Thoughts before leaving Sochi Paralympics: Reporting issues and Paralympic news

Look! I'm media! So cool!

Look! I’m media! So cool!

I leave the Sochi Paralympics today. As a reporter, I met my publishing goals that I set before I left. I need to remember that: 1 article a day is a lot on many levels, and anything else was just bonus. Also, I’m not getting paid to be here, I’m a citizen journalist writing articles for a Wikimedia project. I do not have to answer to an editor “back home” or justify the expense of going to Sochi.

But at the same time, I would have liked to have done more. One of the inherent problems with not being able to dedicate yourself to the craft of journalism is there is a lack of contacts, sometimes a lack of knowledge, and a lack of practice. Reporting relies on contacts. Reporting also relies on boldness. Be bold. Ask the questions. Go where things are. I do not have the contacts, and I can get only 2/3rds of the way there on boldness. (I might have gotten more had I done more research.)

A selfie from the cross country on Sunday

A selfie from the cross country on Sunday

This is why at times I am frustrated by my reporting here: For a few things I wrote, I feel like 70% of what I wrote came from information sheets journalist are given, 25% from pictures I took on a journalist (not photography) accreditation. The color feels hard to come through when my knowledge of things like curling fails me. Plus, I feel like I should write about all four curling sheets, all four matches… not just one. One well placed rock in one end that does not appear like it had a result on the outcome. How do you write that well?

In the afternoon match of wheelchair curling, the United States threw some really bad rocks, weren’t playing aggressively to win initially against the Russians. They went to an 8th end down by three rocks. My understanding is after the 7th end, if you do not think you can win, no 8th end required. The United States wheelchair curlers played the final end much more aggressively. They were assisted in the 8th end by some bad Russian stones which shot the gap between US stones and left the scoring area. This could only be banked on so much, and the Russians did not always misplace rocks. Despite much better playing and having three stones in the scoring area with 2 rocks to go, Russia managed to place a stone the USA could not get out. The United States ended up short, scoring only two of the three points they needed in the 8th end. Unlike the game Canada was playing against Norway on the sheet next to them, there was no forcing an extra end.

Having done so much writing for Wikipedia at times, I struggle with how to write neutrally. I second guess and end up neuturing things. That felt like the case here.

When I get back somewhere (Spain or the USA), I will write more on some of

The United States enters during the Opening Ceremony

The United States enters during the Opening Ceremony

the issues involved with Sochi, better planning thoughts, how to be more successful at this sort of thing, and the metrics at the end of the day.

Let’s move on to other news agencies coverage of the Paralympics. In London during the Paralympics, the Associated Press was not to be found. I read the news often, and I rarely if ever any coverage of the Paralympics. I did not see any reporters on the ground. Here in Sochi, it is a different case. There are USA journalists, several of whom are based up in the mountains. There is media coverage. There is television coverage. (Though I have been told NBC has few people here, with most of the NBC people using OBS feeds and as a consequence being based in the USA.)

I’m not entirely certain I am happy with other United States coverage that I have seen. It appears to take three forms: 1) Ukraine. 2) Oscar Pistorious. 3) Crashes.

I feel tremendous sympathy for the Ukraine. That situation has to a degree impacted my ability to do my reporting here. It is horrible what is going on in the Ukraine, and I cannot imagine the additional stress on the Ukrainian athletes and officials. But some of the reporting appears to hugely political. Craig Spence and Philip Craven were right about things being about sport. So when journalists appear to use the Paralympics as a throwaway line to make a political point about Putin while ignoring the broader issues of inclusion and the elite sport going on, it gets annoying. This is especially annoying when the Paralympics are not contextualized and most USAians have no idea what the Paralympics are about. Many of these sportspeople here get little news coverage outside the Paralympic period, so taking away their moment in the sun by making their participation part of some political disalogue gets annoying. Did I mention annoying? Perhaps I would find this news coverage about the Ukraine aspect less annoying if for every mention of the Ukraine in a Paralympic context, there was a sports articles about the performance of sportspeople… you know, like the Olympics.

The other thing that is annoying is the Oscar Pistorious thing. I don’t know whether I should be blaming the IPC here or the media. Everything is fundamentally political on some level in decision making. The IPC embracing of Vladmir Putin was political. The IPC embracing Oscar Pistorious and chosing to highlight his accomplishments on the big screen was a political decision of sorts. The IPC is chosing to align itself with a man who killed a woman (murdered is to be determined, killed is not disputed), who allegedly cheated on another woman and who liked to play with guns. The IPC chose to align with some one who, after winning silver in the London Paralympics, protested that the person who won gold had an unfair competitive advantage because of his blade. This was a guy who went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to say his own blades did not give a competitive advantage. Hypocrisy, thy name is…

Anyway, back to Oscar and the media. The Associated Press was asking sportspeople about that. You’re a Ukrainian Paralympian. Your race ends. You have won a medal. A United States journalist asks you about… OSCAR PISTRIOUS! You are an American Paralympic medalist and your race ends and a United States journalist asks you about OSCAR PISTORIOUS! ZOMG. So awesome. Where was this during the Olympics? During the Olympics, I did not see a single Associated Press article where, following a person winning their medal in Sochi, the winner was asked, “Are you following the Oscar Pistrious situation? How does his actions impact your Olympic experience? How do you feel as an Olympian being connected to Oscar?” This feels like lazy journalism. Bold to be sure, but lazy. Maybe I have been too inside the movement, but I think the key to Paralympic success and disability access being improve is to focus on the sports. These are elite athletes. They train really hard. They give up a lot to be where they are. When their moment in the sun comes, when they become the best in their field, they get asked about Oscar. Their own accomplishments are ignored.

