WSJ memos thank staff – Team Popsicle, too! – for Olympics coverage

Wall Street Journal staffers get a lot of love in three memos praising their Olympics coverage. Some of the plaudits in the first memo from sports editor Sam Walker:

Geoff Foster “was the chief weirdo behind the pure awesomeness of the Homemade Highlights puppet shows. Without Geoff, our coverage would have been about 70% less interesting.”

Tracy Armstead “also worked tirelessly — every day — handling some of the most absurd photo requests in the history of photo requests. She did the work of three people with the humor and good nature of ten.”

“Someone said this week that Matt [Futterman] may be the country’s top Olympics reporter. I can’t disagree.”

Jason Gay is “also a machine: He won’t tell you this, but he wrote 22 Olympics columns in 22 consecutive days. Judging from the volume of reader letters, his piece about Usain Bolt was the class of the field. But it’s a crowded field.”

“It may be an understatement to say the Journal covered the Olympics like nobody else,” writes Walker. “We hope to publish some of the best stories, photos, graphics and video dispatches in a forthcoming e-book.

Read the three memos after the jump.

From: Walker, Sam
Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 12:00 PM
To: WSJ ALL New York; WSJ London; WSJ ALL Bureau Chiefs
Cc: Olyall; olycopy
Subject: The Olympics

Dear All,

I’m about to attempt a maneuver that comes with the highest possible degree of difficulty: trying to thank everyone who played a role in our world-beating coverage of the 2012 London Olympics.

The Journal did three things at these games that we’d never done before: We devoted four daily U.S. print pages to the cause, covered all the major sports events in real time, and provided content to subscribers (and hoi polloi) from multiple digital platforms.

This time out, we steamed into London aboard a thoroughly modern digital battleship.

Our competitors, meanwhile, showed up in…

During the games, the Journal’s reporting team kept up a nearly continuous sprint for 21 days. In a photo taken at the wrap party the night before the closing ceremonies, the exertion showed—each of them appears to have lost about seven pounds (see link below). Their output was remarkable: My rough count shows about 86 Olympics-related print pages produced since July 16 (including the special section). I’m told there were more than 600 stories, liveblogs and posts, 90 slideshows and at least 12 interactive graphics. There were daily video hits by the dozens and more than 60 videos shot in London. I’m also told that over 103 days, the Olympic digital stream, which was available to readers as a free, on-demand app aggregating Journal content in real time, had more than 5,500 updates.

I couldn’t enumerate all the mentions and follows of our coverage in other media, the comments and letters and the feedback from social media. But the most telling metric may be our online page views. We were shocked in 2010 by the number of clicks our Vancouver coverage had attracted. But during London, even by the most conservative accounting, we’ve more than tripled that figure.

It may be an understatement to say the Journal covered the Olympics like nobody else. Our popsicle-stick-puppet highlights probably make that a safe assertion. But beyond the gags, the irreverence of “Babble & Squeak” and our zone-flooding coverage of the “McKayla is not impressed” meme, this was also a thoroughly modern and Journal-worthy newsgathering effort. We hope to publish some of the best stories, photos, graphics and video dispatches in a forthcoming e-book.

Meanwhile, in the interest of time, let’s roll the credits:

THE TEAMS

*The London Bureau
Bruce Orwall’s incomparable bureau team from Limeburner Lane put its run-and-gun, up-tempo offense to work at these Olympics. Together with their U.S.-based teammates, the reporting “fab four” of Cassell Bryan-Low, David Enrich, Paul Sonne and Jeanne Whalen wrote lively (often hilarious) copy for all sections of the paper while leading the pack on every major news story—from security and venue construction to the ticketing fiasco. Fellow Londoners Carl Bialik, Dana Cimilluca, Charles Forelle, Sara Schafer Munoz, Alice Speri and Shirley Wang also made smashing contributions.

*Team USA
After spending many months researching their assigned Olympic sports, our incomparable sportswriting team—Rachel Bachman, Scott Cacciola, Pia Catton, Geoff Fowler, Matthew Futterman, Jason Gay, Kevin Helliker, Adam Thompson, Stu Woo and WSJE sports editor Jon Clegg—put on a dazzling display of writing, reporting and versatility. They filed lightning-fast “game stories” for WSJ.com within minutes of the conclusions of big events—then re-crafted them into deeper pieces for print. At other times they stepped back to write some of our best and funniest columns, a-heds, news features, and thematic pieces (all while finding time to appear in videos, participate in liveblogs and do weird things like clocking volleyball serves with a radar gun). Feel free to compare their work against anyone’s.

