Security a Top Concern for Newspapers Covering Olympics

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By: Charles Geraci

With the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Greece just weeks away, sports editors at several of the nation’s top newspapers face security issues and other potential problems in addition to executing their regular coverage, which will often focus on local athletes.

“We’re all greatly concerned about security problems,” says Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, assistant managing editor for sports at The Washington Post. “I think that’s on the mind of every sports editor in the country.” The Post is looking to its foreign desk reporters, who have had experience covering the war in Iraq, to offer guidance.

The San Francisco Chronicle has similar plans. “Several papers in the Bay Area will most likely get together to bring in people who have traveled in volatile parts of the world to give their advice,” says Glenn Schwarz, sports editor for the Chronicle. He’s also concerned about long security lines at the site, and how “it won’t be as easy for reporters to go from venue to venue as it has been in past Games.”

Some papers, including Melville, N.Y.’s Newsday, have already given their reporters security training. “We’ve tried to take every precaution to make sure things will run smoothly there,” explains Steve Ruinsky, the paper’s assistant managing editor for sports. The Tribune Co. has even hired a top security company, Centurion, to meet with reporters at its papers.

Sports editors around the country are also wary of construction problems at the site. “I was [in Greece] in March and it was a mess,” recalls Bill Dwyre, sports editor at the Los Angeles Times. “I suspect they will put some draperies around piles of dirt.”

Jim Jenks, sports editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, trusts that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) won’t let the Games begin if things aren’t up to snuff: “Our livelihood is in the hands of the IOC and other Olympic committees.”

As with the 2000 Olympics, many papers are planning a special preview edition or even daily sections (the L.A. Times is planning one) and utilizing their Web sites extensively. “We will do what we can to break as much news as possible on our Web site for these Olympics,” says Garcia-Ruiz of the Washington Post. “By the time the newspaper comes out, the stories are going to be old. We will make the newspaper more forward-looking, and use the Web more for breaking results.”

The Post plans to devote substantial coverage to local Olympians, such as star swimmer Michael Phelps. One of the 10 reporters being sent to the Games is going primarily to cover Phelps’ meets. “We’re doing what we did with Michael Jordan when he was on the Wizards,” says Garcia-Ruiz. “We’re using one reporter to cover one athlete.” The Chronicle is assigning a reporter to cover local wrestler Patricia Miranda, and many other papers, large and small, have similar plans.

For some, the potential for security, construction, and steroid-related problems has diminished some of the enthusiasm for covering the Games. “I don’t get the feeling that anyone is excited about them this year because of the anxiety. It’s almost like people are sitting back waiting for something to happen,” says Jenks. “It’s supposed to be a big deal going back to Greece, and it just hasn’t ever felt that way.”

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