Actual Sochi Paralympic budget

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Before going to Sochi, I tried to budget and discussed this more in depth than people probably cared to know.  Budgeting is very important when you’re doing citizen journalism and you want to possibly get money to support your efforts.

Transportation involved two trips on the Russian metro at 40 rubles each, airport express train at 640 rubles, and a round trip train ticket from Moscow to Sochi at AU$125.  I got zapped with 116 RUBs for the train twice for sheets. Plane tickets were bought using frequent flier miles.  Retail price is showing me US$331. Do some converting: €0.78 + €12.59 + €81.12  + €4.564 + €238.06 = €337.11.  Not bad. About €100 if you subtract the plane ticket part out.

Hotel expense was €33 a night for five nights.  That equals €165.  Food was… That’s a bit harder to calculate.  I took with me €200 that I converted to rubles with no commission at €1 to 40 RUB.  la la la la.  Let’s go with €160 on for food and postage, with about €25 of that at the airport on the last day, including a breakfast that was 760 RuB / €14.87 from Burger King that included lots of stuff I did not want including a disgusting breakfast roll thing with a tomato in it.  Sbarros for lunch was much cheaper at 220 RUB / €4.328 which included two slices of pizza and a very large drink. Two bottles of Pepsi each ran 70 RUB / €1.377.

IMG_5223I screwed up and converted USD to RUB and did not convert it before I left Russia.  Ooops.  Add US$75.

All told, assuming actual cost of airline tickets, going to Sochi cost me €551.05 / US$766.18.  That isn’t that much.  Going to the London Paralympics, the cost was around AUD$7,500.  Costs were lower because I did not fly to Sochi, because I did not attend the whole games, because I missed meals, because I bought fewer souvenirs.   (It was AUD$15,000 for two people. This included everything from airfare to food to internet.)

What did this get me? Page views for all 2014 Winter Paralympics articles from 1 March to 14 March 2014 on English Wikinews total 14,685 views.  To be fair, I produced only 10 articles while in Sochi.

In London, myself and my fellow report produced around 50 to 60 total articles. That’s a huge volume.  My reporting partners in Sochi were Ukrainians, who were primarily writing in Ukrainian and doing their own work.  It wasn’t so much a partnership of working together to support each other’s English Wikinews reporting.  The page views for London original reporting around the Paralympic period total 78,943 views.  That’s about 5 times as many views.  The costs for London were 17 times higher: €9734.25 / €551.05 = 17.  I think reporting wise, I got my money’s worth here.

I think, when I do a better metric analysis, some of the breakdowns will be interesting.  Where this reporting project fell down was background research and background writing for English Wikipedia… but I think the Ukrainian project will demonstrate why that matters and how useful that particular aspect can be.  I know that they had zero articles about the Paralympics before 1 March 2014 on Ukrainian Wikipedia.  They now have 53 pages with 23,803 total views from 1 March to 14 March, the fifth most visited Wikipedia for articles about the 2014 Winter Paralympics found in that category.  But that’s another analysis to look at Return of Investment for another time.



Reporting day 1 of sports


The Awesome team Canada takes to the ice for their first game of the Winter Paralympics.

Today was the first day of sports after last nights’ inauguration ceremony. Still having some small yet annoying issues that impact my reporting. The kettle in my room doesn’t work.  The Russians still do not know where things are.  The signage is awful in many places.  The bank is not open.  There is no currency exchange around.  Food options outside my hotel and the Olympic Park do not appear to exist.  The signs in the hotel say leave towels on the floor if you want new ones, and to leave them hanging if you did not: I left them hanging and the towels went away but no new towels. All I am eating is McDonalds, free cookies and Coca Cola. There was a sign in the bathroom at the hockey stadium that said do not put toilet paper in the toilet.  The USA embassy sent me an e-mail saying avoid certain parts of Moscow because of a protest. The host country is invading some one else. That’s the picky stuff.  Maybe I am obsessing because London built my expectations so high?


It is now time for sports. Because of waking up late and feeling sick, I missed the biathlon so I went to ice hockey instead. This time, everything went smoothly.  Buses were where I expected them.  They took me where I wanted to go.  The signage for sledge hockey venue for the media was better, so I was able to easily find where I needed to be.  Happiness.

