Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Press vs. The Players: Shadow Boxing - Part 2

My translations of parts of Anders Haahr Rasmussen's terrific book "Én bold ad gangen: Wozniacki, US Open 2009" page 140 ff.

(She answers in that way) partly to protect herself, because it would be utterly exhausting if she actually had to think about each and every question, consult her thoughts and feelings, and answer in a way that truly reflected how she thought. Who is capable of investing so much of themselves time after time, day after day, in conversations with people whose only interest in you is professional?

But Caroline Wozniacki is contractually obligated to show up and and deliver useful quotes. And she does it not without self-interest. The sympathy of the print media and widespread exposure in the electronic media make her attractive for the sponsors who have the really big money.

So she stands there, time after time, and does her best to deliver the product the media want. When she's asked a question by a Swedish journalist, she adjusts her Danish by speaking more slowly and substituting Swedish words when she knows them.

When she's interviewed for radio, she makes sure as much as possible to repeat key words from the reporter's question and answer in complete sentences, so the question "What is it that makes the US Open different from the other big tournaments?" isn't answered by saying, "The atmosphere. There's more happening, people yell and scream", but by saying, "The atmosphere is a bit different at the US Open. There's more happening, people yell and scream", so that the statement can be used as an independent sound bite during the sports news.

For TV, Caroline Wozniacki doesn't only make sure she smiles, she also makes sure she has a Sony Ericsson mobile phone hanging around her neck. And if the interview is after a practice session where she's been playing in sponsor free clothes, she asks for a little break and reaches into the little bag where she has her sponsor stickers, and puts them on her clothes, so that Nordea, eBoks and European Travel Insurance can be seen on screen.

It's a widespread thought among journalists that their articles and opinion pieces are very different from the advertisements that help pay their wages. Advertising on TV is clearly separated from news broadcasts they bracket, and if a newspaper advertisement too closely resembles the news articles around it, a header is added saying "advertisement", so no one can be in doubt. The wall between journalism and advertising must be airtight, they say, because while journalists strive for an objective and balanced view of the world they write about from newsworthy criteria like importance and timeliness, advertisers are only interested in making as much money as possible by presenting their product as advantageously as possible.

(Footnote: This idea of a journalistic value free view of the world reaches the height of hypocrisy with tennis journalists in the press box, where they're subject to (and subject other journalists to with damning looks and explicit comments) a severe code about not clapping or otherwise expressing excitement about the play on court. During the first week of the tournament (US Open)  I dared to jump up with my arms in the air and cheer after a fantastic rally between Ernests Gulbis and Andy Murray ended with an unbelievable winner from Gulbis. An American colleague turned towards me . "No cheering in the in the press box, please," she said.

I'm well aware of the journalistic ideals behind the telling off, but I still don't understand why they're maintained by a press corps that 1) mainly cover players from their own country and 2) write, as they're expected to, nationalistically, being excited when their players win and disappointed when they lose . It's very obvious from the coverage that Swedish journalists support the Swedish players, and Danish journalist Danish players. "Go Denmark" etc.

For the large number of freelancers like me, there's the fact that the Danish media is only interested stories about Danish players, and that I'm without an income as soon as Caro loses. So you sit there - under conditions that encourage a totally partisan attitude to matches - and pretend to be a watchdog of objectivity, and scold those who don't maintain the illusion.

For example the Chinese journalists, who a have a very different, relaxed attitude towards the "no cheering" business. I've seen them on several occasions clap rhythmically and chant "Let's go!" and "Zheng Zhie!". Those were "the Emperor has no clothes" moments and were very liberating.)

Page 155 ff
I've interviewed Caroline Wozniacki many many times. The content of the answers would always be the same, whether at a press conference or during a one-on-one. Because the situation remains the same for her. It's artificial and demanding, consisting of strangers whose interests she has to cater to. American Express is interested in people using their credit cards, Adidas wants to sell clothes, and I'm interested in getting an article I can use that helps sell newspapers, so my boss will be happy and send me off to another tournament.

We all need Caroline Wozniacki's help, her words, her face. The only difference between us journalists and the others vying for her is that we don't pay money for her product. (Footnote: What's telling for Wozniacki's relationship with the media is that this a truth with some modification, as it doesn't apply to all journalists. If a lifestyle magazine, like Eurowoman or Bazar wants to interview her, it costs 25,000 kroner via her management company, Nordic Sports Management, which demands an extra 25,000 kroner if her picture is on the cover. NSG also reserves the right, through agreements with Wozniacki and her sponsors, to participate in the selection of the photographs accompanying the article, so the photographs where the names of her sponsors can best be seen are chosen. "Caroline has to prioritise the sparse free time she has, and coordinating the availability of her time cost money," is NSGs explanation. Instead of admitting the commercialisation of media relations this is an expression of, they try to make us believe that a sports star, who in 2009 alone has earned over 15 million kroner in prize money and almost as much in sponsor earnings, will let 25,000 kroner decide if she's wants to travel to Denmark to be interviewed and photographed.)

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