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Episode 128: Behind the byline with Alex Karwowski

Host Kaylie Sirovy chats with sports reporter Alex Karwowski about his award-winning story on Gopher Rowing.

KAYLIE SIROVY: Hello, everyone. I’m Kaylie Sirovy, your host at the Minnesota Daily, and you’re listening to In The Know, the podcast that keeps you updated on all things related to the University of Minnesota. Joining me today in the podcast room is the talented Alex Karwowski. Welcome, Alex, and thank you for being with us. 

ALEX KARWOWSKI: Thanks for having me. I’m very excited. I’m a sports reporter at the Minnesota Daily. This is like kind of my second year, I think, in the Daily. I was here last year. I’m here now, so. That’s two, right? Two. Fun times.

SIROVY: Awesome. So today our focus is one of your recent stories, the Gopher Rowing. It recently won a Best of Sno Award. 

KARWOWSKI: So I’m not gonna lie: I had no idea what that was until Theo dropped that in our little sports chat. Apparently Best of Sno is like, so we submit our stories on Sno, which is like a platform that we use to submit stories. And so each day Sno, like the people there, will pick the best story published on their site that day and they get like 100 submissions per day and only 10 percent make Best of Sno, and that rowing story won that award. So it was the best story published on Sno that day. So that was really cool to figure out.

SIROVY: Well, congratulations! Did you know immediately that you got the award? 

KARWOWSKI: No. So, like I said, Theo mentioned, like, we had a top story on the sports desk that day. That was Claire’s, like, homecoming story. Shout out to Claire and then he goes, oh, by the way, this story won the Best of Sno award, and I was like, What is that? And I looked it up, figured it out, and I was like, ‘oh, that’s cool,’ and then, like, I was seeing all the other schools that have, like, published, content that has won the Best of Sno award. Minnesota Daily has like four or five, so, like, I was very, like, from this year alone. So I was very proud of myself to see that I was part of those few reporters that have worked on the Best of Sno publication. 

SIROVY: You say Gophers Rowing, but what exactly? 

KARWOWSKI: So, originally the idea came from Theo over the summer. He was like, ‘I want to send a reporter out to the rowing team’s like practice just to see what it’s all about,’ and I was like, ‘dude, I can do that.’ So, we talked to Scott, who is the sports information director for rowing, and he got me out on that boat, and it was really, really cool cause let me tell you those women, they know what’s up. Like I was biking there like six in the morning, and I was like ‘wow, this is very peaceful, but I’m also really tired,’ and they were out there rowing before class started. It was like from seven to nine, and let me just say, like I could just tell from their faces, there is so much like mental energy that comes into rowing like I think more so than people realize.

They were focused and it’s like such a team sport. Like each stroke has to be together and they really got to be like listening to whoever’s like making those calls out on the boat. It was definitely an experience and like the, even the views like on the Mississippi river, if you read the story, you can see there’s a Pennywise thing I don’t even know what it is, but it’s like just floating on the river and I was like, ‘oh, that’s really weird.’ There’s like sandstone caves and there’s just like so much like different kinds of like art that you see out on the river and it was, it was really cool.

SIROVY: That sounds awesome. I can’t imagine being out on the boat with the girls. How did you go about researching, what kind of, what did you want to talk about for this story? Was there any specific detail that you knew that you wanted to include? 

KARWOWSKI: Not necessarily. I did a little bit of like research as to like what I wanted to ask for questions of the interviews. I did a little bit of research on the coach’s background. A little bit like looking at some of the athletes and the awards that they’ve won and kind of what they’re like, experience with rowing was like, but like outside of that, like in terms of like the sport of rowing, I didn’t do a whole lot of research.

I really wanted to go like an open slate, just like an open mind, which I did. It’s kind of how I go in with a lot of my stories is just see what’s up when you report and look for a storyline within that and I think it’s like once I was out on the water and saw the amount of energy they were putting in and they ran like a lap before the practice started, they did everything together, they got the boats out together, they put them back together, they were out on the boats together, they were switching people on the boats, and I think it’s I was like, ‘you know what? I could never do this.’ These athletes, like I said, they know what’s up. So, it’s really, as the headline says, it’s not for the faint of heart. Like, you have to be committed to rowing in order to be successful on that team and I think that’s kind of the storyline that I went with. 

SIROVY: What do they do in the winter? 

KARWOWSKI: So, obviously we live in Minnesota, and it’s very cold in the winter. So when that season comes around the rowing team will go inside in their boathouse, and what they have is like this, this thing called the tank. It’s like an infinity pool, but for rowing. So it’s like, the water will move with the boat, and it’s, it kind of simulates just being out on the water, and so that’s kind of like what they use mainly in the winter. Aside from that I was told that they sometimes run stairs in Mariucci, just to keep, like, physically conditioned.

And then they’ll also be on their rowers, just like what you see at the gyms, those kinds of rowers, and then there’s, they use that for data collection. They have their weight room in the Bierman Athletic Complex and they use that for a lot of, like, data collection. At the beginning of the season and just to keep physically conditioned during the off season when rowing is not in season.

SIROVY: So when is the rowing season? Is it in the spring? Fall? 

