The reality of reporting from the Olympic and Paralympic Games

I have seen a fair amount of criticism lobbed at the media for their failure to cover a number of Russian related topics during the Olympic Games.  The LGBT topic should have gotten more attention.  Orphan children should have gotten more attention.  The deplorable situation regarding the environmental impact and the unhappiness of the locals in Sochi over the Games should have gotten more attention.

All of these are likely true, but ignore certain reporting constraints that take place during a major event like this.  I write for Wikinews, a Wikimedia Foundation project. I feel lucky to be able to attend the Paralympics because I am not part of a major newspaper, am not a broadcast rights holder, write for a volunteer driven project.  In order to get media accreditation, my news organization has to do a lot of work to demonstrate that we cover winter sports.  This involves going to world championships or other events, interviewing people, and otherwise demonstrating that we know something about the Paralympics.  We’re basically on some level showing we can promote the Paralympics.  For the Olympics, this process is particularly competitive and readership plays a huge part.  Freelancers are just not able to get media accreditation.  You have to be part of a media organization.  Most media organizations going are going to report on The Games.  Full stop.

My visa to get to Russia for the Games arrived February 14.  I could have probably left immediately and tried to do some reporting on those issues for Wikinews.  Several problems though: 1) Lack of funding.  I could not afford to do that if I wanted to.  If you look on Kickstarter and other funding projects for journalism, there isn’t much money being given to that. 2) I do not speak Russian.  This is a huge hurdle.  It makes it very difficult to do reporting. 3) I do not have the contact base to do reporting from Russia on these issues.  Contacts matter in reporting.  It means people talk to you, know you, trust you.  They are key to getting things done. 4) I wanted media accreditation to primarily cover sports and provide attention to disability sport.  I did not come to Sochi primarily to cover these other topics, which would mean spending time and energy away from The Games.

I have not been inside other news organizations, so I can only guess what is going on but I would think their issues would be similar.  It costs money to do that sort of reporting.  Newsrooms across the globe have been shedding global staff, and shuttering their international correspondences desks.  Instead, they have opted for freelancers and stringers.  The economics of this reporting then are not great.  (In my case, I am a volunteer so the economics are what can I afford? And the sister project to Wikinews is Wikipedia, which allows no original reporting.  They just repeat the main stream media.) Many of the people going to the Paralympics and Olympics are sport reporters. They are here to report on sports.  That is what they know how to do.  That is what they are paid to do.  Would you go to a neurosurgeon for knee reconstruction?  Probably not.  Larger news organizations with more media accreditations may be able to afford to do that.  They may also be able to be better placed to hire stringers who can report on these issues because visas are not an issue if a person is a local reporter already inside Russia.  In London, a lot of these questions got asked at press conferences because the local media asked them.  The local media here is unlikely to be asking those questions. But by and large, it just isn’t very feasible here.

There are ways to report on these issues from inside the Games in Sochi.  They just take work, and editorial people back at home base approving of this.  I’ll try to do my bit, but please do not be hugely disappointed if I cannot deliver a lot on Putin, the Ukraine and lastly the Paralympics.  Not what I am here for though I am really going to make the effort to try.


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