Dec 19 2008

2010 Olympics and Indie Media in Vancouver

When the 2010 Olympics come to Vancouver, will VANOC embrace alternative media, or will there be it be more of a fighting withdrawal to hold on to its traditional business model, which involves partnering with the media conglomerates? These are interesting times, with one company (interestingly, NOT a citizen news company per se, although that is part what they facilitate as web developers) acting as vanguard for the blogging and tweeting crowd (as reported here previously).

Olympics business strategy consultant and OlyBLOG author Maurice Cardinal takes issue with an allegedly overly critical characterization of alt-media’s Olympic citizen journalism organizing, by Financial Post contributor Jeff Lee. Cardinal writes:

In this latest article Lee described our group as follows;

“The plotters were ordinary people, young and old. Some had piercings and others, unusual shades of hair colour. Some brandished laptops. One had a tiny video camera. Others sat on the floor and simply listened.”

I don’t want to make a big deal of semantics, but not only is Lee’s characterization of our group skewed, once again he failed to tell the whole story. For example, there were also people in casual business attire at the meeting, plus I saw at least one UBC professor, and I think even an undercover police officer. Granted, people were sitting on the floor, but only because the turnout was so great.

Raincity Studios, where the meeting was held, is a hip working environment with long tables wired to support dozens of computers.

It’s a very cool heritage building, well maintained and stylishly decorated, but Lee described the room as follows;

“… four dozen people trudged up to the fourth floor of an old Gastown building mere metres from where Vancouver was born.”

Most of the info in his article was technically correct, and I concede that maybe a few people trudged, but Lee’s snarky attitude towards indie media journos is stuck in 2003, and ironically, this is exactly why we’ve bumped heads so many times in the past.

What’s the consensus out there? Was Lee’s report really a sign that the mainstream media as a whole is going to be at loggerheads with alt-meda even more as the Olympics draw closer? Or is there still time for the two sides to actually work together?

I’m convinced, due in no small part to Dave Olson’s evangelizing, that there are a whole lot of worthy Olympic stories out there that mainstream media never gets around to covering (not necessarily because of bias, but mainly because newsrooms have been heavily depopulated over the past 10 years — they just don’t have the human resources to cover all the great stories). When the big show comes to Vancouver in 2010, I expect Indie media to do an admirable, and unprecedented, job of filling in the gaps in the Olympic story.
Vancouver city

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “2010 Olympics and Indie Media in Vancouver”

  1. Ruth Seeleyon 19 Dec 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I know I’ve said this before (somewhere, sometime, maybe on my own blog), but I think it’s worth saying again:

    If journalists (traditional media) supply the ‘first draft of history’ (and I would certainly love to find out who first said this so I can attribute the quote – if anyone knows, please onpass the info), social media is creating an amazingly content-rich, in-real-time social history of our times. And this is important, not because we ourselves are such important people, but because those who come after us will hopefully be able to learn both from our mistakes and from our achievements and our successes.

    Having said all that, I’m not coming up with any scathingly brilliant ideas on how this situation can be managed.

    Let me tell you a story: I once had to ‘manage’ the media at an AGM for a client having its annual shareholder meeting. We knew turnout at this meeting was going to be overwhelming. We had to ensure media were able to attend. But legally the company also had to ensure every shareholder who wanted to attend the meeting was able to do so – and it was impossible to predict how many people would turn up. You don’t have the right to require shareholders to RSVP. Short of renting an auditorium (and that wouldn’t have gone done well in terms of accommodations – 300+ people sitting on folding chairs in an inconveniently located hockey arena for three hours or more). So the decision was made to set aside a maximum of 25 seats for media and to allow them in on a first-come, first-served basis.

