am like an old wine. I get better with age”.
Max Trankov from Russia (Sochi Pairs Olympic Champion with Tatyana Volosozhar) was funny in English (other Russians, as well as Chinese and Japanese skaters used the translators on hand).
The press conference after the pairs Medal Ceremony turned into an interesting conversation about the future of this skating event (might be because it was the only World Medalists conference that was NOT happening at midnight!). There are a lot of technical advancements happening in pairs that make it impossible, as the results showed, to stay on top without learning new quadruple twists and throws.
It’s Hard Work!
Reporting from a multi-day multi-event international competition like World Figure Skating Championships is hard, hard work! On a typical day, there would be morning practices, then first event. Typically, an 11am to 3pm event is followed by a medal ceremony, a draw, and a press conference; then another competition event is up at 7pm to 11pm followed by an Award ceremony and another press conference. There is only one two-hour break in between the two events of the day.
Reporters from the daily publications wrote two-three stories a day while also filing numerous quotes from the mixed zone. Forget leisurely networking meals – reporters hardly had time to say hello to each other. Instead, I have seen people bending over their laptops during the press conferences and on the floor in the mixed zone, vigorously typing away their stories.
Still – it must be addicting because I met a lot of people who have been doing this for years.
Media got help from the event’s own press center run by Renee Felton of the US Figure Skating (with her staff and volunteers) who made sure the journalists had print and online access to the starting orders and results, biographies, break downs of the judges’ scores, program content and music for each skater. There was so much information available for each event that I was not sure whether it was a blessing or disguise! Mostly, these materials were very helpful, and I tried to utilize them as I was preparing my daily social media updates with results and pictures. While I was only able to produce short blurbs following each event during actual competition schedule, my medium (blogging) allows me to write my Worlds stories for a couple of weeks if not months after the event. (And I got a lot of amazing pictures – with the help of my husband who was cleaning up the files while I was having a couple of hours sleep break at night.)
I loved every minute of my Worlds 2016 experience and will forever hold the amazing memories in my heart. While I “decided” to keep my day job, I would love an opportunity to cover another one of my favorite Worlds when it comes to North America. I hear Artistic Gymnastics’ Worlds is coming to Montreal, Canada in 2017.