Take an unusually slow day in a Toronto college journalism school newsroom, and a journalism student with a love of sports. Now add controversy over the 2014 Sochi Olympic preparations, and some social media.
What you end up with is @SochiProblems. The Twitter account is the brainchild of Alexander (Alex) Broad, 20, a journalism major at Centennial College in Toronto, and a contributor to the program’s newspaper, TorontoObserver.ca.
Broad himself was unprepared to see his creation, launched Tuesday Feb. 4, as a Twitter account called @SochiProblems, become so popular. In only three days it has already attracted more than 240,000 followers ranging from ordinary Canadians, to well known personalities in the media, to athletes, current and retired.
Or that he would get the attention of various media outlets across North America and Europe.
“It’s kinda funny,” said Broad, in a telephone interview Thursday from his home in Pickering, Ontario. “What happened was, I was in class when I was supposed to be looking for breaking news stories, and on this day it was very, very dry!”
A Tweet from Sochi by National Post sports writer Bruce Arthur prompted Broad’s next, inspired move.
“The whole thing of @SochiProblems came from my mind, where I thought ‘Oh look I spilled Timmies on my coat’. That’s a Canadian problem,” Broad said, chuckling. ” It was a joke, it’s funny… something that I didn’t think was going to take off.”
Broad, who describes himself as the most Canadian kid you could ever meet, is known by classmates as the down-to- earth, Tim Hortons coffee-drinking, sports junkie who wears plaid shirts, trucker hats and work boots.
“When I first did it, that constant thought in my brain was like, ‘OK now it’s going to take off.” I sent two Tweets out, it’s going to blow up. And I sat there and nothing happened, I was, like, ‘You know what, if I get 15 followers that will be cool’. Then I logged out, [and] I continued on with my day.”
The next time Broad checked @SochiProblems, the number of people following had jumped tenfold.
“I couldn’t believe how much it had escalated and it just blew my mind.”
What truly caught his attention was who was following him and the media attention that his account started to receive, from ABC News and the Washington Post, Huffington Post, various online outlets and radio stations throughout America and Europe, as well as a local television sports reporter in Toronto, Cabral Richards from TSN, whose Tweet made Broad see the account in a new light.
Richards, known in Canada as “Cabbie”, wrote, “The star of the winter games may not be an athlete or a team, but the #SochiProblems Twitter feed. “
— Cabbie Richards (@Cabbie) February 6, 2014
The account is now becoming more of a political statement than just a joke. The posts document the problems being encountered by people who are at the Olympic venues: the stray dogs that roamed the Sochi streets, the plumbing that resulted in toilets that didn’t flush and tap water that looked like beer.
“This account is really showing problems that are going on there, that are trying to be covered up,” Broad said, noting that even after Russian leader Vladimir Putin put $51 billion into preparing for the Olympic games, the results still fall short of the first world standards many visitors and journalists expected.
Broad makes sure to keep these issues in mind while adding posts to his growing Twitter account, documenting the complaints about inconveniences that many North Americans take for granted.
“I understand, I’m not over there, I’m in Canada, but I’ve been seeing this [from] journalists and I think that it’s the whole mentality of what we have over here in the west. We have it so good over here in Canada and the U.S. and I don’t think we notice that, so when people go abroad it’s all of a sudden, like, whoa!”
As he returns to classes next week, Broad could be forgiven for considering the possibility of his @SochiProblems being a launching platform to a fruitful career.
“Nowadays anything can boost your career, any little thing. Sometimes it’s a foot in the door, sometimes you know someone, sometimes someone picks you up for your writing, and sometimes it could be, I’m not saying it, but it could be just an account on Twitter,” he said.
If this opens up his chances for a job in sports journalism or journalism in general then, according to Broad, “that would be incredible.”
In the meantime, Broad is thinking about what more can be done to make a positive impact with a Twitter account that was made, initially, for a laugh.