    One media outlet’s radio division indicated interest in attending 24 hours in advance of the meeting, and my response was, great, see you there, remember there are only 25 media seats available and it’s first come, first served. (I believe she called me three times and I went into key message mode, repeating my ‘only 25 seats, first-come, first-served, hope to see you there’ line each time.) Same media outlet’s TV division showed up with a total of five people and took their seats. Radio person was outside interviewing protesters while other media claimed the 25 seats. Radio person then had a conniption fit when she discovered there were no media seats left at the actual meeting. Naturally I was called upon to arbitrate. And I refused to do so, insisting that they duke it out themselves. Which they did, and one of the five TV folks (who was, it turned out, a mere intern) was sent home so the radio person could sit in on the meeting. Amusing though this was to watch in some ways, it was also rather sad and unpleasant.

    So how are we going to resolve this? Not everyone with a camera cell phone, a flickr account, and a blog can be given media accreditation (no offense to non-traditional media intended there).

    I’m thinking there’s going to have to be a two-tier system of media accreditation set up. It could work something like this:

    Decide how many media in total can be accommodated (traditional and new media). Create an A-list of those who will be accredited, and allow 2/3 of the accreditations for this group. Create a B-list where accreditation is supplied on a lottery basis. It’s not really a fair system, but it’s equally unfair to everyone.

    And since a lottery system was set up for the tickets themselves, perhaps this wouldn’t really be all that hard to do.

  2. Ruth Seeleyon 19 Dec 2008 at 12:16 pm

    eek – ‘gone done’ = ‘gone down’

  3. Maurice Cardinalon 19 Dec 2008 at 8:31 pm

    One of the challenges for the IOC and VANOC regarding Olympic reporting is to ensure journalists are on board with Olympic culture before they are welcomed into the “Family” as accredited participants – btw, “Family” is their choice of word.

    Over the decades the IOC has done a great job convincing the public that Olympic news is social news, when in fact it is now primarily entertainment and sports advertorial.

    Many mainstream journalists DO NOT want to be part of Olympic reporting after they see the conventions they are obligated to follow in order to put them in line for an accredited pass at game time. The years leading up to the event are a test to see how well they play in the sandbox and meet the expectations of Olympic sponsors.

    VANOC issues a list of conventions they expect journalists to follow. Unless you are one of the big mainstream news players and unless you play by IOC rules in the playoffs you don’t get accredited. It’s that simple.

    For a detailed look at the complexity check out a book by Professor Helen Lenskyj entitled “The Best Olympics Ever?” – the question mark says it all. She devotes almost an entire chapter to the incestuous relationship accredited media has with the IOC. When you read of some of the well documented incidents from recent past Olympics it will cause you to rise from your chair and incredulously sputter “wtf – this can’t be so?”

    Some incidents I had to re-read a few times and then research through other sources to substantiate what Lenskyj claims. If you look hard enough you’ll discover pro-Olympic writers like Tony Webb and even Richard Pound, a senior IOC executive tell similar and sometimes identical stories, but in different contexts. That’s when it sinks in and the epiphany strikes.

    Unfortunately, I have not seen anything to date (12/08) to indicate much has changed in this respect. In fact there is a volume of evidence to indicate VANOC is foolishly repeating history.

    My feeling is that the IOC wants to become involved with 2010 indie media initiatives at this late date so they can muzzle it, and not, as most indie journos would like to believe, help it blossom.

    There is way too much money at stake to give anyone outside the Family inside access to such a secretive and emotional platform. The IOC censors athletes for a reason, and it is not, as they say, over concerns that writing about the Olympics will distract athletes from their performance. A call like that should be left up to athletes, not the IOC.

    If the IOC forces everyone to report by their rules, what’s the point of reporting?

    It will be interesting to see how the IOC will endeavor to censor Vancouver’s blog and Twitter crowd. I doubt the indie media center will roll out as many expect.

    Mainstream news media initiatives and indie media have two very different agendas. The former is driven by money and the latter a spirit of informational expression and freedom, and the IOC does not regard the two groups even remotely in the same manner.

    The IOC strongly promote a “You are either with us or against us” mantra and their business model does not allow them wiggle room. They are legally bound to protect the economic interest of their partners and sponsors even if it is detriment of the host community.