*The Video Crew
Andy Jordan and Jeff Bush may have put in the longest hours of anyone in London, running all over the city shooting video and wrangling interviews. Despite many draconian rights issues, their work was fresh and original. In New York, Shawn Bender, Julie Iannuzzi, Beckey Bright and Joanne Po, among others, helped with planning and execution—and the NY live team did great work at all hours. The GMT crew of Dipti Kapadia, Tom DiFonzo and Parminder Bahra deserve thanks for performing various acts of video magic.

*Team World
Beijing’s Carlos Tejada, Loretta Chao and Laurie Burkitt were well out in front on news from China. Richard Boudreaux in Moscow, Andrew Critchlow and Gillian Tan in Sydney, Jae-Yeon Woo in Seoul, Yoree Koh in Tokyo, Frances Robinson in Brussels, Ellen Knickmeyer in Dubai, Stacy Meichtry in Rome and David Luhnow in Mexico City also contributed dispatches.

*The Olympic Desk
We had an Olympian group of editors handling copy. The list begins with Jim Pensiero and Sam Enriquez. Having them on our team was sort of like having De Niro and Pacino agree to star in your dopey little student film. The rest of the group, assembled by expert casting director Erin White, were also worthy of Oscars. They are: Russell Adams, Laura Bird, Kimberly Chou, Kenji Fujishima, Janet Guyon, Amanda Harris, Jay Hershey, Hammad Jawdat, Roland Keane, Dave Kozo, Janet Paskin, Aaron Rennie, Rose Manzo, Patricia Price. Dave Pipitone and Lisa Reynolds. Another set of editing heroes: Rebecca Blumenstein’s page-one crew, which gave homes to at least a dozen Olympic stories and took splendid care of them. Darren Everson from the sports desk deserves a huge hand for calmly putting out the Greater New York sports pages, all while helping to pinch-hit on Olympic emergencies.

*Team Online
Under the guidance of ringmaster Adam Thompson, our online operation snarled like a brand-new chainsaw. WSJE’s David Crawshaw and Megan Douglass worked tirelessly from London to keep the site, and the stream, fed. In New York, Ben Cohen held down the fort, juggling various duties with a big assist from Sara Germano. The WSJ.com editing and production crews, plus their WSJE and WSJA comrades in New York, London, Argentina and Hong Kong, made miracles happen at all hours. They include Ruth Abella, Rosi deAcosta, Brian Fitzgerald, Emily Veach, Lucy Benson, John Crowley, Meredith D’Agnolo, Yvonne Dennis, Zenovia Earle, Laurence Eyton, Madeline Farbman, Brittany Hite, Adrian Kerr, Christina Kline, Kathryn Lurie, Erin Mendell, Brendan Moran, Allison Morrow, Kristi Oloffson, Maya Pope-Chappell, Ana Rivas, Terence Roth, Lydia Serota, Nick Shearman, William Westbrook, Lora Western, Laurence Witherington and Jana Zabkova. The gorgeous WSJ Olympics landing page was built by Nabanita Chakraborty, Rashmi Kapoor, Ketan Sawhney, Neeki Patel, Nitin Talwar, Laura Holder, Agata Adamowicz, Lisa Ortiz and Chris Boyd. A very special note of thanks goes to London webmaster Jennifer Hicks, who did the work of a dozen people. And finally, none of the most impressive souped-up digital features could have come to life without the supreme cat-herding talents of David Biderman. All hail, Biderman!

*Team Brunswick
Before the Games, Larry Rout’s team—Don Arbour, John Gould, Orlie Kraus, John Leger, Becky Markovitz and Rob Toth, among others—helped us put together the beautiful July 23 special section, which set a high bar for our daily coverage.

*Team Photo
Tracy Armstead, Dan Gaba, Taylor Umlauf, Joe Fornabaio, Dov Friedman and Matthew Craig must have pulled 5,000 shots. They were pros with the historical research and enormously patient with our print writers as they became budding iPhone photojournalists.

*Team Social Media
One of the big stories about these games was the way the broadcasters, athletes, fans, and media interacted through social media. We covered that story extensively in the paper, but we also participated fully in the phenomenon. When doing so, we had the smartest and most enthusiastic guidance from Earth’s best social media experts: Liz Heron’s team of Neal Mann on the ground in London and Demetria Gallegos and Elana Zak in New York. #verysmartpeople #peoplewhorock

*Team Interactive
Jovi Juan’s online interactive team of Chris Canipe, Lakshmi Ketineni, Jeremy Singer-Vine, Kurt Wilberding, Paul Antonson, Sarah Squire and Palani Kumanan worked months ahead of the games to build our Olympic fantasy game and other interactives. During the Olympics they did backflips with the online versions of the material we prepared for print, from the beautiful “outliers” package to the heavily-trafficked “faces of the podium” photo feature.

