Entertainment reporter Rob Williams, a self-professed “music nerd”, has more than just enthusiastic expertise and humble attitude to recommend him. He also juggles an insanely busy work schedule, and even manages to have fun while doing so.
Keeping one step ahead of the game (or even two or three, if possible) is Williams’ winning strategy. Strict deadlines at the Winnipeg Free Press keep the Red River College grad in a constant state of writing and researching. His copy must be filed at least three days ahead of when it’s due to appear in print, meaning each week is a balancing act of scheduling and conducting interviews, composing feature stories and concert reviews, and compiling daily entertainment briefs.
A music critic and reporter, Williams, 38, also interviews non-music-minded celebs such as William Shatner, noting he “likes talking with people who are my heroes and figuring out what makes them tick.” Oh, and for the last 11 and a half years, he’s hosted a radio show every Friday morning for campus station UMFM.
Williams, a 1997 grad of RRC’s industry-renowned Creative Communications program, says technology has made things a lot easier since he landed his first job at the Selkirk Journal in the 1990s.
“Three of us had to literally cut and paste stories onto a wax table,” he explains. “A 48-page paper took us 12 hours to complete. Now, that just sounds ridiculous.”
The biggest change arrived with the transition from modem-based internet hook-ups to high-speed and WiFi. In the past, hard-copy concert reviews had to be delivered personally to the Freep’s offices by 11 p.m., for the next morning’s paper.
“Now, sometimes I haven’t finished the final version before it appears online and the concert is still going on,” Williams says.
Thanks to the magic of incopy — the newspaper’s filing system — Williams can email reviews from his laptop while concerts are still in progress, using the WiFi that’s been installed in newer venues such as the MTS Centre.
“In older buildings, like the Burton Cummings Theatre, I have to sit in a specific seat to get high speed internet,” he says.
So while journalists have come a long way from the days of wax tables, the new technology comes with its own share of drawbacks.
“Everyone’s a critic,” says Williams. “People are quicker to judge when they see a story online.”
And of course, now that readers are using email to voice their opinions in response, a lot more is demanded of Williams.
“I get 50-75 emails a day. I’m available to people anytime, and people get mad … if you don’t get back to them in two hours,” he says, waving his hands above his head like a preteen at a Justin Bieber concert. “It’s hard to get into the groove of a story with so many distractions.”
Williams admits his interest in — and appreciation of — different forms of music has broadened significantly since he began covering the entertainment beat almost a decade ago, first as the music writer for the Winnipeg Sun, and later in the same capacity for the Free Press.
“I was blown away when Faith Hill and Tim McGraw came to Winnipeg,” says Williams, whose own musical tastes skew more toward the indie-punk and speed-metal end of the spectrum. “Seeing their concert was an experience I never thought I’d have.”
As for Williams’ weekly radio show (on which he spins a mix of punk, metal, garage-rock, alt-country and surf), one might assume it’s his way of ensuring his own voice can be heard over the clamour. But as he explains, the medium’s more ephemeral nature offers other benefits, as well.
“On the radio, I get to have a conversation with the audience,” he says. “If I say something stupid, oh well, it’s there and gone. Newspaper has more of a lasting impact. People have time to sit and get mad!”
— Kate Grisim is a local freelance writer who also works in the non-profit sector.