UK news organisations are sending unprecedented levels of staff to cover the Beijing Olympics in what promises to be a major test of their cross-media operations.
For The Times, the Olympics will be the first major event covered as part of its effort to use closer cooperation with News Corp sister titles around the world to keep Times Online running as a 24-hour news operation.
For several weeks, Times Online has been running all night by handing over its out-of-hours operations to a newsroom in Australia.
The eight-hour time difference to Beijing will make online coverage for British newspapers particularly important. Some early afternoon events will only become available to print readers 24 hours later and news from some high-profile events held in the early evening will break during the working day in Britain.
Traditional plus online
Times Online news editor Jeremy Griffin is co-ordinating his paper’s 14-man Beijing team: ‘It’s only really in the last few years that the true benefits of having the online team working with the traditional newspaper team have really come to the fore and we want to exploit that this year.”
For much of the Beijing day, when it is night in London, Times reporters will be filing to the Times Online operation in the Sydney office of News Corp sister title News.com.au. In the Beijing evening, the London headquarters will take over the 24/7 online news operation.
The Times will also be sharing multimedia resources with News.com.au, which has built a studio in Beijing’s Olympic media centre, where Griffin will produce a daily video report.
The 15-member reporting team from The Guardian, The Observer and Guardian.co.uk will be working across the three titles and will be the largest the group has ever sent to a sporting event.
The integrated effort will run an Olympics desk in Beijing headed by Guardian deputy sports editor Ian Prior and Guardian.co.uk’s Mike Adamson.
‘Everyone is working for everything – that’s where we’re heading as a business, so this is a moment where we do it this way,’said Guardian sports editor Ben Clissitt.
With the BBC controlling exclusive live broadcast rights to the events, the newspaper websites’ multimedia efforts will be curtailed by the Games’ accreditation rules. Audio and video recording is barred from all the competition sites and training venues, along with the Olympic Village and the main press centre.
‘There are lots of restrictions – you can’t collect sound or shoot video in the accredited zones, so most of the multimedia stuff is likely to be about China’s experience of the games and Beijing’s experience of the games rather than watching athletes,’said Clissit.
The Sun Online will be sending a video journalist to the games and will have a pool of freelance video journalists to draw on as well.
The Sun’s online sports editor Jim Munro stressed that there would still be access to athletes at press conferences and through other sources such as corporate sponsors.
The Daily Telegraph is sending 19 journalists to Beijing, including feature writers and specialists. Cross-media sports editor Mark Skipworth will be co-ordinating the effort, which has taken a year to organise.
Telegraph.co.uk will have daily blogs online and special columns by celebrity athletes including swimmer Mark Foster. There will also be daily video from James Cracknell.
While Olympic athletes are barred from writing newspaper columns during the games, they have been allowed to blog – leading to a scramble among news sites to sign up bloggers inside the Olympic village.
Thomson Reuters has said that it has a much larger team to cover this Olympics than for Athens in 2004, but declined to reveal numbers.
Global sports editor Paul Radford said: ‘It’s a big event for all our clients. It’s not just sport, it’s the news, political and economic aspect.”
PA is sending a team of 27 to Beijing, the largest the news agency has ever sent to a games.
Among the regional press sending journalists out to Beijing are the Bristol Evening Post and Western Daily Press which are sharing freelance Kevin Fahey for the second games in a row.
Fahey has received sponsorship from two local sports stores, which are covering the cost of his flight and accommodation.
Steve Mellen, head of sport for the two papers, said: ‘Between patches there are about 40 athletes, although not many medal hopes. Fahey’s target for us is to seek out the local athletes and if one of them throws out a surprise hopefully he’ll be on the spot.
‘He had to jump through several hoops as regards accreditation, but it seems to be fine. We joked about putting a Free Tibet T-shirt in his luggage when he wasn’t looking.’
The Manchester Evening News is sending sports reporter Trevor Baxter, who will mainly be following cyclists who have been training in the National Cycling Centre in Manchester.