I had three sports I wanted to see while in Sochi: Sledge hockey, cross country or biathlon, and wheelchair curling.  Since I’ve been interested in the Paralympics, I have been living in countries where these are not the winter Paralympic sports of choice and I have not seen them live.

Sledge hockey was awesome, though a bit disconcerting at first because the sledge the players sit on has two parallel blades under at most a third of the sledge.  They are tall enough that the puck passes under them.  When watching, I had a few moments of whut? Where? How?  Mental processing.

I showed up to see the overtime shootout win of Norway over the Czech Republic.  I watched the Canadians just totally dismantle Sweden 10 – 1.  All fine, all awesome.  The fans were great in supporting both teams and supporting good hockey.

And then we hit the game where Team USA played Italy.  Since I’ve been in Spain, I have been a bit more conscious that I am an American.  It is just a fact of the language barrier.  I can’t feel Spanish like I could feel Australian.  In any case, neither here nor there.  I am an American. I love my country in my own special way.  People treat me like I am an American.

The wonderful view from my hotel room

The wonderful view from my hotel room.  Notice the Paralympic flame.  It is perfectly placed for me to look at from bed.

Thus the Russian fans worked to grate on my nerves.  Sir Philip Craven talked about how sports should transcend politics.  Some one should have told the Russian fans that.  They were openly partisan.  They cheered loudly every time the Italians got the puck.  They rocked the house and wildly waved their Russian flags when the Italians scored their lone goal in Team USA’s 5-1 victory over Italy.  When the USA scored, there was little applause and most of it came from the section where the American fans were sitting.  During the intermission, the person doing the big screen in house entertainment went to talk to fans of Team USA. The nice female presenter asked the pair of USA bedecked male fans to do the Team USA chant.  They did.  A number of people in the audience booed.  Booed.

They booed.  It grated hugely on my nerves.  I was in London for those Paralympics.  Those are my benchmarks for awesomeness.  They were truly awesome on multiple levels.  This includes the volunteers and the fans.  The huge numbers of fans and the locals cheering for high quality play, no matter the country: This was a standout of the London Paralympics.  In London, I did not hear this sort of political, partisan booing against teams Great Britain has issues with, including when Iran played Argentina before a home crowd.  Remember that little Falklands War? Yeah.

So I am clearly not impressed with the Russian fans here.  I was also less impressed with the opening ceremony, which at times felt slightly militaristic in tone.  I liked the inclusion of sexual orientation in things that should not be discriminated against during the Games. I liked less the personal public thanks from Sir Philip Craven to Vladmir Putin. (Hey! I saw Putin live in person before Obama! What a strange place this world?)  It felt uncomfortable, more uncomfortable when I woke up and read the morning news about Russian actions and statements regarding the Ukraine.

In London, I felt like I got a sense of place.  Everyone wanted to talk, including volunteers and other reporters.  It was awesome.  Everyone wanted to help.  I don’t get that here.  It is sad.  I don’t quite get a feel of Russia so much.  I have memories of watching Pat O’Brien during the Lillehammer Olympics, reporting from the International Broadcasting Center before a fire and getting this awesome feel every night that it was a small Norwegian ski resort town that felt homey and Norwegian, with the fireplace.  Now that I am at a Games on par with that, I kind of want and crave that Olympic feeling that Pat O’Brian gave me during Lillehammer as a kid, only in person.

How much of this is my own cultural baggage of growing up in the United States in the dying days of the Soviet Union, I do not know. I’d like to think I have transcended such bias, or at least am at a point where I can own and recognize it.


But hey the sport is good so far.

Articles published so far:

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.

Awake in Sochi: Bring on the Games

View from my room at night

View from my room at night

I have a lovely view from my hotel room at night.  When the flame is lit, I should have able to see it.  The only problems I have with my room are my kettle does not work, and there is no desk to work from.  (Rather, there is a desk occupied by a large television.)

I am up early because my Ukrainian team arrives this morning, though I am not exactly sure when.  I am very excited to meet them given everything that is going on.  The last time I saw any of them was when we discussed going to Sochi at the November 2013 Wikimedia Central and Eastern European conference.

