Room Rater is getting a book.
The COVID-19 pandemic phenomenon that peeks behind the talking heads of political figures, pundits and news personalities to critique the environs of their virtual interviews — and is 50% produced from a living room in Port Moody — is making the leap from Twitter to the printed page.
Room Rater co-founder Claude Taylor promises the tone will be “fun,” with a broader reach than the social media feed’s 400,000 followers.
And while he’s not yet ready to reveal much, he does hint it will include delights like cake recipes from former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who achieved some measure of renown for the appearance of her beautiful confections displayed on a stand in the background of her TV appearances.
Taylor is the Washington, D.C. half of the bi-coastal, bi-national couple behind Room Rater. Port Moody’s Jessie Bahrey is the other half. He runs a left-leaning Political Action Committee (PAC) in the U.S. capitol, she manages a garden centre in Port Coquitlam.
Both call themselves cable news junkies, and in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, exchanging catty comments over the phone about the backgrounds of TV interviews conducted over virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Skype was a way to stay connected during lockdowns and ease the anxiety and stress of a world suddenly turned upside down.
Then, one Sunday afternoon in early April 2020, Taylor and Bahrey created their Room Rater account on Twitter and started sharing their observations with whoever cared to read them.
“We were just trying to have fun with it,” Taylor said.
Two days later, an MSNBC personality who’d come under the Room Rater magnifying glass retweeted their score and the account started taking off. Another that took a swipe at Donald Trump loyalist, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, amped their audience even more.
At one point, Bahrey said, Room Rater was gaining 1,000 followers an hour.
“For me, it was shocking and scary as hell,” she said.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Taylor added. “What are we going to do with this?”
Besides keeping themselves amused, the couple decided to use their newfound platform for good, fundraising to send 20,000 surgical masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to several hospitals in New York City that were in dire straights through the pandemic’s early onslaught.
A friendly rivalry for Room Rater kudos between Republican political strategist Stephen Schmidt and MSNBC national-affairs analyst John Heilemann sparked another fundraising effort, with proceeds from the sale of Team Schmidt and Team Heilemann t-shirts going towards PPE for the Navajo Nation in the U.S. southwest. Sales of a growing selection of Room Rater merchandise, like coffee mugs, coasters, lapel pins and ceramic pineapples, have helped provide art kits to another First Nation in Colorado and more pallets of PPE for other struggling hospitals and communities.
Oh yeah, about the pineapples that have become Room Rater’s adopted symbol?
Neither Taylor nor Bahrey understand how that happened, although they trace its origin to the duelling fruit bowls behind Schmidt and Heilemann that got more elaborate with every TV appearance. But the couple knew they’d become a part of the zeitgeist when one inexplicably appeared in the background of a photo of country music star Willie Nelson.
For the next several weeks, Taylor and Bahrey are encamped in her Port Moody condo to work on their book. They’re also charting the future of Room Rater as the pandemic eases, people head back to their workplaces and the need for virtual meetings diminishes.
But they’re unlikely to disappear for good, Taylor said, as the convenience and cost-effectiveness of connecting virtually are just too good for companies looking to keep costs down.
Bahrey said it’s kind of funny and humbling that their critiques that started as a lark might have an influence on how those virtual meetings look going forward. Already, she’s received emails and messages from people who used tips they learned from Room Rater to style their backgrounds for virtual job and college admission interviews.
And if a book is in Room Raters’ immediate future, could a background-decorating TV show be far behind?
“If we can pull off a book of us being interior designers when we’re not interior designers, then the sky is the limit,” Bahrey said.