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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Wikipedia audience interest and the legitimacy of preferencing working on articles about men

Wikipedia cannot make people write about what they are not interested in, and in the world of sports, many people preference working on men’s articles over women’s articles or where women have been systematically removed from general pages about the sport to turn an article that should be gender neutral into a male topic page.  On a few occasions where I have seen this behavior called out as sexist, I have seen responses that basically translate to “The audience for Wikipedia is not interested in women’s sport because of the inherent inferiority of the women’s sport.”  Ignoring for now the problem with the second half of that statement, the first part is worth looking at.  Are women’s sports articles getting fewer views than men’s articles?

Using the same dataset I’ve referenced in earlier posts, I got the monthly page views for the USA men’s and women’s national teams.  This includes 31 articles about USA women’s teams and 31 articles about men’s teams.  For each gender, I calculated the mean, median and mode on a monthly basis from January 2008 to December 2013.

Mean, median and mode page views to English Wikipedia articles about Team USA men and women.

Mean, median and mode page views to English Wikipedia articles about Team USA men and women.

Using mean, we can clearly see that for the United States, women can outperform men in terms of total page views.  Also unsurprisingly, there is a reasonably strong correlation between article performance based on page views for men and women.  The correlation for the mean is 0.523901249 and for the median is 0.56629795.  The two tend to move in harmony together.  There are a number of factors at play here, including the fact that the USA has a number of matched pairs for teams and some of them have major championships at the same time.  (Think the Olympics.  Think winter sports, and summer sports.)

This single case suggests that the relative interest in men is not always higher. The case of the United States is clearly not going to be universal for a number of reasons discussed in earlier posts.

Let’s take a quick look at Djibouti.  Not the best example, but it has 2 men’s national team articles and 1 women’s national team article. Small sample, and easy enough to do some manual data mining. The existence of both men’s national team articles predates January 2008.  The article about the women’s national team dates to April 2012.  The men’s national team articles are both stub/starts.  The women’s national team article is a GA. (Disclaimer: I created and took the article to GA as part of the goal of addressing systemic bias regarding women’s sport on Wikipedia.)  Overall, we’re not really comparing similar things in terms of articles.  In terms of team performance, yeah because neither one of these teams have ever been particularly impressive.

Average views to Djibouti men's national team article versus women's national tea

Average views to Djibouti men’s national team article versus women’s national tea

There is that pattern with the women topping the men for one tiny period, right at the time the article was creating. The page views to the article about the men’s national team are prone to much more wild fluctuations than the women’s national team article.

male v female djbibouti women size matters

The fluctuation of the men’s national team looks to be independent of the article content. The page size from the graph does not appear to correlate with page views. Ditto for women. When getting the actual data, this conclusion is somewhat supported. The correlation between the monthly page views and end of month word count of the article is -0.134183181. For women, it is a different story. The correlation is 0.446656979. This appears on the face of it to suggest possibly that if you write about women, and if you write more about women, the articles will get more page views.

The sample size here on a country basis is too small to draw any real conclusions. More data is needed. More countries need to be looked at. Hopefully, I will have the time and will get back to looking at that question. But at the end of the day, I think it might be fair to draw a conclusion that the sports seeking audience for Wikipedia is not more interested in men than women. In certain situations, the audience on Wikipedia for women’s sport may actually be higher than for men’s sport.