How Many Trips to Nationwide Arena Does it Take to Interview Some Blue Jackets?

Posted on September 25, 2010

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Ryan Holtmann is very good at his job. He is accommodating, professional, polite and easy with which to work. And he recently helped me during an experience that I wanted to share with my students because it carries this moral: Sometimes the pursuit of journalism comes with unforeseen and unexpected challenges.

Ryan handles media for the Columbus Blue Jackets, so it was to him I turned to set up an interview with Coach Scott Arniel for an upcoming Columbus Monthly profile. Mission accomplished quickly and easily. Then Ryan set up my phone interview with Jackets General Manager Scott Howson–Howson even answered his own phone on the first ring.

But for the last pieces of my journalistic puzzle, I needed to talk to some players about their new coach. And there was the rub.

The tip-off that things were not going to go as smoothly as I hoped came when I made my first visit to training camp last  Saturday afternoon and heard no sounds coming from the ice. Turns out I had just missed practice, and off-ice drills would take an hour before players were available to talk. Ryan and I agreed we’d reschedule for Friday at 8:15 a.m. Come Friday, I again arrived at Nationwide and heard no activity on the ice. As I stood in the depths of the arena, players began to filter in from the outside through the door behind me–and they didn’t yet look ready for hockey in their shorts and flip-flops.

“Uh oh,” said Ryan when I called him. “They canceled the first session. I am so sorry.”

And since Coach Arniel allows no interviews until after practice, these players in street clothes were off-limits to an intrepid writer and her trusty recorder.

Now a second strikeout is frustrating for anyone, especially someone on a deadline. I could have gotten annoyed, or mad, but none of those emotions would have gotten my interviews done, and Ryan can’t control that which he can’t control. I had two choices–abandon my interview hopes, or return at a later point (in this case, a 10 a.m. practice and 10:45 interview).

Needless to say I came back, and things worked out better than I could have anticipated. After watching Coach Arniel in action at practice, I met radio broadcaster George Matthews on my way to the  locker room and got his terrific insights on Arniel. He also provided me with practice notes, and he and Ryan showed me the ropes navigating the locker room process, allowing for great discussions with R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette (with whom I even practiced my French–oui, oui!).

Sometimes interviews go perfectly. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you drive two hours to a Cleveland Indians game to interview a guy on the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks team at Jacobs Field, and you sit around for so long waiting their PR guy to even show up that the player begins his pre-game ritual and will no longer do interviews (outfielder Steve Finley and I eventually spoke on the phone).

In writing, as in life, stuff happens. And as a journalist, when you find a guy like Ryan who does his best for you–even if your interviews take a bit longer to achieve than you expect—there are only two things to do. Make as many accommodations as possible, and thank him profusely for caring enough to do his best to help you.

How many trips to Nationwide Arena does it take to get an interview with some Blue Jackets? It doesn’t matter as long as the job gets done.

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Posted in: Journalism