Dan Steinberg on Covering Curling, and How to Spot American Reporters in Turin

The Washington Post 's Olympics blogger chats about the convivial atmosphere at the Games' Media Center, the questionable importance of curling, and his Cheese Lovers Newsletter.

Dan Steinberg
Courtesy Washington Post

Dan Steinberg is blogging about the 2006 Winter Games for the WashingtonPost.com. Steinberg described the blog, Tales From Turin, as “a blog about cheese, the New Zealand curling team, ketchup-flavored salty snacks and possibly biathlon. And if that seems odd to you, imagine what my editors must be thinking.” Steinberg joined the Washington Post in 2001 recording high school football box scores over the phone. Since then, he has written about high school basketball scandals, NASCAR, marathons and ACC football, and he has blogged for the Post from the ACC basketball tournament, the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day, and the Booz Allen PGA tournament.

Liz Cox Barrett: Bloggers who scored press passes to the Republican and Democratic conventions in 2004 were treated as objects of curiosity, put on display in “Blogger Alley” and were interviewed incessantly by print and broadcast media. How have you been received in Turin by your print and broadcast peers, by the Olympic officials, by athletes, by locals — in terms of access, respect, and so on?

Dan Steinberg: Honestly, this isn’t going to be juicy for you, but I think no one really knows [that I’m blogging]. I’ve tried to explain to people that I’m writing for the Web site. I don’t even use the word blog because … a lot of European people I’ve talked to have no idea what a blog is. I don’t say I’m blogging, I tell people I’m writing exclusively for the Internet and they understand “Washingtonpost.com.”

I’m not sure everyone understands what I’m doing. If they did understand maybe there wouldn’t be any respect. I just have a press pass that says, “Dan Steinberg, Washington Post” and I think the Washington Post gets me respect regardless of what it is exactly that I’m doing.

LCB: Well, you’ve been embraced by the cool kids in the blogosphere. Gawker linked to your blog, saying that reading it is “like watching a monkey throw feces at the head zookeeper,” and noting your “insanity.” Deadspin called yours a “ridiculous Olympic blog … which is so consistently entertaining and bizarre that we think it might be making us insane.” Is this the tone you were going for — insane/bizarre?

DS: I guess I sort of recognize that now but no, not exactly. I didn’t really have a tone in mind when I came here at all. I’ve done this [blogging] a couple of times before for the Post for different sporting events and I would say it’s always a similar tone. I’ve never blogged this long, always just one or two days at a time. I was always trying to be a little bit smart-alecky while at the same time telling people something that they might not already know about the sporting event. I wasn’t trying to throw feces at anyone. I guess that’s fine if that’s how it turned out. I don’t even know what that means — I mean, do you think I’m throwing feces?

LCB: I don’t know what it means, either, but they say no publicity is bad publicity. You got linked.

DS: Definitely. I have no complaints about that. I just wasn’t sure exactly what “throwing feces” meant.

LCB: What have you learned about your profession and/or your colleagues during your time in Turin — perhaps something that surprised you or shocked you, even? And, what is the scariest thing you’ve seen in the Media Center?

DS: It’s a lot less formal here after events. At American events, they put [press] at tables and everyone sits around and asks questions, and here it’s a lot more grabbing at people. This feels less like a sports event than most of the things I’ve covered. Half of the time I’m running around the streets doing things. I think I’ve been to three sporting events so far in eight days or something like that.

I’m so glad I’m doing what I’m doing. The [print reporters] will cover an event that goes on in the morning over here and maybe their story gets on the Web that night. For me, it’s kind of instant gratification. I wouldn’t really want to trade with my colleagues.

LCB: Seen anything scary in Media Center?

DS: Scary?

LCB: Or, how would you describe the vibe in the Media Center?

DS: The Media Center is kind of disturbing, because we’re all kind of hemmed into this big warehouse building in the middle of nowhere. I think people are friendlier than they would be at a regular old sporting event, like at an NCAA basketball game it doesn’t seem like people greet each other in the line at the buffet or whatever. Here, it seems like every time you wait in line for a piece of pizza you have to introduce yourself to the Belgian journalist behind you.

LCB: How can tell an American journalist from a non-American journalist over there — or can you?

DS: To me the number one giveaway is the white sneakers. I wrote about that a little bit. It’s definitely striking. And I’ve worn my white sneakers a little bit, too. It clearly signifies you as American.

LCB: How is the Cheney hunting accident playing over in Italy? What’s the buzz in the Media Center on the topic?

DS: We have our own little office so I hang out with Washington Post people all day. As far as what we’re doing I think we all just try to work in a Cheney shooting joke once or twice into our copy. Other than that it’s kind of just something to read [about].

LCB: I’d like to get your thoughts on something that is burning up the blogosphere. Bryant Gumbel of HBO’s “Real Sports” apparently recently said the following about the Winter Olympics: “Try to blot out all logic when announcers and sportswriters pretend to care about the luge, the skeleton, the biathlon and all those other events they don’t understand and totally ignore for all but three weeks every four years. Face it — these Olympics are little more than a marketing plan to fill space and sell time during the dreary days of February. So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness — for God’s sake, let the games begin.” In the same segment he also mentioned that the Winter Olympics looks like a “GOP convention,” complexion-wise. Discuss.

DS: It’s definitely an immensely white crowd — journalists and fans and athletes.

LCB: And white-sneakered, too?

DS: Yeah, definitely. The American speedskater Shani Davis, the big buzz around him was that he was the one black superstar in the speedskating world. It’s definitely a white world over here.

As to the other thing, it’s interesting [Gumbel] said that. I think a lot of people have been saying that … questioning whether it’s really worth you know, say, the Washington Post sending 11 people [to Turin]. I wonder about that, too. I think the European press covers some of these sports year-round. There are World Cup circuits for skiing, speedskating and [European reporters] cover it every winter … so the Olympics really isn’t out of the ordinary. But for us, we do pretty much ignore these sports for three out of every four years. … [One of my colleagues] said that it feels like a made-for-TV event a lot of the time. You go to these events and go into a curling match in some suburb of Turin and it’s half-filled and you wonder … Curling, I’m obviously having a little fun with it, but it kind of makes you wonder why is this so important that we have so many people over here? If you’re here you do start to care about [it], though, so I don’t agree that journalists are just pretending to care. I think when you’re around it, you sort of get to know the personalities and you do start to care. Whether the people at home care, I am not sure.

LCB: You were once a cheese monger at Whole Foods. How did that job prepare you for your life as a sports reporter and, now, blogger?

DS: There are not a lot of similarities. But I did do a Cheese Lovers Newsletter (I used to struggle over whether there should be an apostrophe in “Lovers”). I would solicit email addresses and once a month send out some kind of overly-written treatise about all our new cheeses and cheeses that were on sale and beg people to come in and buy this or that cheese. Whenever anyone would show any kind of interest in cheese at the counter I would try to solicit their email address and badger then into signing up. So maybe that’s similar [to reporting]. That was sort of a little weird pause in my career.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.