*Team Stats
Geoff Foster and Jim Chairusmi, delivered a number of smash hits from the sports-desk statistical shop—the “Ministry of Calculation.” These came courtesy of the often-grueling labor of Sara Germano, Jared Diamond, Chris Herring and our super sports intern, Tony Olivero.

*Team Popsicle
As for the popsicle puppets (Nikki Waller’s warped little genius idea) was brought to life by a hilariously devoted production team: executive producer Allison Lichter, videographer Emily Prapuolenis, master puppeteer Geoff Foster, screenwriter Ben Cohen, prop-master Emily Taylor, photo wranglers Dan Gaba and Derick Gonzalez, and narrators Ed Holland and Thorold Barker.

*Gang Graphics
On the graphics side, Seth Hamblin’s crew— Alberto Gonzales, Kate Ortega, Troy Oxford, Renee Rigdon, Joe Shoulak and Mike Sudal—worked far in advance to create some signature visuals.

THE INDIVIDUALS

While this was a consummate team effort, I’d like to single out a handful of people for special mention. They shined during the course of our coverage either for the sheer difficulty of what they did, or because they earned medals in multiple events. Here they are:

*Erin White
The indefatigable Erin, our Olympics chef de cuisine, proved to be a peerless organizing force. She assembled an All-Star cast of editors. She drew up a global plan that fed every part of the empire with the content it needed. She worked seven days a week, late into the night, poring over the pages, making fixes between editions and sorting the master calendar. On deadline, she alternately willed, charmed and frightened our sports crew into bearing down and closing pages. She also pulled off the enormously difficult feat of being a wonderful, endearing and funny colleague. What this paper needs, if it needs anything, is an army of Erin White clones. (If someone can get a cheek swab, call me—I know a guy…).

*Tracy Armstead
Every day, our chief Olympic photo editor pulled beautiful shots. She also worked tirelessly — every day — handling some of the most absurd photo requests in the history of photo requests. She did the work of three people with the humor and good nature of ten. While we’re at it, let’s clone her, too.

*Jim Chairusmi
Jim, our sports production kingpin, was the Swiss Army knife of the London Games. As a print editor who grew up on the digital side, Jim used his broad knowledge of the operation to improve nearly everything that passed though our assembly line—adding flair and fixing a million typos along the way. It would not have been possible to close half as many pages without him.

*Ben Cohen
Our friend Ben, Adam’s handpicked online proxy, came to the office to edit stories and liveblogs and post items to the stream and do a little bit of everything. He kept us abreast of the zeitgeist: Ben was the first reporter to track down the creator of the “MacKayla is not impressed” meme, for instance, which became a viral hit for us. In the middle of the maelstrom, he wrote all the puppet show scripts and also turned in a markup a-hed about… cheesemongers?!

*Geoff Foster
Geoff’s sharp editing, general statistical brilliance and spot-on sense of humor were the driving forces behind three of our most memorable bits. He contributed the irreverent voice and cheeky headlines you saw in our daily rundown of London happenings, Babble & Squeak. His funny ideas for counting things (hugs, podium crying jags, local TV ratings) made the “Ministry of Calculation” a viral hit. And he was the chief weirdo behind the pure awesomeness of the Homemade Highlights puppet shows. Without Geoff, our coverage would have been about 70% less interesting.

*Geoff Fowler
As the grizzled Olympic veteran of our London crew, Geoff dazzled us with his versatility. He broke news and kept an eye on the big news developments. He covered the opening and closing ceremonies and wrote a-heds and hilarious “Babble” items. During the gymnastics medal events, together with Stu Woo, he’d liveblog the action as it happened, write a flash story with the results for the web, then craft a “gamer” for print on deadline—all while finding time to pull string for features and a-heds. He also designed our excellent WSJ pins (one of which is going for $22.50 on eBay right now).

*Matt Futterman
Matt started preparing for London at least six months ago. With the help of the entire Olympics crew, he handicapped every event, and ran those predictions through a simulation model that boldly predicted a U.S. romp. His final projections turned out to be almost perfect—and easily the best in the world. During the games, Matt had a knack for being in the right spot at the right time, ready to write the big story. He also wrote several of the best features about the Olympics published anywhere. Someone said this week that Matt may be the country’s top Olympics reporter. I can’t disagree.

*Jason Gay
I’ve long since exhausted all the superlatives I can think of to describe Jason’s work. But in London, he somehow put more space between himself and the rest of the world’s sports columnists. It wasn’t just the quality of his writing, but the variety of topics that stood out. He’s also a machine: He won’t tell you this, but he wrote 22 Olympics columns in 22 consecutive days. Judging from the volume of reader letters, his piece about Usain Bolt was the class of the field. But it’s a crowded field.

