How did the Dawn Wall become Big Big News

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Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jan 17, 2015 - 09:05am PT
Because oddly, it sold a lot of advertising.
crankster

Trad climber
Jan 17, 2015 - 09:10am PT
Let's ignore your awful, right wing slant and speculate...it's pretty simple, actually. People like a feel good news story. 24/7 cable news emphasizes the negative stories mostly, despite positive news on the economy and other fronts. This was a diversion, however short.
apogee

climber
Technically expert, safe belayer, can lead if easy
Jan 17, 2015 - 09:38am PT
I think Ward's OP is a good question (except for his predictable Obama snark).

For the most part, the significance of the completion of this route is understandable to a pretty narrow section of society.

The level of international recognition this received must have been largely a combination of a planned media blitz, and a relatively slower news cycle.

Had it received the usual level of climbing media attention, and there had been an impending election or domestic disaster going on, it probably wouldn't have gone as big.
StahlBro

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 09:45am PT
The proliferation of climbing gyms has made climbing more accessible to the general public, so the potential audience is much bigger. Climbing does appear to be a fringe activity for the mentally unstable as much as it once did.
elcap-pics

Big Wall climber
Crestline CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 10:02am PT
Good guess Clint! Actually I was sent to just take some shots and a few videos and I figured to spend evenings at the pool at the Yosemite View Hotel at the El Portal gate. I was shooting late in the evening a few days into the job when a guy wandered up and said "Are you Tom? Everyone said you are the guy I need to talk to." It was John Branch from the NY Times. We had a long chat and he took a lot of notes as I talk kinda fast when I speak about climbing. He left and next morning there was an article on the front page of the paper, quoting me and giving my ElCap Report contact information.

BOOM! It started! I awoke to emails from every conceivable network and news organization on the planet. They all came to me and suddenly I was the single information source for media, hungry for interviews and pictures. The requests always started the same... Hey Tom how are you doing? This is whoever and we understand that you have information about.... everything!!!

They all wanted a 4 minute interview with the climbers over their cell phone. And they wanted videos and pics too... all had deadlines of some sort. Right off Tommy and Kevin said NO, we don't want to talk to anyone as we want to focus on the climbing. Great..what was I to do now? I got on the horn to my Adidas Outdoor people in LA. At first they didn't quite get it... that this thing was about to explode into a huge event. I told them point blank that if we didn't get out front on this thing that someone else would and we would be left in the dust.

Adidas Outdoor swung into action and had John Long set up to do interview requests and Ted Distel to handle the videos and still shots, and Diane Kay to route and manage the information coming from me. We quickly set up a drop box where the visual materials we had were downloaded and the media could resource anything they liked FOR FREE. That was the moment we took control of the event. I was busy like I have never been before in my life.

I would finally get to bed between midnight and 2am and get up at 4:30 or 5am to handle all the foreign requests. I would grab some junk food at the hotel store and hold up in the room doing phone interviews and directing information to LA. Fortunately, the weather got warm and the guys couldn't climb until late afternoon, so I had the entire morning to answer media requests. I would try to get out of there by noon and escape to the meadow to shoot. I grabbed a bowl of chilli at the lodge after the shooting and raced back to the room where I would do more media requests. I tried to get the report done before bed but some nights I just fell asleep in the chair and couldn't function, as I was so tired. First thing in the morning I did the Report and took important emails as I was writing it.

ABC's GMA showed up fairly early on and wanted interviews for the show and I got some TV exposure, if only for a few moments. From then on there was a line of TV media wanting to interview and tape me for this or that show. I had seen all this coming and went into my old talking mode to "Tourons at the Bridge." It worked and all the network people said I was a great interview and that I had "Great Hair!" Really! I said " you gotta be kidding me" They said that great hair was important on TV!!! Ha, Ha, I laughed until I was almost sick!!

Anyway, the ElCap Report exploded too and that fed the frenzy. I got to saying, in answer to requests... read the days report first and if you have further questions I will answer them.

The story got better and better with the trials and tribulations of Kevin and the support of Tommy. It was NOT a slow media time. The day of the story of the Paris killings and the plane crash took our story off the front pages and it languished for a time.. but it was a long running story and I knew the media would be back, in time, because it was the only "feel good story" in the news. Sure enough they came back and went even more viral.. you know the rest.

One of the reporters from a San Jose paper, Lisa Fernandez, sent me a note after the story had finished, with the subject line. Do you know why this was such a big story? The message said "Because of you! You had good interviews and you had information available FREE to all the media and you kept the story alive" I was very flattered of course, but replied that the Adidas Outdoor Team did all that stuff and they were the ones who made things happen for the media. I did get some good shots and videos and Ted was able to merge them into a good video that R&I ran daily on their website. Plus I was located in an obvious place in the meadow and I was easy to talk to. The media would come to me to find out what was going on and when it would happen.

