Norwegian sports reporter Kaja Snare has been headhunted to become the international TV reporter for organizer Agon’s live coverage of the Carlsen-Karjakin title match in New York.
by Tarjei J. Svensen and Jonathan Tisdall
«I’m ecstatic!» the 26-year-old tells Matt & Patt. «It is a completely new challenge for me.»
Norwegian chess fans know Kaja well, and thanks to active and competitive mainstream TV coverage of major events, she has quickly gained some international attention as well. Previously a full-time reporter and program anchor for the sports channel of Norway’s main commercial network TV 2, she became a regular part of their TV chess coverage after a debut covering the Sinquefield International in 2014, and intense experience at the Carlsen-Anand rematch in Sochi.
Just ask questions
In this blog entry her infectious enthusiasm is evident, as is her ability to learn on the fly. As the title of the piece indicates, (All Questions Seem Stupid When You Talk With The World’s Brightest Minds) Kaja’s cheerful blend of respect and fearlessness lets her approach the world’s top players – and make them approachable.
Expert commentator Atle Grønn, an IM and TV personality for state broadcaster – and competitor – NRK, had nothing but praise for Snare’s rapid development as a journalist capable of making chess a watchable sport, as she and Carlsen hosted a prime time talk show built around the 2015 qualifier for the Norway Chess supertournament.
«Kaja is incredibly impressive,» Grønn told Matt & Patt. «She asks precise questions that are relevant and that everyone can understand.»
Agon boss Ilya Merenzon agrees. After seeing her work for TV 2′ sports channel at the Sochi match, he calls her ‘a world-class reporter’ who ‘speaks perfect English’.
Making the complex seem simple
«We’ve seen her in action and she knows chess and knows personally the champion and is also able to extract personal side of the players and is not afraid to ask difficult questions while retaining good connections. She is a very good journalist and also is in perfect position to help us with what is our aim — to make chess more for general public and get personal and broader audience.» Merenzon says.
He told Matt & Patt that ambitions for the event are high and Agon intends to assemble commentators and experts from around the world.
Matt & Patt has long known that the Agon boss has tried to hire Snare as a reporter and program host for international broadcasts. The Candidates tournament in Moscow last March was ruled out because of her job with TV 2, but this is no longer an obstacle after staffing cuts at the network made her a free agent.
«It worked out well now that I am leaving TV 2. I got in touch with Ilya again and said I really wanted to work with Agon. He was pleased and we came to an agreement,» Snare explains.
More than Magnus
Norway’s state broadcaster NRK has the rights and assignment to produce the international programming from New York. Their mass market handling of chess – along with Magnus Carlsen’s success – has made the game a hot TV property in Norway, and won several awards. The plan is to try and do the same for global viewers.
«It feels a bit absurd that I started working with chess just two years ago. I was kind of thrown into it. Now I get the chance to work in such a major production at a world championship. I am looking forward to it so much. It will be a huge challenge since we are going to reach a new audience that does not have the advantage we have with Magnus Carlsen,» Kaja says.
She doesn’t fear that being Norwegian will prevent her from being professionally neutral.
«If there is one thing we journalists are trained to do, it is to be objective. It is not first and foremost Magnus that makes this title match special, it is everything around it. A Russian is finally back and fighting to win the title back – in New York, where Bobby Fischer grew up,» she says.
«Finally we are programming for the whole world. This is show time. We know so little about what Karjakin is capable of and what he has done, and he has an enormous team around him. And Magnus now meets a completely new opponent. This isn’t ‘Go Magnus!’, it’s ‘Go World Championship!’,» Kaja says.
Snare is off for New York on 7 November, four days before the first game begins. «I hope it will be a long match,» she says.