On Saturday, I got the chance to participate in the media scrum following Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor event in Lowell, Massachusetts. I know that there has been a lot of interest in these scrums ever since AEW started doing them after their major events, so people might be interested in what the experience is like. I decided to chronicle my experience and provide some thoughts and insights to the public on what participating in the scrum is like, as well as potential ways to make the experience better for everyone involved.
For starters, the event isn’t really a media scrum. A media scrum is typically somewhat informal and spontaneous, with one person standing and answering questions while media members jostle around to get the best position to stick their recording device close to the interview subject. The post-AEW/ROH events are much more like press conferences. They are organized, public relations staff assist in organizing the questions from the media, everyone is sitting down, etc.
How to participate is straight-forward; if you have been approved for a media credential, when you pick it up before the show, a staff member will instruct you where to meet up after the show. In the case of Death Before Dishonor, the meeting place was right behind the section where the media was sitting. A member of the PR staff led us down a hallway into a small conference room, where a podium had been set up for Tony Khan and talent to speak.
When Khan (and whatever talent arrives with him) is there, media members take turns asking questions. To get in the queue to ask questions, you must signal to one of the PR staff members who are passing around the microphone. This can be somewhat challenging, since the pace of how Khan and his wrestlers tend to go through their questions is slow, meaning that a backlog of people waiting in the queue to ask a question builds up quickly. You may find yourself bumped in the order as it can be hard to keep track exactly when it is your turn.
The advice I’d give to people is to continue to remind the PR staff that you would like to ask a question. This is very much a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” situation, and it never hurts to be aggressive in reminding people that you would like to go next.
For Death Before Dishonor, it was a smaller crowd of media members than for AEW PPV events. There were approximately ten people at the presser; Nick Hausman of WrestlingINC was the only person I know for a fact who flew in for the show. The rest of the group was made up of some national outlets that had local people on their staff (e.g., Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated, Liam Crowley of ComicBook.com) as well as some local sports media that occasionally dabble in wrestling coverage.
During the presser you are pretty much free to ask any questions that you want. There is no vetting of questions beforehand, so media members are free to fire away. I asked two questions during the presser, and while I would have liked to have gotten more questions in, I was at least satisfied with my experience.
The first question I asked was for Claudio Castignoli, which was about if he felt like he had more in-the-ring freedom working in AEW and ROH, as opposed to WWE. After pausing for a second and making an incredulous face, Castignoli did give what I would consider a substantial answer.
The second question I had was for Khan, which asked if we would ever see The Briscoe Brothers on Dynamite or Rampage. Khan declined to give a straight answer, saying that he “doesn’t know” if they will ever appear in AEW, but said they’d be a big part of ROH.
While Khan declined to give a definitive answer, he essentially did give us one. There has been speculation online that The Briscoes have not been able to appear on Dynamite or Rampage due to controversy surronding Jay Briscoe and a homophobic tweet he made in 2013. This speculation has been fueled by their noticeable absence in the build-up to Death Before Dishonor, since they were in the main event of the show against FTR. By declining to give a clear answer and saying that he “doesn’t know”, Khan, who we are led to believe controls every aspect of what appears on AEW television, is giving the indication that The Briscoes will not be on AEW TV going forward.
The response was about what I expected. I did not expect Khan to give a definitive answer, since if our suspicions are correct, he isn’t going to acknowledge that Jay Briscoe may be problematic. Public figures are not obligated to give great, clear answers when the media asks them a question; it is up to the media and the public to decipher what something means based on the evidence that we have.
On social media there is a lot of frustration with the kinds of questions that are being asked during the pressers. I fully understand that frustration; and at times during the presser I was annoyed by some of the questions, particularly the ones that are kayfabe-based, or ones that are compliments of the show disguised as questions.
What I think is helpful to keep in mind is that media members have different interests in the kinds of questions they are asking. Some outlets are looking for comments on kayfabe storylines or angles, searching for news headlines like, “Claudio Castignoli says he is going to defend the ROH World Championship again at ____” . Others might be writing feature stories and looking for quotes on certain subjects to round out their articles.
