By: MARK FITZGERALD
FOR THE WORLD’S big newspapers and wire services, any Olympics is a grueling marathon pitting demanding on-site logistical requirements against international deadlines like some kind of time/space grudge match refereed by Albert Einstein.
But sometimes a game’s heaviest burden falls on a small paper that happens to have an Olympic venue right in its backyard.
That’s what’s happening in the 1996 Summer Olympics to the Rockdale Citizen, the 10,532-circulation, five-day evening paper in Conyers, Ga.
“The primary thing the Olympics is going to do is turn everything upside down,” Alice Queen, the Citizen’s news editor, said in a phone interview nine days before the Games’ opening ceremony.
Since the Olympics began July 19, the Citizen has changed from an evening paper to a morning paper. On Aug. 6, it will become an evening paper again. On July 20, the Rockdale Citizen added its first Saturday edition ? which will be a permanent change for the newspaper which had published Monday through Friday.
During the Olympics, it has increased its press run by about 50% and it is publishing special sections daily. Not only that, but six days a week during the Olympics, the Citizen is printing a special edition of the Essen, Germany, paper WAZ (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung). Perhaps the most challenging task for the Rockdale Citizen during these Olympic days, however, has been preserving its coveted parking spaces at its offices in the historic Old Town section of Conyer’s downtown.
“We’ve hired security people to protect our turf, basically, so our people can come to work,” news editor Queen said.
Conyers is 24 miles away from the epicenter of the Atlanta Games, but since opening day, it has been every bit as crowded, congested and controlled ? with some twists of its own.
For Conyers is the site of perhaps ? and surprisingly ? the most controversial Olympic venue, the equestrian competition. The tony international crowd that follows this sport is not normally associated with controversy, but feelings ran high between the U.S. and Europe over whether to permit into Georgia some championship horses infected with a tick-borne disease that was eradicated in this country only after decades of effort.
“We’ve all become experts on piroplasmosis,” Queen said. She spelled the name of the disease for a reporter.
In the end, U.S. authorities agreed to permit 20 horses to enter the country, although with stringent conditions designed to protect domestic horses from infection.
Not necessarily by design, these same conditions are just another frustration for the newspaper.
“In some areas around the venue you need a pass to enter, and our carriers have already had to get used to working with that [condition],” production manager Jeff Norris said.
More than 30,000 people were expected to view the competition every day ? and that doesn’t count the untold thousands more who have been dropping by Conyers for its other tourist attractions.
And in a big departure from normal Olympics procedures, spectators at the equestrian events are allowed to come and go during the competition ? meaning that traffic is snarled not just at peak times, but during midday as well.
When Rockdale Citizen executives sat down to plan for the Olympics, it was clear that evening publication was out of the question.
“We normally go to press at 10:30 a.m. and hit the streets noonish,” news editor Queen said. “Well, equestrian events are held early because of the heat, and we just didn’t expect to be able to deliver the paper.”
For the Olympics, the Citizen is going to press at 9:30 p.m. Readers were alerted to the change about three weeks before the start of the Games.
At the same time, the Citizen’s presses are also busy printing the German-language paper WAZ.
As previously reported, the Citizen will be printing WAZ Atlanta, a special edition of the Essen, Germany, newspaper that is aimed at German visitors to the Olympics. The pages are assembled at the newsroom in Essen, and by a small WAZ editorial and production staff housed at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.
The Citizen is receiving the pages over its ISDN lines, which were installed in February and enable the paper to do page assembly for its sister paper in Olympic event impacts 10,000-circulation Rockdale (Ga.) Citizen Lawrenceville, the 14,000-circulation Gwinnett Daily Post.
All this extra press activity puts a big strain on inventories, production director Jeff Norris says.
“Newsprint ? that’s the big problem,” he said.
“We have virtually no [storage] space at all in this building, so everything is just in time. But with delivery impossible during the Olympics, I’ve got newsprint rolls stacked up in the back rooms, in offices ? even in the bathrooms, literally,” Norris said.
Ironically, for all the challenges the Olympics have dumped on the Conyers paper, the situation at their sister paper, located much closer to the so-called Olympic Ring in downtown Atlanta, is far calmer.
“We’re not doing an awful lot with the Olympics, to be honest with you,” Daily Post editor Norman Baggs said.
There are no Olympic venues at Lawrenceville and the 14,000-circulation Gray Communications-owned paper was not able to get credentials for most events, Baggs said.
“We’ll be concentrating in terms of the impact on traffic and telling readers how to get from here to there,” Baggs said. “You ought to call our sister paper ? it’s having a huge impact on them.”