The last thing I have seen involves crashes and hospitalizations. That make news. I have a harder time faulting this one, though I would like to see more emphasis on success. Great Bitain can do that. Why can’t the USA media?

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Sochi Winter Paralympics continues with Russia sweeping podium in men’s cross country

Ooops.  Lost my pen cap.

Ooops. Lost my pen cap.

Sport continued yesterday at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi. With four sports on offer, I chose to go to the cross country skiing as I’d never seen that sport live before. At 11 C at start time, it was a strange temperature for skiing. Looking at the course walking past it, I could see the snow conditions looked iffy because the snow was rather dark in spots. Bundled up, I was too warm. Ski socks,jeans, long under wear, a t-shirt and winter coat. Not the thing to be wearing to watch skiing while in Sochi. At least the waterproof boots came in handy…

It was a beautiful and warm day up in the mountains.

It was a beautiful and warm day up in the mountains.

There were two races on offer, the men’s sitting 15km in the morning and the women’s sitting 12km in the afternoon. Both were good races and fun to watch. The crowd was less problematic feeling than the one at the sledge hockey. Russia swept the men’s side, but the USA managed to pick up a silver medal on the women’s side. Ukraine also won a medal, continuing their dominance on the medal table. They currently rank second, behind only Russia. Spain is ahead of the United States, because while they have only one medal, it is gold. Jon Santacana won it in the men’s visually impaired downhill. The United States has five total medals, three silver and two bronze. This puts them ninth overall in the medal count. Despite the United States’s relative success at the Olympic Games, there is no history of medal dominance on the Paralympic side. Neither Australia nor New Zealand have medalled yet at these Games.

As a reporter, the day felt mildly disappointing.  Sochi does not feel like it is set up with journalists in mind. It is not easy to report from these Games.  I do not know if this is deliberate or not.  I talked to some other reporters.  Everyone appears to have had issues with their accreditation arriving late. The lack of English problem is a huge problem.  (Speaking Italian or German or Spanish does not appear to be any advantage.) Failure to understand in some cases leads to people speaking slower to you in Russian, as if that would help. I’ve done this to others as an English speaker a few times, and you know, I may think twice about doing that because it is annoying. No, I do not understand and speaking more slowly to me does not help.

I have tried to get my Ukrainians to talk to people for me, translate what they are saying and get a better feel for what is going on. Thus, we talked to some eastern Ukrainians who had been living in Russia for six years. The attitude apparently was why don’t I know Russian? I must have a problem. When asking for help, in Russian, I know on at least two occasions, my Ukrainian has been rudely asked, “Can’t you read? What’s your problem that you can’t read the sign?” Well, as we’ve learned, signs in Sochi often do not point you where you need to go at all. Buses that say they are going one place often end up in another place. You want to hit your head against the wall.

While trying to talk to others, I had the Ukrainian talk to a journalist from Kazakstan and just generally find out which “side” he was taking in the Crimea situation. Apparently, he wanted the side of peace, which was apparently implying with Russia. Following the press conference the other day, two Russian reporters asked one of the Ukrainians (tag teamed him, they did) why they would not accept Russia trying to bring peace to the Ukraine? Why did they reject Russian efforts to bring peace to their country?

Met some Americans yesterday and talked to them. They had similar issues that I’ve experienced in terms of the language problem and the getting around problem and the general vibe issue. In talking to the Ukrainian, they were more on his “side” and asked questions about how it was impacting him personally. This was completely different than the experience with others.

And this political thing hangs heavy over the Games. It does. No matter how much Craig Spence and Philip Craven would like to think otherwise or hope it would be otherwise, it hangs heavy. London political issues were flash in the pan, small stuff compared to this.

I doubt the Ukraine will leave the Games now. They are second on the medal tables, and their performance as sportspeople gives testament to their strength.

But that doesn’t mean all is good and outside the Ukrainians doing their thing, everyone else forgets. Apparently a 16 year old Russian competitor told the media he thinks the Ukrainians should accept Russia’s offer to try to bring peace. Erk?

Today is my last full day reporting on the Games. The strangeness of yesterday left me feeling unmotivated to write any news articles yesterday. I’m not connected with the United States Paralympic Team. I didn’t prep Wikipedia articles like I did for the Australian team before London. I don’t have the contacts. I’m the only one writing in English. While I managed about three articles the day before and met my writing goal for the Games already, I feel like I could have and should have done better yesterday by producing something. But no desks, the encroachment of the fans in the media section doing lots of Russian chanting, seating where I was worried about my stuff falling under it (lost my pen to that), the lack of power to plug things into, the tables in the press center being standing only for the most part, the smallness of the space, not being based in the mountain cluster and spending at least an hour trying to figure out the confusing bus system… just not conducive to writing news articles. (The bus situation is truly awful. There is no real special media transport, so you end up on busses where you are packed like sardines with lots of spectators while you have all your reporting equipment. You don’t know where you are going and finding people to help is near impossible. The buses were not running frequently despite the events for the day having just concluded.)

I am hopeful I can get something published about today’s events. I’m not optimistic. I am trying to remember the important thing was that as a Wikimedian, I made it here as accredited media. It took a lot of work and I succeeded. Arriving here was an accomplishment in its own right.