April 1st, 2021

Fiah

A Rather Duct-Taped-Together Profile

   So I've been taking this "narrative journalism" class taught by southern california journalist of some repute Gustavo Arellano. For one of our assignments we had to do a profile on someone. El profesor said our subject didn't have to be newsworthy, they could be just important to us, but to me that sounded like a cheap cop out and I wanted to go for gold. And of course a profile of a doctor straining to deal with the overburdened undersupported conditions of coronavirus in Venezuela would probably be quite acceptable but doing my own fiancee also seemed like a cop out. But there's one celebrity I've been hearing about around here (not counting the former sports star who was insulted that I didn't recognize his name), Australian travel show presenter Catriona Rowntree (pronounced "Catrina" -- I don't know why Australians have to spell things so strangely)
   I had first become aware of her almost exactly a year ago when she was the celebrity host of the launch of a major conservation project that had its launch event immediately prior to lockdown, she's apparently a household name in Australia for her travel show. Being, you know, rather interested in travel, I proceeded to look up what clips of her show are on youtube and found, at least as far as I can gather from the clips on youtube, her show seems to be entirely show-length infomercials talking up specific tour packages or cruises. I wasnt' really terribly impressed but at least she's a local celebrity, involved in travel, and appears to live in the area -- Stavros among my new coworkers actually has hives on her property.

   So I googled around for a contact for her, messaged her public figure profile on facebag, surprisingly got a response from her asking me to contact "Jo" to sort it out, and then realized that "jo" was an email address listed on that profile, so I emailed her. A day or two went by. Then, as I was walking across the open field between my house and my village's main street to attend an editorial meeting of the local monthly newsletter, my phone dinged with a new email -- Jo writing back to say that I could interview Catriona by phone at 10:00 on the 22nd. The profile was DUE on the 22nd and thus that wouldn't work for this assignment, but I figured I'd come this far I might as well go through with it, maybe I could write a profile and sling it to an Australian travel magazine or something. Then I walked into the editorial meeting and immediately one of the editors was asking if I could possibly do a profile on a resident, an olympic* equestrian, who was moving away next week (* chosen for the 1980s Olympics which Australia boycotted). Why yes, yes I could do that. And so I did: Chris Smith Rides Into the Sunset

   To interview Chris Smith and his neighbors I used a simple voice recording app on my phone and that worked well. But that app wouldn't record a phone call. Interviewing Catriona would be by phone, so I downloaded and tested FIVE different purported call recording apps and not one of them would record a caller (they'd just record my voice and periods of silence). And somewhere in this my phone developed a problem where callers couldn't hear me clearly if I was on speakerphone. So now even if I were to take pen and paper notes I'd have to do it while uncomfortably propping my phone against my ear. I had a recording program on my computer I'd used for recording the podcast but that wouldn't work without speakerphone either AND my computer crashes every twenty minutes.
   So the totally duct-taped-together hare-brained solution I came up with in the end was plugging my computer's external speakers into my phone so while I was speaking into the handset in non-speaker-mode it was coming out loud enough from the speakers that audible could pick it up, and I just had to hope against hope the computer wouldn't crash during the interview.

   I called her manager at 9:55 as instructed but it turned out Catriona had forgotten and was unavailable, but she was available at noon. Well okay, even though this was already a bit of a clusterfuck and it would mean not coming into work at all (it was a day I would have worked, and I was going to come in at noon after interviewing her at ten), I figured I'd come this far.

   So I got her on the phone at noon, she would talk to me while driving somewhere that would take fifteen to 20 minutes.

   After about half my interview, my computer crashed, dumping the first half of the interview forever. I hadnt' written anything useful down as it was tedious between holding my phone against my shoulder and everything. This was officially a bit fucked.

   In preparation I'd watched some other interviews of her and they all seemed to tell the same story -- she wasn't a terribly great student in school and constantly got in trouble for talking too much. Then one day she learned a friend's dad was a radio presenter and was thrilled by the idea that one could essentially get paid to talk. She then went in to community radio once she was out of school nad slowly worked her way up until she got her big break with the opportunity to host on the Getaways travel program which was initially expected to run "maybe a season" and only covered local Australian destinations but has now run for over 25 years and covers destinations throughout the world (if this were a real profile and not a mere blog post I'd probably include more detail about that rise to fame I promise).

   Hearing her tell this familiar story almost word for word the way I'd seen it presented in two interviews about her I rather wondered if other journalists were too lazy to try to vary the story or this was how she herself had formed her "profile" in her mind. Anyway, I politely tried to get her off that track because i'd heard it all before and I wasn't here to write the same profile I could have from watching existing interviews.

   So what I really wanted to know was had she always wanted to travel? I forget what she said, that was on hte part of the interview that flushed itself and I have no memory.

   Her first trip abroad was to Fiji at 14 with her mom, who was an "air hostie" as the Australians call it. "We had a very fraught relationship, [paraphrased from my bad memory] so that was interesting" Okay this sounds promising "what kind of problems did you have on that trip?" "oh I don't know." Well okay so much for a good story coming out of that. But her mom being an air hostie definitely sets a prominent place for travel in her early childhood. And she said she much later went back to Fiji with her mom as a seasoned traveler and they had a much better time. There's probably a story there but I didn't capture it.

   At 15 she went to Egypt on a class field trip [I'm making mental notes at this point about how posh her school must have been], but this got her talking about how she's always liked history and cultures and didn't have the grades to go to university and study these things on an academic level, but she found she loved traveling to places to appreiciate their history and culture and later to share them with the world, and this seemed to be really something. As she expanded on this subject I came to see and appreciate how she's not just a luxury-cruise-aficionado on TV sharing her love for five star hotels but someone who loves travel for some of the same reasons I do, but slinging vacation packages is what sells and keeps you on TV to talk about these foreign places. At least that would be my thesis if I hadn't already lost hope in getting an adequate interview due to the overwhelming technical difficulties.
   "Well you're probably about to arrive at your destination?" I asked kind of looknig to bail out of this disaster.
   "Oh, I got here a few minutes ago actually, do you have any more questions?" the thought that she was sitting in her car in a parking lot to continue the interview warmed my little heart.
   "What's the most unexpectedly likeable place you've been?" I asked. Bhutan, apparently, it's so peaceful and nice and the government measures its success on this concept of gross domestic happiness (again loosely paraphrasing from memory here, if this were a real profile I do have her actual quotes about this on the bit of audio I was able to salvage). I ended by pitching that she really ought to go to Ethiopia and that was that.

   I think aside from the immense technical difficulties, just being on the phone made it disconcerting for me. I've never particularly liked talking on the phone, not seeing the person feels like you're dealing with the person in a darkened room and triggers fight or flight responses, makes me feel uncomfortable and disconcerted at the best of times. I think one could get a decent profile out of her but I think I'd want to be talking to her or anyone else I might be profiling in person rather than on the phone.