By: MARK FITZGERALD
IF YOU WORK in the payroll department of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution during this Olympics period, your Monday morning workday starts at 1 a.m.
“Most people here are working really bizarre hours,” said Hugh Gardiner, head of administration for the newspapers’ advertising department.
Though payroll probably has the worst of it ? with a workday that begins at 1 a.m. and ends at 10 a.m. ? nearly all white-collar employees at the papers are working factory-like shifts. Purchasing, for instance, begins its day at 6 a.m. and many employees are coming in at five or four in the morning.
In fact, some 34 advertising employees are not even coming into the office at all. They have been shifted to suburban offices away from the gridlock of the so-called Olympic Ring, a one-and-a-half-mile area in downtown Atlanta.
The Summer Games, which began July 19 and continue until Aug. 4, presents Atlanta’s hometown newspapers with an unprecedented chance to shine before an international audience. However, the Olympics ? with their massive and paralyzing crowds, intense security concerns and near-insatiable infrastructure demands ? also present a logistical Rubik’s Cube to a newspaper trying to print and deliver in an environment turned virtually upside down.
And the Journal and Constitution’s Marietta Street headquarters is right in the middle of this five-ring circus.
“This is the most compact Olympics ever held,” Gardiner said. “I can walk to about 60% of the venues from my office right now.”
Indeed, 20 of the 26 events will take place inside the Olympic Ring. Roads are closed inside and outside the ring as the city copes with spectators and other visitors who were arriving at a rate of 200,000 a day, and were expected to total 2.2 million once the Games began.
But far from being paralyzed, the Journal and Constitution are publishing a dizzying amount of extra editions and sections during the Olympics ? including a mammoth 100-page guide to the Games, inserted in the July 14 Sunday paper.
Planning ? plus a healthy assist from the latest in newspaper technology ? are the reasons the Journal and Constitution have been able to take advantage of the Olympics, rather than being overwhelmed by them.
As the newspaper itself pointed out in a July 7 note to readers, the Journal and Constitution have been on top of the Atlanta Olympics story since local real estate attorney Billy Payne first floated the idea in March 1987. The paper was also an open cheerleader for getting the Centennial Games to come to Atlanta.
Since then, the paper said, “Our reporters and photographers have visited two dozen countries, brought you dozens of special reports on every aspect of the Olympic world, answered hundreds of consumer questions, and developed expertise in each of the 31 sports.”
And in contrast to construction of the Olympic venues ? which seemed always behind schedule until it came together just days before the opening ceremonies ? Journal and Constitution planning went surprisingly smoothly.
“The newspaper seems more ready for the Olympics than any other business I’ve seen,”
purchasing manager Ramsey Altman said about two weeks before the start of the Games.
Well before the Olympic Ring plan restricted deliveries and other traffic, for example, the Journal and Constitution purchasing department had arranged with vendors to make deliveries between 2 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. only.
And the Journal and Constitution were key corporate leaders in solving the daytime delivery problem. “During the Olympics, we can’t get our ad service cars in here, so we are helicoptering material in from three locations to a spot about a block away from here,” Gardiner said.
“We’re part of a downtown business consortium that was set up by Georgia Tech and the (Federal Aviation Authority) to provide basically a round-robin, 24-hour-a-day helicopter service into downtown.”
More important, the Journal and Constitution ? flagship of the intensely technology-oriented Cox Newspapers ? began converting its key ad accounts from physical materials to electronic files.
“In the spring, we installed an advertising bulletin board service,” Gardiner said. “Most of our major accounts, including [the big department store] Rich’s, are on it now. So between [Associated Press’] AdSend and that, a great number of our accounts are handled electronically.”
Just in time for the Olympics, the Journal and Constitution installed the Cox Newspapers wide area network database, allowing the papers to access, view and share stories, graphics, photos, ads and even fully made up pages with sister papers. “It’s all up, operational,” said Tony Walker, Cox Newspapers’ head of systems planning development.
The Journal and Constitution have created an Olympics desk that every night builds a six-page modular section from files on the WAN database created by Digital Technology International. This section is sent out to sister Cox papers over 256-kilobit/second frame-relay digital communications, Walker said.
The objects of all these arrangements ? the actual morning Constitution, evening Journal and combined weekend papers themselves ? are impressive products during this Olympic period.
Every day since July 8, the Journal and Constitution have included a daily Olympic section called Atlanta Games.
In addition to including news from the Olympic venues, the free-standing section includes reports from what the newspapers call “outside the fence” ? traffic and ticket advice, a consumer help column, a children-oriented news feature and even its own crossword puzzle.
A new single-copy sales product, designed specifically for Olympic visitors, Atlanta Extra, is published every day ? and is sold by dozens of green-shirted street hawkers.
“Every day,” systems planning development head Walker said, “they’re creating an entire 48-page paper on top of the regular paper.”
Constitution pitting their gold medal hopes on technology and planning during the Summer Olympics logistical nightmare
?(Far from being paralyzed, the Journal and
Constitution are publishing a dizzying amount
of extra editions and sections during the Olympics ? including a mammoth 100-page guide to the Games.) [Photo & Caption]