Today I am home and when I looked at my email... there was not a single message about the climb.. no requests at all! It was fun while it lasted and I was running in some fast company but that is the way these things go.. they sweep in like a storm and run their course and then sweep out just as fast as they came in. Now I am back to being an obscure photographer and blog writer. But it was some adventure... some adventure!
Largo

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Jan 17, 2015 - 10:22am PT
I think that Captain Tom is single most influential factor in the story going global. That and the fact that we cranked out those little videos that went viral after a week, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Branch got onto the story early on and ran with it. But perhaps looking at "The Send of the Century" in terms of a rock climb is missing the point, well stated in the following passage:

"A huge number of climbers will look back on the Dawn Wall Project as a specific moment in history where we were all paying attention to something special in the making. It's not a cure for cancer or ending poverty or political repression, but it is elevating our spirits in a way that is evident to any observer, on a scale that doesn't happen too often. You need not be a climber to respect years of hard work at an elite level, the resulting progress and perseverance, and the personal stories of overcoming adversity and honoring a friendship and a joint commitment to find a win for all parties. That stuff is gold on every level."

From NutAgain! Supertopo
ryankelly

Trad climber
Bhumi
Jan 17, 2015 - 10:40am PT
Captain Tom! Thanks for the cool hat.
elcap-pics

Big Wall climber
Crestline CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 10:42am PT
Well Chief... that was then and this is now... there are new badasses now and they deserve their time in the limelight. Times have changed and the media is all in, all the time. Had we had electronic media then those 4 you mentioned would be front and center.
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 17, 2015 - 10:59am PT
Adidas Outdoor swung into action and had John Long set up to do interview requests and Ted Distel to handle the videos and still shots, and Diane Kay to rout and manage the information coming from me. We quickly set up a drop box where the visual materials we had were downloaded and the media could resource anything they liked FOR FREE. That was the moment we took control of the event. I was busy like I have never been before in my life.

Congratulations to the core group listed above. All of you did an excellent job in helping to make this story a truly positive event.
This was the "inside story" I was hoping for.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
From Panorama City, CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 11:09am PT
Great thread. I spent some time trying to find some video of Tommy freeing the Dihedral Wall. Nada. What about Honnold freeing the Muir in 12 hours. Amazing! And then there's that really big one; Donini and Lowe doing their NIAD. Sure, they didn't break the big barrier but what a story! It would be nice to know more of their personal reflections. I STILL hope one of them writes something up about it. A dual dialog would be cool. Cheers to Tommy and Kevin. It's difficult to comprehend even the persistence. All of this is gem after gem for us old farts!
Largo

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Jan 17, 2015 - 11:16am PT
To answer Ward's question a little further - remember that this narrative went on for 19 days. That's what they call in news a "developing situation." And with success never a given (Kevins struggles on pitch 15, in particular), the story took on Homeric proportions. I think it was also handled pretty humbly by all parties. Not a lot of hype - just simple reporting of the basic stuff, which didn't need goosing or embelishing.

Truly, a once in a lifetime experience for all involved. I felt honored to be part of it. But as I said previously, none of this really catches fire like it did without Tom shooting from the meadow and Ted Distel chugging out those little vids that went viral. And once Branch/NYT got on board, we had lift-off.

JL
two-shoes

Trad climber
Auberry, CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 11:35am PT
I saw a small segment on TV where they were asking a little 4 or 5 year old girl, who was at a climbing gym, what it was all about(these guys climbing the world's hardest climb), and she said, " They love em so much because they climbed all the way to the top!"

She was pretty f'in cute!
jgill

Boulder climber
Colorado
Jan 17, 2015 - 12:27pm PT
Although the news media is so much more sophisticated now a similar thing occurred when Kamps and Rearick climbed the Diamond on Longs Peak in the early 1960s. They received a ticker-tape parade through Estes Park, were written up and misquoted in Time Magazine (Rearick: "We burned our bridges behind us."), and I think the NYTimes and a number of other prominent newspapers had front page articles.

Dave had just received a PhD in math from Cal Tech and that reflected a US commitment to science, particularly the space race. He had applied for a position at CU in Boulder a year or so before and had not gotten a reply. After all the publicity CU contacted him with an offer which he accepted, retiring in the early 1990s.
chill

climber
between the flat part and the blue wobbly thing
Jan 17, 2015 - 03:31pm PT
Tom - your tale of the buildup of the media circus reminded me of one of my favorite old movies, "Ace in the Hole", starring Kirk Douglass. Luckily the outcome for DW was better (and Tommy's wife didn't stab you with a pair of scissors).
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 04:09pm PT
Tom,
Thanks for sharing the inside story on how it developed.
And thanks for all your work to help the media folks and promote accuracy.
Love the quote about how "great hair is important on TV"!

