THE OLYMPICS: SMALL PAPERS TO RELY ON CELL PHONES

By: Wayne Robins

The Next Best Thing To Being In Sydney





from this week’s Editor & Publisher magazine. To subscribe, click here.



by Wayne Robins



Some time next month, between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning – Savannah,
Ga., time – weightlifter Cheryl Haworth will go for the gold at the
Sydney 2000 Olympics. Chances are that NBC-TV and its cable networks
won’t be beaming this relatively low-profile event live to the East
Coast in the middle of the night.



But local fans of the 17-year-old Haworth will get the news as it
happens. Down under, at the arena in Australia, Savannah Morning News
columnist Tim Guidera will be at his laptop, immediately relaying the
results of each of Haworth’s snatches, cleans, and jerks back home to
SavannahNow, the newspaper’s Web site.



‘We probably won’t have video, but we plan to have it on the Web pretty
much as live as you can do it,’ says Morning News Sports Editor Tony
Stastny. ‘It’s the only opportunity we have to out-TV TV.’



Welcome to what some are calling the first Web Olympics. Like this
summer’s political conventions, the Sydney 2000 Games will be the first
of its kind at which the Internet will have a prominent presence.



Still, the Net coverage will not be that ‘conventional.’ Dozens of
online-only entities wangled credentials to the political conventions;
it almost seems like a hundred streaming video sites might bloom. By
contrast, to protect NBC’s billion-dollar investment in TV rights,
the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prohibited all transmission
of ‘moving images’ from Sydney – even by NBCOlympics.com. (Last week,
however, the IOC relented and will allow streaming video and audio
under severe restrictions: No live or same-day coverage, and subsequent
feeds limited to 20 minutes of highlights.)



Still, the Web threatens to blow apart the time-honored Olympics charade,
in which the American TV networks, unable to cover most major events
live in the evening, pretend those events haven’t even happened – to
build suspense and prime-time ratings. Now anyone will be able to go to
the Net for instant results, analysis, and visual images, even if they
are ‘only’ photographs.



Credentials are revered



The IOC has a quota of 5,000 press passes (not counting authorized TV
personnel), and each country’s national Olympic committee received an
allotment of credentials. The U.S. Olympic Committee snagged 536,
according to USOC spokesman Brian Moran. TV and radio news
organizations not affiliated with NBC got 40 passes, 496 went to the
print media – and exactly zero to Internet-only or ‘indigenous online’
sites in the United States.



But newspaper Web reps are free to go, of course, and many will do so.
The time difference between Sydney and the United States (it will be
14 hours earlier at the Olympics than it will be on the U.S. East
Coast) presents a watershed opportunity for newspapers to break news
on their Web sites, and follow it up later in print. ‘Because it will
be the middle of the morning,’ the Savannah Morning News’ Stastny
explains, ‘it would be almost beyond the realm of possibility to get
[Cheryl Haworth’s] results in the newspaper first.’



Washington Post Sports Editor George Solomon says he’ll be sending
about 10 journalists to Sydney. He sees the challenge of the time
difference not as a matter of whether online beats print but as how
to be ‘very, very creative’ in the way The Washington Post does all
of its stories.



‘If a big track event finishes at 9 p.m. in Sydney, that would be 7
a.m. in Washington,’ Solomon points out. ‘What we need to do for our
Internet users is provide not only coverage [results] of those events
but complete coverage, so they’ll know everything that occurred.
We’re talking about a 24-hour operation. We have to be creative, look
ahead, write about the people who did the most dramatic events, and
make it compelling.’



Indeed, the Post and many other dailies have given great consideration
to bridging the sometimes amorphous cultural distinctions between the
print and online editions. But ‘new media’ can even now be an alien
concept in some newsrooms, where there are still, here and there,
crusty editors who lament the disappearance of manual typewriters and
carbon paper.



Whatever resistance print traditionalists have to giving such a prominent
edge to their Web sites may evaporate because of the, well, Olympian
appeal of the Games, and the instant access Web sites afford users.



‘Some of my brethren, maybe, still think, ‘We’re print, they’re the
Internet,” says Fred Turner, sports editor of the Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., Sun-Sentinel, who does not himself have a computer at home. ‘But
we’re information providers, and, in this particular case, it [the
timing] breaks for the Internet.’



