Thanks to Bloomberg Politics, I journeyed on Thursday to a new and terrible land. It is called "the ScrumZone." I am not entirely sure about what I saw whilst in the ScrumZone, but I'll start by saying something nice about it: It has left me confused, but completely unharmed. There, it's important to #staypositive.
One should not venture into the ScrumZone unprepared, so let's explain a few concepts at the outset. In the electoral process that we generally refer to as "the 2016 presidential campaign," there are these people who are engaged in an activity called "running for president." And wherever those people go, reporters follow, because those reporters want to ask them questions. Therefore, it's common for a presidential candidate to alight at some location -- like, say, the South Carolina Freedom Summit -- and be mobbed by reporters, who circle around them, pointing recording devices at them, peppering them with questions. This is the scrum, akin to a rugby scrum.
OK! So, "ScrumZone" is a new video idea that's been created by Bloomberg Politics, as a segment on their show "With All Due Respect." You can watch the segment above. We first learned of the looming threat of the ScrumZone from Politico's Hadas Gold earlier this month:
Matt Negrin, a writer for Bloomberg Politics, has been emailing reporters who will be at the South Carolina Freedom Summit this weekend, asking them to be part of a segment called "ScrumZone."
"It's a parody sports-style game show that stars the reporters who cover candidates. The idea is that we'll interview reporters before they go into the post-speech media scrum, and then afterward, like ESPN would interview athletes before and after a game. And of course during the scrum, we'll go all in with our fancy schmancy cameras," Negrin wrote in an email to one reporter and shared with the On Media blog.
The whole thing looks kind of like what might happen if the newsies at some well-meaning but somewhere-south-of-professional college newspaper set up a cable-access sports show, except the newsies have also lucked into millions of dollars of seed money. The show features a "SportsCenter"-esque studio, whooshing graphics, loudish music and even a dude who shouts "You're in the ScrumZone!"
Basically, "ScrumZone" goes like this:
1. The "ScrumZone" team will set themselves up at an event with presidential hopefuls so they can observe, not the candidates, but the scrums around the candidates.
2. They will send "ScrumZone" reporters to ask the other reporters about how they plan to enter the scrum. In the video, they actually do this to Bloomberg Politics' own reporter, Sahil Kapur, who then struggles to get close enough to Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) to ask him a question. Watching Kapur, one wonders if he might have fared better had another Bloomberg reporter not buttonholed him and asked him ridiculous questions while he was trying to do his job. ("ScrumZone" could be very useful to Bloomberg's own reporters if they just got in the way of Bloomberg's competitors, but they haven't realized this yet.)
3. Reporters who fail to enter the scrum will be ridiculed. Reporters who manage to get close to the candidate will be analyzed on camera, and their successful scrum techniques will be explained. If you're not familiar with the concept of "shoving," you soon will be.
4. Our "ScrumZone" team will ask reporters for comment after the fact, as if they were athletes at the conclusion of some competition. I hope some reporters eventually start having fun with this, and say things like "I guess the guy from The Des Moines Register just wanted it more" or "I just want to thank God for getting me into that scrum."
5. They'll make fun of the candidates who did not earn scrums. You are going to learn something as you watch the "ScrumZone" reporters approach former Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.) -- who's obviously longing for someone to ask him anything about his presidential campaign -- and talk to him about what it's like to have no reporters ask him any questions. What you'll learn, specifically, is that it's absolutely possible to feel bad for George Pataki. Seriously, watch the part where they needle Pataki about not having a scrum and you'll see the man die several tiny deaths.
6. Then the "ScrumZone" team will refer to everything they just showed you as "bullshit." (One of the "ScrumZone" anchors literally does this.)
7. And it's all for the purpose of... what, exactly? Ending scrums? Improving scrums? Erecting a tertiary layer of funhouse mirrors around political coverage? Maybe this whole project came about because the people at Bloomberg Politics just thought the word "scrum" was fun to say, over and over again. Scrum. Scrummmmmmm.
There are graphical overlays that help the viewer understand that some scrums are big, and some are small, and that it's advantageous for reporters to be close to the candidate if they want to ask them a question. You will learn that one way to get close to a presidential candidate is to anticipate where he or she might go, and then get there before them. You will learn that another way to get close to a candidate is to push through other reporters. You'll also probably find out that candidates would rather take selfies with supporters than answer a tough question about their policy preferences.
At this point, a question comes to mind: If this is to become a recurring segment, how many times will "ScrumZone" explain these basic concepts? Once you watch this the first time, why tune in again? What is going to change? How will this evolve?
As Gold reported, there was, initially, this idea that the "ScrumZone" reporters covering the actual reporters covering the candidates were going to be staging some kind of game show, in which the "ScrumZone" hosts, using a "semi-arbitrary point system," would assign points to reporters who manage to stay in the "core" of the "scrum," even awarding "50 points for getting a quote from a candidate." But this system is so semi-arbitrary that it never gets mentioned in the above video clip of "ScrumZone." Maybe it's a semi-demi-quasi-arbitrary point system. Maybe they found out that this idea just didn't work, but they'd already spent money building a fancy set. Who can say?
I'm pleased to report that there will be catchphrases, though. Do you even need to ask if someone says "Scrum goes the dynamite!" at some point during the segment? Because I can report that yes, someone says "Scrum goes the dynamite."
Here are some future "ScrumZone" catchphrases to which you can look forward:
- "Nothing but the bottom of the scrum!"
It's gonna be great.
Back when it first became clear that Bloomberg Politics was really going to do this, Gawker's Alex Pareene expressed some confusion about the concept:
Here are some words that, in this particular order, do not refer to anything that exists: “parody sports-style game show.” What does that mean? Does “parody” modify “sports-style” or “game show” or “sports-style game show”? What is a “sports-style game show”? “Double Dare”? Would this be a parody of “Double Dare”?
While the ESPN mimickry is easy enough to spot, there's actually a deeper level of parody going on as well. What "ScrumZone" lampoons -- rather deftly! -- is the way a media organization that's been handed a shiny pile of money to do new and innovative things will, instead, usually spend it on something old and stale, like a "game show" or a "sports show." And then you end up with a product that is maybe entertaining for political reporters and that will be completely ignored by normal, healthy human beings.
One day, money will just learn to set itself on fire.
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