Olympian vision of future for sports journalism

From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman, Bregenz, Austria
The Beijing Olympic Games 2008 – slogan “one world, one dream” – figured prominently in the debating chamber of the 70th AIPS Congress jointly staged by Austria and Switzerland.

Video technology almost turned the Games into reality for the delegates from national sports journalist organisations from around the world to the Congress. The more the images flashed on giant screens, the more the anticipation increased. It was some show.

There were promises, too, that Beijing will provide the cheapest media accommodation for a long, long time, with a starting price of $80 a night for the 6,500 people who will stay in the media villages.

But some colder facts presented by Anthony Edgar, the IOC’s head of media operations, to the delegates assembled in a hall in the University of Vaduz, capital of the tiny state of Liechentenstein, underlined the sheer pace of the digital revolution which is changing almost by the second.

Beijing will be the next major test of where press technology stands at that particular point. The IOC knows where it is heading in Beijing and after setting up a workshop this year with a sample of major online interests from agencies, newspapers and magazines is reasonably certain about the technology which will be required at the Vancouver Winter Games of 2010 and then London in 2012.

“The deadline concept is finished,” said Edgar, “the keyword of the future is instant.”

He reminded the audience that only as recently as the 1996 Atlanta Games. film was being collected from photographers on site and taken elsewhere to be developed. Now the images can be counted in millions, moved in an instant.

The key points of Edgar’s message were:

1, The future is fully digital and and access to the internet means increased transmission facilities with greater capabilities.

2, “Big pipe” connectivity is the way ahead, with more and bigger photos and files in other formats including video, audio and pre-formatted internet packages. At the Olympics, fibre circuits will link all venues and the Main Press Centres.

3, VLAN technology as used successfully in the 2006 Fifa World Cup should become a standard for the future of digital photography, with a potential to extend usage to hundreds of news organisations.

4, A recognition that newspapers are already multi media, all have internet sites and communicate through other platforms. There has been an erosion and splintering of audience in all markets. The future of content is multiple formats – text, photo, video, audio – consumed over multiple platforms.

5, Press must be able to transmit live files in multiple format from anywhere to anywhere instantaneously.

6, The backpack journalists of the future will use video cameras as reporter notebooks and will compile multi-media stories that include video and audio clips, still photos taken from video and text. Multiple formats are an expectation in all coverage.

7, Wifi is not a media technology of the future and is a limited, unreliable platform that cannot fulfil major event reporting requirements. Should be used sparingly and for text only. A high-speed, efficient, secure “in air” connectivity is needed to enhance mobility – WiMAX?

8, The individual journalist or photographer can best be served by cabled Lan-based connectivity in as many places as possible – every seat in workrooms to have power and datajack for broadband connectivity.

9, Remote editing to facilitate the work of publishing at a distance. This allows an expansion of the accreditation case without an increased load on the host city.

10, Quality and integrity of the Games’ Info system to be maintained at the highest level and be media specific.

11, Greater access to athletes with one-on-ones and remote access to interviews, flash quotes and press conferences required in the future. Info system to consider carrying audio/video of mixed zone interviews and press conferences.

12, Image centre an essential for today’s digital photographers – the concept should be considered as an MPC for photographers, based in the MPC for Summer Games, the mountain Press centre for Winter Games, and be a one-stop shop for professional photographers and key providers.

13, Recognition of critical importance of agencies’ involvement with OCOG technology planning. Advanced planning to be brought forward, agencies and OCOG should meet earlier and more regularly. OCOGs and agencies to be more integrated in defining core press technology requirements at an early stage.

In different forms the Olympic question was never far away from the AIPS Congress which stretched for the first time over three countries, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Salzburg, PyeongChang and Sochi, the three candidate cities for the 2014 Winter Games, each gave presentations.

Delegates were updated on planning for the 2008 European football championships, on Macau’s Asian Indoor Games, on the plea of Austrian Federal Chancellor Dr Alfred Gusenbauer for honesty in the fight against doping (“Doping is not a trivial offence, it is the antithesis of fairness, ethics and morals in sport,” he said) and on the use of sport for peace by Prince Faisal of Jordan.

On the business front, AIPS president Gianni Merlo highlighted the work of the organisation on the right of journalists to have dignified working conditions with appropriate charges. He cited the “long and bitter dispute” with FINA over conditions for the world swimming championships in Melbourne. “The basics were laid for a drastic change in relationships,” he forecast.

Merlo said: “Unfortunately the tendency of many senior managers is to try to limit the number of journalists, not for financial savings, but rather to be able to manipulate the information in a more controlled manner. The larger the number of journalists the greater is the certainty of the freedom and correctness of information.

“We have used the example of Fina but the world of rugby and also that of cricket where real speculation on accommodation and internet access by the organisers was reported, was in ferment. We have received a protest from the Portuguese association against unjustified restrictions on cycling.

“Photographers are often in serious difficulty. We will try to intervene in all fields and for this reason it will be important to strengthen the commitment of our commissions.”

The AIPS voting for athlete of the year produced a repeat with Roger Federer and Yelena Isinbayeva finishing as the choices. Italy won the prize for the best team after winning the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA World Cup press office was voted best press facility.

AIPS now has nearly 9,000 members in 152 countries. It has moved offices from Budapest to Lausanne. General Secretary Charles Camenzuli announced his resignation at the start of the Congress, later withdrew it and finally decided the resignation should stand. The 2008 Congress will be in Beijing next May.

*A proposal from Great Britain that executive committee members of the AIPS and Continental sections should have their travel and accommodation costs paid by AIPS, their Continental governing bodies or host city organisers was left on the table for further consideration.

Accreditation deadline for Beijing broadcasters – click here

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