One key part of the equation:
why did John Branch show up that day at El Cap Meadow to look into the story?
A previous post hints that he may be a climber?
Maybe he was already in California visiting with family for the holidays?
His bio shows he was born in California, went to CU Boulder,
and was a sports reporter in Colorado Springs and Fresno before joining the New York Times.
In 2013 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his story on skiers caught in a fatal avalanche.
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/john_branch/index.html
whitemeat

Big Wall climber
San Luis Obispo, CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 04:12pm PT
I asked josh with bigupproductions the same thing, he said....


Once the NY times covered the story, everyone wanted in...
zBrown

Ice climber
BrujÚ de la Playa
Jan 17, 2015 - 04:39pm PT
THE MORE INTERESTING QUESTION TO ME IS:

How fast will the Dawn Wall become teeny-tiny news?

In a week or two the vast majority (most likely more than 99%) of the "news" recipients will not be able to recall the names of the climbers or even what state the climbing occurred in.

News travels fast and disappears even faster.


neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Jan 17, 2015 - 06:15pm PT
hey there say, ward trotter... tom... and largo...


first, thanks for the question, warrd...

and say, tom and largo, thanks for all in the info...

tom, i remembering reading your facebook post when the
'sudden gust of all this' hit you, :))


you all were great, and right place right time, too...
the climbers of course, did a great job--for this
perfect timed climb...
it all just settled into a nice 'gem in a ring' ...

:)
elcap-pics

Big Wall climber
Crestline CA
Jan 17, 2015 - 06:33pm PT
It doesn't matter if the story is gone in a week... it had its moment in the sun and the world got to watch something uplifting and wonderful for a time, in a world covered in blood and death. We all needed a breather from all that horror.

For me it was very difficult for a time, due to continuous demands made on me, coupled with a terrible diet, little sleep, and the photographic demands. Most of the time I was shooting it was really cold and I had lost my tolerance for it in the Alps in 69, when caught in a terrible storm. Most evenings I had a hard exhaustion buzzzz going and felt sick to my stomach. I just hoped I could get up in the morning and go again.

I worked hard because I felt an obligation to Adidas, who were paying my expenses and because of Tommy and Kevin... I wanted to give them the best I had in explaining the story, as I knew and admired both of them. I also wanted ElCap to get the respect that I have always felt it deserved in the history of the sport. This was not like my regular spring and fall gigs where we hang at the Bridge or in the meadow and mostly talk sh#t and lay around with a Cobra or two.

Also I had just been taken on by Adidas Outdoor and I didn't want to let them down or have them think poorly of me. I had not signed up for any of this media stuff... just to take some shots and a few videos of the climb. That would turn out to be the easy part!

Now I must admit to feeling a deep sense of pride as a result of the experience... like the climbers themselves... I had manned up and gotten the job done... not as a young man full of energy, but a geezer at 70. And I had spent 20 years out there shooting and learning about ElCap and here I was given this one last chance to show what I was made of... Our little team of 4 or so people had gotten out ahead of the story and made a big impact on the direction it went. We ended up being the "mouse that roared!!"

My aim was to show the world that the character, integrity , and tenacity of the men was, as, or more important than, the numbers on each pitch. That is what turned the story for me and I told that to every interviewer I spoke to. My emphasis on these characteristics was, I believe, what elevated the story to a higher level, as opposed to just stating the numbers and climbing ability of the men. In the ECR I could get in the details that climbers wanted to read about with the shots I took. Probably, more than anything I have ever done in this sport, I will be remembered for these 19 days, and I didn't want anything to go wrong. I was never anything more than an average climber with more tenacity than skill, a fact that my detractors like to throw in my face from time to time. I never claimed to be anything but an average climber. This was a different deal!

Blah, blah, blah... and that is the way it was... the inside story ... they say we all are tested in life, but not at the time or in the way we expect. I was tested and I came through... it doesn't get any better than that for me. I used to tell my students, "A job well done is its own reward" and it was for me.
zBrown

Ice climber
BrujÚ de la Playa
Jan 17, 2015 - 06:37pm PT
It doesn't matter if the story is gone in a week... it had its moment in the sun and the world got to watch something uplifting and wonderful for a time, in a world covered in blood and death. We all needed a breather from all that horror.

Fair enough.
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