As a representative of Wrestlenomics, I knew my questions had to be fact-based and oriented on the more serious side. Personally, I think the pressers would be a lot more interesting if the kayfabe questions were dumped entirely; the pressers are too good of an opportunity with one of the most powerful individuals in wrestling, as well as numerous top performers being available for questions, to be wasted by asking kayfabe-based questions, or complimenting the people on their performances. However, I understand that there is a market for kayfabe-based comments and “soft news” and those questions will always be a part of the pressers.
I do think there should be more people at the pressers pushing for real information. The conduct of some members of the media is questionable. Before the presser started, I heard one media member loudly talking about how people on social media complain about the media not asking “tough questions”, and stated that you simply cannot do that. The individual then said that if Vince McMahon was in front of them at a presser, they would obviously not ask McMahon about the recent NDA scandals.
That shows the difference in mentality between the various members of the wrestling media. To me, not asking Vince McMahon about the scandals if presented with an opportunity to do so would be a complete dereliction of your duty as a member of the press. To other people, it’s a toxic idea, something to steer clear of at all costs for fear of ruining a relationship with sources. My response to that would be how valuable of a relationship do you have with a source if you are not allowed to ask them the most important questions?
There is also a tendency for some people to include their own opinions before asking a question, things such as, “I think that was a great match. What do you think (wrestler X)?”
Not only are these questions boring, they also pose an ethical dilemma. By asserting your own (favorable) opinion into the question, you are admitting a clear bias towards a particular response, something that reporters should steer clear from.
Why do people choose to insert their own views into the presser? One explanation is that they are afraid of having a negative relationship with the person they are interviewing, such as a wrestler they like. By prefacing a question with a compliment, they are indicating that they are a fan of the wrestler, and that the wrestler should appreciate them for saying they had a great match or whatever.
Another explanation is that the line between analysts and reporters in wrestling media (and in all media) has been blurred. For many people in the presser, if they were not attending the presser they would either be writing reviews online of the show or hosting a podcast reviewing the pay-per-view. I suppose that can translate to people assuming it’s common to add a little of their opinion into their questions. Either way, I think it would be an improvement if the media attempted to have a more publicly unbiased disposition when asking questions to the talent (and please, hold your applause).
On the AEW side of things, there was one major negative. At one point during the presser, while Wheeler Yuta was fielding questions, Daniel Garcia came in and shot an angle, interrupting Yuta and complaining about how he lost his match. He was ushered out by security and that was the end of it. The whole thing lasted under one minute.
I understand why AEW/ROH does things like that; it makes the show feel more “real” and Garcia was very good in the angle. However, I’m here to do a serious job based on real issues, and I don’t like being used as a prop for a wrestling angle. My time is more valuable than that, and I’m not interested in being part of the show. It also creates an awkward transition where Yuta and Castignoli had to react in kayfabe for a minute before going back to answer real questions.
In my experience, AEW/ROH does a pretty honest job with the press conferences. They are much more media-friendly in this environment than WWE ever is. You are allowed to fire away with any question you can come up with, and even if Khan or the wrestlers decline to say anything substantial, you at least are able to get those answers publicly on the record, something that is almost non-existent in wrestling coverage.
The pressers can be improved the most by the wrestling media taking itself more seriously. If more media members were committed to asking real, honest questions and gathering relevant information, as well as being willing to be a little tough sometimes and not shy away from the hard questions, the experience would be improved across the board.
We would get way more relevant information out of the subjects, and it would also create an environment where the media supports each other more, since people can ask follow-up questions if they feel like a previous question was not answered in a satisfactory manner. It is difficult to do that when we are bouncing between honest questions and kayfabe commentary.
Lastly, I’d add that if you ever have the chance to attend an AEW event as a member of the media, I strongly suggest you go. The coolest thing about it is getting to meet other media members in-person, and network a bit. Wrestling media is a very isolated job. Most people work out of their homes and only communicate digitally with their colleagues. Major events with media coverage allow people to meet up with one another, share thoughts and ideas, and promote a healthier media environment.