At most papers, cooperation between online and print in covering the
Olympics is the rule, although a certain wariness remains. ‘Some
reporters are so used to being tied to print deadlines that when they’re
past deadline, they don’t think about filing stories, so some re-training
may be needed,’ half-jokes Ginny Greene, online editor of The Gazette (http://www.gazette.com) in Colorado Springs, Colo. The hometown paper
of the USOC and the huge number of athletes who train in the area, The
Gazette will send two reporters, two photographers, and Geoff Grant,
its executive sports editor.



The print edition of The Gazette will prepare for the Games with a
20-24 page preview in a ‘day-by-day format, highlighting that day’s
main event as well as the TV schedule,’ Grant says. Daily, there will
be an eight-page special section that will either wrap the sports
section or stand alone.



‘We have tons of athletes who train at the Olympic Training Center in
the Springs, but only a handful who are truly from this city,’ Grant
points out. ‘Do we embrace those who just train here as our own? By and
large, I think the answer is no. … Those few who are truly from and
of the Springs, well, we’ve already devoted tons of copy to them and
will continue to do so as the Games progress. … Athletes like mountain
biker Alison Dunlap and distance runner Adam Goucher … we’ll ride them
and their stories as far and long as we can.’



Web plans seem up in the air, according to Grant and Greene. ‘We may
experiment with some audio from our columnists there, though we’re not
sure if the technology is up to it, and phones will be at an absolute
premium,’ Greene observes. Philosophically, Grant says that the main
impact of the time difference with Sydney would be that his paper would
‘try to use TV’s coverage as a device to whet our reader’s appetite for
more on the big stories and athletes.’



A new track record



The print/online separation is already being bridged daily at The News
& Observer in Raleigh, N.C. ‘One of the things we do is work closely
with our newsroom; it’s heavily integrated,’ says John Jordan, content
manager for new media for The News & Observer. ‘Unfortunately, it’s not
something ingrained in our newsroom yet that breaking news on the Web
is something we should be doing on a regular basis.’



But America’s most acclaimed woman track-and-field star, Marion Jones,
lives in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle, and newsobserver.com
will have no choice but to beat the print edition with the results of
her contests as she pursues five potential gold medals. ‘Two members of
the print staff – a reporter and a photographer with a digital camera –
will be filing, and we’ll be putting those stories right on the Web and
not worry about getting them into print first,’ Jordan explains.



The Raleigh paper’s Web site already has a special section online with
full reports on Jones’ Olympic Trials races as well as information about
her past, present, and future.



‘What are we doing about Marion Jones? Everything we can,’ says Wayne
McPeters, sports producer for newsobserver.com. The site will have a
photo gallery as well as a Jones news link. Though full staffing and
assignments are still in the planning stage, McPeters hopes that the
newspaper’s Olympics columnist will set up a message board from Sydney,
in which he can take questions from fans about North Carolina athletes
in the spotlight. (They include

decathlete Chris Huffins and shot-putter C.J. Hunter, both from Raleigh,
as well as Vince Carter, a member of the U.S. basketball team and still
a state hero after having been a star on the University of North
Carolina’s revered hoops team.)



From small dailies to major metros, newspaper Web sites will make it
easier to give the planet’s quadrennial sports event a local touch (see
related story on cell phone reporting).



Online chats add to the excitement for such heavy hitters as
washingtonpost.com and the Chicago Tribune’s free-standing sports site, ChicagoSports.com. ‘We’re sending a multimedia specialist to Sydney to
set up some online chats and snag some local athletes,” says Bill Grant,
online editor for The Washington Post. There’s a high level of cooperation
between the Web and print editions. ‘We’re all well aware of the time
difference, and they [the sports writers] do have this avenue for
getting their stories in earlier,’ he explains.



Many people ‘really like interactivity with local athletes,’ says Chicago
Tribune Sports Editor John Cherwa. His paper and its ChicagoSports.com
site are keying in on three Olympics competitors from the area: Michael
Bennett, a boxer; Hilary Wolfe, a judo contestant; and Kevin Bracken, a
Greco-Roman wrestler. ‘They’ll be doing diaries and answering questions
from users,’ Cherwa says.



On the print side



For print sections of major papers squeezed between the instant results
on the Internet and the delayed telecasts of key events, there is one
aspect of journalism that newspapers can still do better than any other
medium: storytelling. And no Olympics is short on dramatic or
heartwarming stories.



