Newspapers' Olympics Game Plan: Print-Online Teamwork

By: Steve Outing (Note: Due to the President's Day holiday in the US yesterday, Stop The Presses! is publishing on an abnormal schedule this week. The next column will be published on Friday, the 20th.)

Here we are in the second week of the Winter Olympics. Of course, the Olympics is an event best suited to the television medium. But as you know if you've watched the Games on TV, references to the Web are ubiquitous -- from CBS sports anchors touting their network's Web site, to Web promotions on the televised commercials.

Some newspapers, too, are using the Web to extreme measures this time around. Indeed, the way some large papers are using the Web to publish on-time Olympics coverage is a major change from the last Olympics two years ago. The biggest change this time around seems to be a spirit of cooperation between print and online staffs at those newspapers that have sent journalists to cover the '98 Games. And because of the time zone difference, many newspaper sites this year are inclined to publish their Olympics news content on the Web as soon as it becomes available -- print deadlines disregarded.

For today's column, let's take a look at how a few major newspapers are handling Olympics coverage on their Web sites.

Los Angeles Times

"This year's Olympics poses distinct problems for print papers," points out online sports editor Adam Bain. "The time difference makes it impossible for the paper to be timely in its reporting (Nagano is 14 hours ahead of LA), so a majority of the events are going on when the paper is being put to bed. But of course this is a perfect example of where a Web site is a vital component to the paper."

Bain says that Times reporters sent to cover the Games are writing and filing after each event, which is then copy-edited and put on the Web site immediately. A Times sports columnist, Mike Downey, calls into the Web site every morning from Nagano and records an "Olympics Audio Briefing." The site also is running up-to-the-minute Olympics news, features, photos, schedules, medal counts, etc.

The Web staff enlisted the aid of the print-side copy desk and also readjusted its schedule to cover the hours when Olympic events are taking place.

New York Times

John Freed, deputy editor for the New York Times Electronic Media Co., points out that historically, because of the time difference and the fact that many events conclude after the Times presses are silent for the night, reporters might have waited 12 or more hours to file their stories -- which would have made the next press run at midnight Eastern time and be about 21 hours old. Oh, how times have changed.

This Olympics, the Web staff made a deal with Times print reporters covering the Games. They agreed to file reports in a timely manner after an event ends. Stories are edited at a Times copy desk in Nagano, then sent to the Web editors in New York and posted online. Often, reporters will file shorter stories for the Web site, then later file more extensive pieces that will show up in the print edition. The Times site also features real-time event results from a Java ticker (provided by Real Time Sports) and regular Olympics coverage from the Associated Press.

Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin

This newspaper sent two reporters to Nagano, and most of their stories are filed to the Web site before they appear in the paper, says John Granatino, who heads the J-B's new media operation. The reporters also are calling in regular audio reports to the Providence CBS television affiliate, with whom the newspaper partnered on this project. "The television station is twinning the reporters' audio reports with footage from the Games and broadcasting those reports on their nightly news shows," he says. "Then, we are taking those video broadcasts and serving them to visitors who have Real Audio/Video."

Other special Olympics Web features include separate pages following the adventures of some local athletes participating in the Games. One of the athletes files "diary" reports to the newspaper Web site, and fans can send her e-mail in Japan. There's also a live Java ticker with hypertext links to incoming Associated Press stories, and all AP stories are categorized by sport so that fans of a particular sport can see everything that's available.

Granatino says the three-way partnership between newspaper, Web site, and local TV station has produced lots of cross-promotional opportunities, "as each of us are promoting the other two in all of our coverage." The TV station also provided the Web site with pre-Game features that it did for its nightly news program, which are offered on the site as Real Audio/Video clips.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

"We're getting great cooperation from the (print-side) sports reporters," says Steve Yelvington, editor of Star Tribune Online. The lead reporter in Nagano, Jay Weiner, has been watching the Web site closely, "and he's been nagging us to get the stories up even faster."

"Our goal is to combine the timeliness of radio with the depth of a metropolitan newspaper," says Yelvington.

Washington Post is putting up articles destined for the print edition in the late morning/early afternoon (local Washington, D.C., time), usually 8-10 hours before print publication. Most days, three or four articles are posted on the site's Olympics front under the headline "From Tomorrow's Post."

Web site sports editor James Brady explains that after print reporters file stories, the Post's editor in Nagano edits the articles and sends them to the Post's print editors in D.C. Once in hand, the Web staff calls the Post's sports assignment desk (the newspaper and Web staff are in separate buildings) and asks for permission to take the articles. They are edited one more time by the Web editorial staff, then put on the site. Later, when articles are re-edited at the newspaper, the Web staff replaces the early versions with the versions that actually run in the paper.

The site also is running daily photo galleries from the Games, which are posted by noon each day. After the Olympics are over, the plan is to create special galleries for each of the Post's photographers in Nagano, with photo selections from the photographers themselves.

The Web site staff's cooperation with the print side included building a reference page of Olympics links for the Post's assignment editors. That included links within the Post's own Olympics site as well as links to other newspapers' Olympics coverage, so editors could scope out other media efforts. "It also included staff schedules for the online staff and beeper information in case they needed to contact us," Brady says.

E.W. Scripps Co.

The Scripps newspapers chain has developed a separate Olympics site that is linked to by most of the company's papers and TV stations. The site is populated mostly by coverage from Scripps Howard News Service, which moves articles three times a day. "It's not the up-to-the-minute updates we'd like, but it's a good start," says Bob Benz, director of online content development for Scripps. SHNS has a team of eight journalists covering the Games in Japan.

Scripps also is trying a national approach to Web ad sales with this site. Benz says that about a dozen ads were sold for the site, and "it's our first real effort to pull resources and focus traffic in this way. We decided not to do a branded version of the site for each of our properties. Instead, everyone's linking to a common site."

The Scripps Olympic site also has a fun feature where a reporter at the Birmingham (Alabama) Post-Herald, Steve Joynt, is filing daily reports for the news service about his attempt to watch every single minute of televised Olympic coverage. In addition to Joynt's print dispatches, he is filing twice-daily updates exclusively for the Web.


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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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