    For example, The Vancouver Sun is well paid by the IOC to tell the Olympic version of the Olympic story. Interestingly though, considering they are in a sense Olympic affiliates/suppliers, they don’t place the five rings on 2010 related articles, which leads trusting readers to believe they are nonpartisan. This might be fine for a company like Rona that supplies wood products for VANOC locations, but it definitely poses serious concern regarding journalistic integrity and ethics.

    Mainstream newspapers are experts at managing a process Noam Chomsky refers to as “necessary illusion.” They know where their bread is buttered and they act accordingly.

    The primary job of mainstream newspapers in an Olympic region is to conscript volunteers. From day one of winning the bid, much of what they publish works towards this end.

    Indie media journalists on the other hand are loose cannons because they do not have an economic connection keeping them in line. They have no qualms about telling both sides of the story, which is a dilemma for the IOC because if the public really knew what was involved in becoming an Olympic volunteer it would be incredibly difficult to get anyone to sign up, and impossible to get come back for day two of duty.

    The challenge for a journalist is to decide where you stand today in 2008.

    Considering how easy it now is to track your history online, it is professional suicide in our “long memory” era for a journalist, either mainstream or indie, to promote a viewpoint that at the end of the day will have a detrimental economic impact on our community.

    If you were so certain house prices would only keep rising then by all means run gigantic front page headlines blaring how wonderful it is to be a “Paper Millionaire.” Or if you think VANOC is doing such a bang up job then jump on their bandwagon with abandon too.

    But if you’re not sure how this will play out than maybe it is in not only your community’s best interest, but also your professional interest to report that we should be exercising caution by considering both sides of the story and encouraging our civic leaders to explore issues in depth and in the open.

    In 2005 the CBC reported Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics incurred a $1.2 billion deficit. It is also common knowledge Athens 2004 suffered a $12 billion deficit, and in 2006 Turin threatened bankruptcy just two months before their Games unless taxpayers paid the ransom to bail them out.

    China 2008 was a farce and almost immediately felt the wrath of world scorn orchestrated by a deceitful IOC colluding with the CCR to prevent news media from reporting fully on 2008 human rights issues regarding Tibet and Darfur.

    Stephen Spielberg bowed out, and four major Olympic sponsors also bailed out this year alone, a record in IOC history.

    When the first 2010 tax bill arrives for Vancouver in 2011 it won’t be hard for average citizens and local business owners to Google and see where journalists stood, and exactly what they reported in the ramp up. There will be no excuse to say they didn’t know, because unlike a few years ago this information is now readily available online and in books.

    The IOC and their mainstream news media partners have had plenty of opportunity to debate issues and adjust their business model accordingly, but instead they look the other way.

    Indie media in Vancouver has a choice to either perpetuate an outdated business and communication model that is harmful to our host community, or we can choose to make the Olympics better for Vancouver and all Games in the future.

    Choose wisely because 3 billion people are watching.

    It is a no brainer that if we don’t take the initiative in Vancouver to force the IOC to reconsider how they manage the Games and to treat Host communities with more respect, London will.

    Remember what Nike said, “You don’t win silver. You lose gold.”

  4. 2008 Currents Year In Review | Currentson 31 Dec 2008 at 9:54 am

    […] descends on Vancouver. Meanwhile, there’s a political crisis in Ottawa. Vancouver’s indie media tries to work with the Olympics, sparked by Dave Olson and Raincity Studios’ open letter to VANOC, with some excellent […]

  5. iVision4uon 17 Feb 2010 at 11:57 am

    As a Canadian I believe we need to be vigilant to the censorship of the IOC and other governing bodies. Our children should learn to recognize these infringements and we as parents sometimes need to show them that this is wrong. ‘O Canada we stand on guard for thee‘. There is a reason why we as Canadians take this oath as we award our athletes for their excellence and their service to themselves and their country. Today one of my daughters YouTube videos was censored by the IOC.

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