‘Compelling’ is the keyword for coverage for The Washington Post’s
Solomon. ‘Lance Armstrong is going to be at the Olympics. The Williams
girls [Venus and Serena]. They’re compelling. Track is compelling.
Marion Jones, Maurice Greene, they’re compelling,’ the Post’s sports
editor says. ‘The trick is to try to attract readers, and be honest
with readers. NBC is going to have its own TV package. It’s incumbent
for us to be as entertaining and complete as possible, and run good
news stories about things occurring in Sydney.’



The New York Times, of course, plans a major presence in Sydney, and
will have prodigious coverage both in print and on The New York Times
on the Web. ‘Our reporters will file the stories right after the events,
and they will go on the Web site,’ says Neil Amdur, sports editor of
the Times. ‘Then the stories will be edited in New York, and the Times
will put out a separate Olympics section of the paper Monday through
Friday.’



Late-breaking news will be put in the main Times sports section, which
will not be lacking for other news. ‘That period, the last two weeks
of September, will be among the busiest times in the year of sports,’
Amdur says. ‘We’ll be in the closing days of the baseball pennant
races, and in the early weeks of the pro and college football seasons.’



Yet, the Olympics is a Times priority. Its Sydney contingent will
consist of about 10 reporters led by Deputy Sports Editor Bill Brink.
There will also be two photographers, two picture editors, a technical
expert, and a member of the Web site staff, Naka Nathaniel. ‘His job
will be to formulate a lot of the material for the Web site as the
writers are writing, and providing other kinds of [multimedia]
material,’ Amdur says.



Times columnists George Vecsey, Bill Rhoden, and Harvey Aronson, and

sports writers including Jere Longman, Mike Wise, Bill Pennington,
Richard Sandomir, and Selena Roberts will be joined in Sydney by a
reporter from the Times’ Hong Kong bureau and a Sydney-based reporter
from the International Herald Tribune, which is partly owned by the
New York Times Co. ‘With that kind of group, the readers are going
to get a really good feel, whether they get it on the Web or in
print,’ Amdur says.



The New York Times, of course, is almost unique in the depth of its
resources. Other papers are taking advantage of the chains to which
they belong, benefitting from the recent frenzy of consolidation in
the newspaper industry. Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel, for example,
will have two writers in Sydney, who will concentrate on ‘setting up
what’s coming next and what’s going to be on TV that night,’ explains
Fred Turner, sports editor of the Tribune Co. paper in southern Florida.



‘We’re going to cover our locals, obviously, and there should be about
10 [Olympic athletes] if everybody qualifies,’ he adds. One Sun-Sentinel
focus should be Seilala Sua, a discus thrower who went to high school
in Fort Lauderdale. ‘We’ll keep track of what they’re doing and how
they’re doing, but we’re not going to be completely parochial,’ Turner
says.



In fact, the Tribune Co.’s recent purchase of the Times Mirror Co.
will give its papers deeper material to work with. ‘We get the [Los
Angeles] Times’ Olympic expertise, and that – coupled with the Chicago
Tribune’s – should be pretty formidable,” Turner adds.



Long days, hungry audience



The 24-hour news window the Internet opens may not thrill some reporters
used to a single daily deadline. But The New York Times’ Amdur insists
it won’t be a problem for his people. ‘You can’t work any more than you
[already] work at the Olympic Games,’ he says, having covered the events
from 1968 to 1984 as a Times sportswriter.



Perhaps the most coddled elite in sports journalism, the feature writers
for Sports Illustrated, will also get a taste of online journalism. SI’s
big guns – such as Rick Reilly, Tim Layden, Ed Swift, and 10 or so other
writers – will no longer just lay back and compose thumb-suckers for the
weekly. They’ll be expected to file daily analysis, opinion, interviews,
and scene-setters for CNNSI.com, according to the Web site’s editor in
chief, Mitch Gelman.



Whatever the site, the Internet ‘will bring some immediacy’ for users who
don’t or can’t stay up and wait for the events on TV, says Ginny Greene
of Colorado Springs’ gazette.com. And, ultimately, the newspaper online
editions should be able to do the things print has always done, only
much, much faster – like the difference between a sprinter and a miler.



‘We’re in the information business,’ observes Cherwa of the Chicago
Tribune. ‘We’re mixing up the mediums in which we transmit, but we’re
still doing the things we’ve always done, informing and entertaining
the customer.’





~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Wayne Robins (wrobins@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor
for E&P.











(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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