Eurovision 2009: Journalists at rehearsals

It’s been a marathon week this past week. I spent early mornings listening to songs from both of this year’s semi-finals in a bid to get something I’ve had on my to-do list crossed off before the Eurovision onslaught began. This combined with a marathon reviewing day on Saturday prompted an almost immediate sense of smugness inside me. I reckoned I had my Eurovision commitment out of the way for this year. I was wrong. I was, in fact, a complete idiot.

Things started to go a bit awry earlier this morning when, catching up on some internet time I didn’t have yesterday when I visited the picture-postcard world of Lavenham in Suffolk, I noticed a fair few blogs and Facebook status updates concerning the first day of rehearsals for the semi-finals in Moscow. Like a twat I found myself clicking on all sorts of links and before I knew what I was doing, I was watching video footage of said rehearsals provided courtesy of, the production office for the Eurovision Song Contest at the European Broadcasting Union.

Original ESCToday founder and former editor now PR blokey at the EBU Sietse Bakker (not the same man referred to in Jon Ronson’s mildly amusing piece about the UK selection process) is the project manager behind these series of videos. With my web producer type hat on, I have to congratulate him on producing stuff for the web which would make any multiplatform executive at the BBC clap his/her hands together with glee.

With hardly any effort in production but a considerable amount of understanding of the potential audience Bakker has succeeded in negotiating the necessary rights with artists, songwriters and record companies to make all of the footage available for all sorts of people on the web ahead of the main event in mid-May. In so doing Bakker is extending the tail of the Eurovision Song Contest before the actual event, providing simple behind the scenes footage of the kind any self-obsessed Euro-fan is desperate for.

There are many fans (we’re talking maybe a thousand maybe more?) out in Moscow at the moment, each proudly wearing their accreditation badges on lanyards, some parading around the press centre, some clamouring for a free CD or a photograph with an artist. Some are busying themselves at desks with computers, tapping into wired connections or connecting up to wireless access points, racing from the camera rehearsals and committing their thoughts to whatever blogs they’re writing for. The place will be buzzing during the day and deathly silent at night. It is the worst environment and the most electrifying environment all at the same time. I know. I attended a Eurovision once. I doubt I’ll ever be allowed to set foot in one again.

The flip side of the thrill of “covering Eurovision” is its punishing schedule, itself caused by the individual’s own lack of journalistic experience.

Proper journalists (if such a term actually exists and I’m reaching an appreciation that journalism as a strict profession like medicine or law is a bit of a bogus term) have an angle. They have an editor demanding a particular line. Maybe there’s a record company keen to get a particular story out or promote a particular song.

Eurovision journalists however (of which I consider myself almost eligible for the title) can be a bit scattergun about the whole affiar. It’s all or nothing with us. Blinded by the bright lights of seeming celebrity, there’s a desire to make sure we’ve covered every base. Everyone has an equal chance (so the rules state) so as fans we should do our utmost to make sure everyone has an equal voice.

Out there it’s impossible. There’s noise all around. Press conference relays ring out on loudspeakers nearby. There’s a video feed of what’s going on in the arena. There’s coffee to drink and food to eat you really should have eaten earlier. There are people blowing air kisses everywhere, all of them reminding you of just how few people you have listed in your contacts list. There’s an unknown deadline imposed by a fictitious editor. You don’t want to be following the pack necessarily, but at the same time the buzzing crowd reminds you that you really can’t afford to be left behind. You only get one stab at this kind of thing and then you’ll have to wait another 49 weeks for another chance. And who knows, you may have lost interest this time next year.

With all of those distant yet potent memories from 2003 in my head earlier today, I found myself sucked into the same thought processes I subjected myself to back then as I sat and watched video clip after video clip of all the participants from the first semi-final. It’s too early in the day to pick out any firm favourites or dead certs. Everyone is marking stuff out, clearly trying to pace themselves and not wanting to give the game away too early. (They’ll have agreed to the terms which stated Sietse and his team pump out video coverage of the rehearsals so they know they want to keep some stuff back for the big night).

What these clips provide however is exactly the same kind of connection with this bizarre TV programme in 2009 as I was lucky to have back in 2003. Everyone has an opinion and no one is judged because of it in Eurovision-land which is why so many obsessives like me find it almost impossible to keep themselves away from a computer come late-spring. The fact that six years after my first and only trip I can do that from the comfort of my own living room with a large glass of wine by my side isn’t decadence, merely progress.

The rehearsals show that the UK is getting to chose from the weaker collection of songs in the two semi-finals. There are some who rate Bosnia & Herzegovina (although personally I don’t see the appeal there). Portugal seems to have presented an impressively simple yet effective performance with an engaging Little Blue Planetesque backdrop. Sweden have (predictably) confirmed amongst even the most cynical of commentators that they will win a place in the final. Armenia‘s initial rehearsals suggest I may well be disappointed come Tuesday 12 May but yes, it shouldn’t go without saying, I must maintain an open mind.

In other relatively local news, UK representative Jade Ewen made an appearance on BBC One’s The One Show this evening which successfully cast the relative pain of Friday night’s broadcast permanently to the back of my mind.


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