*Kevin Helliker
As our Olympic setup man, forward thinker, big-vision guy and on-the-ground player-coach, Kevin built the framework for our coverage. He was the force behind our larger-than-ever credential allotment and our airtight London logistics. He started working Olympics stories into the paper early this spring and created a luxurious WIP of great ideas—about 80% of which saw print in some form during the games (and several of which he splendidly wrote himself). He was so busy in London, he forgot to shave.

*Bruce Orwall
Through the entirety of the Games, there stood the great and mighty Orwall; steady hand at the wheel, attacking news at warp speed, making sure every angle was covered, and—most importantly—sprinkling his Orwall pixie dust over everything. Bruce is an enormous editing talent who also creates a palpable esprit de corps everywhere he goes. He worked so hard he finally went down late in the games with some sort of stomach bug—but he was back at Olympic Stadium six hours later. We love you, Bruce.

*Dave Pybas and Derick Gonzalez
Unfortunately, Methode doesn’t come equipped with a button that says “create beautiful pages.” Well before the games, Pybas spent many long days designing a double-truck master full-color Olympic calendar that doubles as a work of art. Day to day during the games, he came up with grabby, flexible page designs—and built many charts and graphics himself. Derick, who’s been with the sports group from the beginning, worked tireless triple duty: closing Olympics pages, closing GNY sports, and inevitably missing his train home. He handled the cruel puzzle of Babble & Squeak with his usual debonair calm—even with 10 editors standing behind him shouting contradictory things. Special thanks go to Manny Velez and David Bamundo from Friday Journal and Joe Baron from the hub who stepped in at times to make us look good.

*Adam Thompson
Before Adam arrived in London to plant the WSJ flag at the Olympic press center, he’d done more advance work for these games than anyone. He helped plan the stream, ran point on building a beautiful Olympics home page and thought up features like the interactive medals tracker. He’d also assembled an online support team that barely broke a sweat churning through a mountain of game stories, liveblogs and posts. On the ground in London he worked tirelessly to make everything sing and even found time to do a little reporting and writing. He also sacrificed his favorite pair of khakis (long story, see photo).

Once again, a hearty thanks to everyone. We’ll reconvene this team for Sochi in 2014, then Rio in 2016. And then of course—Milwaukee!

Walker, NY

*For a gallery of photos taken by our London team, go here.

—–

From: Thompson, Adam
Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 5:31 PM
To: Walker, Sam; WSJ ALL New York; WSJ London; WSJ ALL Bureau Chiefs
Cc: Olyall; olycopy
Subject: The Olympics (or, What He Said)

It seems only fitting to cap a truly dominant month of coverage with Sam’s note – one last sharp, funny piece of writing that shows we even do thank you notes better than anyone else. There isn’t much more to add, other than to say that seeing all those names in one place drives home just how symphonic this operation was. Thanks to everyone for making such beautiful music.

—–

From: Walker, Sam
Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 6:03 PM
To: Walker, Sam; WSJ ALL New York; WSJ London; WSJ ALL Bureau Chiefs
Cc: Olyall; olycopy
Subject: RE: The Olympics

The inevitable Olympic herogram addendum:

1. Moments after sending I realized I didn’t say nearly enough about the contributions of Derick Gonzalez, our longtime sports art director, who has been our rock for more than five years. Derick is a gifted designer and fastidious detail guy who has a great sense of humor and a knack for taking soggy, unformed ideas and making them look better than we could have imagined. He has set such a high bar that we sometimes fail to realize how many of the pages that come out of his computer are minor miracles. Our London coverage was leagues better because of him.

2. I neglected to mention a few other contributors. They include Katie Rosman, Elizabeth Holmes and Christopher Stewart, who wrote a great A1 piece about NBC and Twitter; and John Carreyrou, who did some excellent reporting for our middle-Saturday A1 centerpiece about USA Track and Field. I should have mentioned Arian Campo-Flores in Miami, who scrambled to pull together an a-hed on Olympic artists. Chris Farley’s Speakeasy crew did some nice work, too. There were videos, cartoons, essays, poems, posts about the cultural aspects of the games and even a bit of news. I also owe a nod of thanks to the marketplace and world news teams, who hosted some of the London coverage.

3. Though we were usually bleary-eyed by the time it happened, Ann Podd and the night crew on the Hub were enormously helpful in our times of need. They stood by us and prodded us along even as we made massive changes between editions. They’re all due a hearty round of applause.

That’s all for now (I think). Thanks again.

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