KARWOWSKI: So there’s two seasons, much like tennis and golf. There’s a Fall season and then there’s a Spring season. The spring season is kind of like when they get very competitive, especially, that’s when they kind of row against other Big 10 teams. And that’s really when the like main part of the season starts for a lot of like for rowing and then also like golf and tennis. 

SIROVY: Awesome. How did the team feel about you being there? Were they like super excited to talk about their sport? 

KARWOWSKI: So from the people that I talked to, they were all super kind and very welcoming to me. I think, I don’t actually know this for a fact, but I think like, when I was there, I was in like the boathouse with Scott, the PR person for rowing, and the coach like, I think, I think she said, ‘Oh, we have a reporter from the Daily’ because I saw like almost all the athletes like look back and seeing me just standing there.

So it was really funny, but I think they were pretty excited to see me there cause it’s kind of like a niche sport and you know, they don’t receive a lot of coverage, so it’s really nice to give them that. Because, you know, they’re student athletes and rowing is, as I said, very clearly a sport.

SIROVY: And it’s definitely very challenging. I, from what I can tell, it looks, not for the faint of heart, as you said. So, were there any like specific challenges that you faced while doing this story? 

KARWOWSKI: The only real obstacle that kind of like was, I wouldn’t even say it was much of an obstacle, but it was something that I had to kind of jump through, was kind of the jargon that they used, when they were speaking, and they have like different, there’s different types of like oars that they use too.

Like I said, I don’t remember the kind, like I remember looking it up because they just had like a whole different, like so many different kinds of oars, and there’s like specific ones that do different things and yeah. 

SIROVY: Well, that’s pretty cool. I mean, I’m sure all the sports have their own kind of jargon. So, it’s kind of interesting to see what the rowings is. So were there any kind of, I would say unique or memorable, like certain moments when you’re doing your reporting. Was there like, ‘oh my gosh, this is so cool.’ 

KARWOWSKI: I think honestly, just the fact that those athletes can like, they get to be out on the water every morning and just kind of like, take that all in. That was so cool and I think even just getting to the boathouse was such a memorable experience cause it was like dark and like before everyone was awake and the streets were like totally empty and I was biking and I was like ‘this is so peaceful like this is awesome. I should do this like more often,’ but then like being out on the water like I was so tired. I was, even the photographer was like, ‘I can’t wait to take a nap after this,’ and I was like me too, but like ‘this is so cool’ and just being out on the water like that, that was an experience in and of itself. 

SIROVY: So, would this, would you say that this is one of your favorite stories that you’ve done, or best stories that you’ve done? 

KARWOWSKI: I don’t know. I’ve done a lot of really cool stories this past year. This one’s definitely like, I will be using this for when I apply to jobs later as one of my better stories.

SIROVY: As you should.

KARWOWSKI: But I wouldn’t say it’s, I don’t know that it’s my favorite. I mean it was cool, but like I’ve definitely written some other stories that I feel like, I mean the reporting was cool, but I feel like the conversations for me are really what would make the story so memorable for me, and not that these conversations were bad, but I’ve had a lot of great conversations with so many different athletes that I would be like, this is the best thing ever. 

SIROVY: Are there any that you want to mention? 

KARWOWSKI: . Shout out to Amaya Battle for creating an Instagram. Go ahead. Follow it at @battletimeflicks. That was my favorite story that I’ve ever written. Great conversation with Amaya and Mara on that story. Easily like that is always at the top of my like, applications for jobs and stuff and whenever people are like, ‘what’s your favorite story you’ve ever written?’ I always say Amaya Battle, searching for the perfect shot and now she works here!

SIROVY: So do you want to continue being a sports reporter?

KARWOWSKI: So I love sports reporting. It is easily my favorite thing. I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a sports reporter. I thought that I wanted to do politics at first, so my minor is in political science, but when I was first applying to the Daily, I was like, I applied and I never heard back, and I kept applying for the staff reporter position. I just never heard back my freshman year. So at the end of my freshman year, I saw that they were hiring on the sports desk, and I was like, ‘Oh, I could just apply here,’ work on the sports desk for, and then hopefully, like, maybe get a job at the staff reporter desk.

Turns out, I really actually enjoy sports reporting. I did like a little bit of sports like stuff in high school where we like streamed games. So that was really cool, and I think I was just reminded of like how much I love doing that, and, honestly like sports stories are so, so cool in my opinion, just because like there’s so much great like athletes out there who have overcome adversity and have done so many cool things that just make me like feel so inspired and I want to be the one to tell those stories to inspire other people because I’ve definitely had that experience when reading different sports stories.

SIROVY: That is incredible. I love that you get to do that and that you get to have fun doing it. I get to have fun doing this, so it’s incredible to see that the sports stories get their moment to shine as well. So is there anything else that you kind of want our listeners to know?

KARWOWSKI: Subscribe to the Rouser, the Minnesota Daily brand new sports newsletter. You can learn about the reporters on the desk. There’s a lot of us. We’re all very cool people. I think that’s the big one. Keep reading sports stories. They come out a lot and those athletes, they are incredible people, and I love talking to them, and I hope you love hearing about them. 

SIROVY: This episode was produced by Kaylie Sirovy. As always, we really appreciate you listening in. Feel free to email us at [email protected] with comments or questions. I’m Kaylie, and this is In The Know.

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