Today’s plans include taking them to the media center, picking up opening ceremonies pictures and seeing what else is going on.

As I am writing on my iPad, I have some problems copy/pasting.  I had two news stories published overnight: and .



Arrived Sochi: First impressions and thoughts

A sign pointing the wrong way to the media centerWhen watching the Olympic news coverage, one of the first things that struck me was the journalist complaints about accommodation. I have had no such problem.  It is fine. The toilet works.  There are no dogs in the hallway.  The door is on my hotel room.  If there were kinks at the Olympics, they are all gone for me at the Paralympics.  I don’t have any complaints.


My issues would be elsewhere.  Whine whine.  Complain complain.  There has been a huge amount of media attention given to how the Olympics (and Paralympics) were supposed to show case Russia, and sell it to the world.  With the current political situation with Russia, one would think this might be even more key.

But I don’t quite feel it.  I have only the London Paralympics as a member of the media to baseline my experience from.  Everyone I talked to said the London Games were potentially the best Games ever.  The best.

In London, there were volunteers at the airport.  There were volunteers at the train station.  They were bubbly and enthusiastic.  They wanted to help you.  My media accreditation lamination process was handled in Heathrow.  I came into Sochi via plane in Moscow.  (And then I took a train down to Sochi.)  There was a special line at the airport, but that was the visa and special ended there.  (Though to be fair, my flight got in at 4am.)  No help, no volunteers, no one there.  I saw signs that indicated they might possibly have such assistance, but no luck.  (Then the metro in Moscow and the train station where you catch the train to Sochi had poor English language signage.  Few to no people spoke English.)  When I got to the Adler train station, no real sense of volunteers and I got a free ticket to get to Olympic Park.  No enthusiastic volunteers,  No yellow line directing you where to go.  No clear signage.  They assume you knew which way the train route went.  When I got to the Olympic Park Train Station, assistance was again non-existent.  The extent to which I had it was “Not this line.”  A taxi driver eventually pointed me at the direction of my hotel.

Media bag.  I like it.I’m staying at an official media hotel.  There was an accreditation help desk in the lobby.  The person could not tell me 1) where the main press center was, 2) how to get there, 3) where to go to get my accreditation laminated.  Joy.  I wandered back to the Olympic Park area, looking and looking for signs.  None.  I saw a sign for accreditation but it was not really media accreditation.  They did help me get it, no explanation.  And then no follow up as to where the Main Press Center was, or no opportunity to ask this.

I know media accreditation lets me into venues pretty much unfettered.  I took advantage, wandered on in, and started looking for signs for the main press center.  I stopped volunteers, security and others asking where it was. Most responses I got were “No English”, or people pointing me in the completely wrong direction.  This was hugely different than London, where volunteers who could not answer got on the walkie talkie and asked to find some one who could answer your question.  It is hard to enjoy where you are when you’re walking around lost, cannot find assistance, have no map of the venue and have people pointing you in the completely wrong direction.  Welcome to Russia eh?

With assistance of two people, I was gradually pointed in the right direction.  This took up a lot of time and energy. Also, unlike London, there were few cheap food options around walking around the area outside the Park.

There was a lot of talk about security for the Olympics.  I thought there would be a lot for the Paralympics.  To be honest, outside the train stations where bags all go through metal detectors, I am not getting a sense of it being very high.  It seems no different than London, possibly even more laid back at this point.  In London, I felt like I was forever having my badge checked.  Here? Outside when I entered the park and exited, no one seems to want to see it or verify it.

The major advantage I see right now to Sochi is the internet is free for journalists.  There was a 100 GBP charge to use the Internet in London.  Sochi has wifi in the MPC and it is free. This is great, and there does not appear to be a charge for special access to a journalist information system where the exact same information appears on the Sochi 2014 website for free.


We’ll see how thing progress as we go along.  I’m trying not to be pessimistic, but my first gut feel is things will be different than London, and not as great. Putin’s grand vision of winning over the world hasn’t personally won me over yet, even if the Ukrainian situation could be forgiven.

Current published Wikinews stories about the Sochi Paralympics:

Wikinews articles about the Sochi Paralympics

I’ve started writing about Sochi early, using synthesis reporting.  So far, I have had two articles published.  They are: