Back of the queue: a hack’s life in the unmixed zone

VANCOUVER DIARY: The SJA’s man on the piste, NEIL WILSON of the Daily Mail, reports from Whistler on how Olympic mixed zone arrangements put the poor bloody infantry of the written press at the back of the queue

At least by Thursday, the British media had somewhere to go where there was a potential medal-winner: the Whistler Sliding Centre, scene of the previous Friday’s fatality. It was a fair old hike up for those who have chosen to base themselves in Vancouver, all in order to spend three hours standing in temperatures of -4 degrees in a mixed zone where the only thing they could see of the Olympic skeleton bob races was on a giant television screen.

What made the wait needlessly longer was the BBC. He who pays the piper, etc and so forth. So the BBC gets first crack at interviewing after the evening’s two runs. And second crack. And third crack. And a share of fourth crack.

Clare Balding and her cameraman went first. Then Amy Williams moved five metres to her right and Eleanor Oldroyd went next for radio. Then another five metres to where James Pearce and his news team were waiting to have their go.

Finally, after stopping off at AP TV and then AP and Reuters’ agency hacks, who are privileged among writers, the sledders reached the bottom of the food chain, the dear old newspaper hacks with their tape recorders. And there was a gentlemen from the BBC website, who dutifully listened in to the questions so he can ensure that BBC Online beats the newspapers thanks to the eight-hour time difference between west coast Canada and Britain.

Now I could not hear Clare’s questions, but I don’t doubt they were pertinent and not a whole lot different to Eleanor’s or James’s. So why waste licence payers’ money on three separate teams that ensure that Britain’s competitors answer the same line of questioning three times, while in temperatures where they are in danger of suffering exposure.

The Sun had a pop at the size of the BBC team here on the grounds that it was bigger than Britain’s actual Olympic team – except it isn’t, because they hadn’t included the vast number of coaches, officials and technical staff backing up the athletes – but it could be a whole lot smaller if the BBC did not conduct every interview in duplicate, or triplicate.

And the gentlemen of Fleet Street would be exceedingly grateful that they did not have to stand out in the permafrost for so many unnecessary moments longer.

□ According to my Daily Mail colleague Charlie Sale this week, back in Britain, Sky Sports News has “demonstrated again that they are little more than an in-house promotional vehicle for sports content held by the network, rather than a genuine 24-hour news service by practically ignoring the Winter Olympics. A spokesman said the chronic lack of news from Canada was ‘editorial judgment’.”

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Vancouver Sun shines a light on the Games
A lady reporter from CTV interviewed me this week on my views on Vancouver and “its problems”. A local newspaper reporter followed her.

A British colleague whose words on the scene here was headlined “worst Winter Games ever?” was bombarded with calls from 14 radio stations.

The Canadians care what the rest of the world think about their Games. They want us to like them. They cannot understand the negativity.

What they fail to understand is that they are largely responsible themselves for creating the view in Britain and the rest of Europe. The foreign press covering events here read local papers full of stories of traffic snarls, of shortages of snow and tickets cancelled because organisers have over-estimated their ability to handle the crowds. It picks up on letters of complaint to the local paper and it feeds the stories they send home.

These are picked up by correspondents of Canadian papers in London and re-cycled back. It’s a global village. The circle is completed, and the International Olympic Committee’s regular daily briefing began in midweek with a question: “What do you think of the criticisms of the Vancouver Games in the international press, particularly in Britain?”

And the VANOC vice-president of communications, Renee Smith-Valade, gets all precious and replies that she “wonders which city the reporter is reporting from”.

Well, lady, he or she was reporting originally from Vancouver because traffic snarl-ups and buses that don’t run on time may be big news in one of Canada’s provincial cities but they are an everyday occurrence in London and any European city. The foreign press here is reflecting local coverage and criticisms.

Like the headline: “Broken, lost athletes’ buses cause Olympic transport chaos”. Not in a London paper but the Vancouver Sun.

The Vancouver press are doing a brilliant job of keeping VANOC honest. They have not missed a mis-spent cent or a late bus.

The Vancouver Sun was the one that first revealed that the real price of the Games is $6 billion and the security costs four-and-a-half times what VANOC claimed in its original bid for the Games.

If the London press keeps as close an eye on 2012, they will have done their job. And you can bet your life at those Games, the London papers will be reporting world opinion on the Games founded on criticisms that originated in those same London papers.

It’s a small world.

□ A fuss over the Kjus logo on the BBC Olympic presenter jackets did not seem to bother TV producers who subsequently allowed snowboarder Zoe Gillings to be interviewed while wearing a bobble hat slanted to allow maximum branding exposure for a gambling company.

Then, during the women’s downhill, Canada’s Olympic gold medallist Kerrin Lee-Gartner, an otherwise excellent addition to the commentary team, managed to give two name checks to Lindsey Vonn’s sponsor, the manufacturer of a high caffeine content “sports” drink normally better mixed with a large vodka.

Bus stops, the wrong wax, and Cindy Crawford

All downhill with BBC Vancouver coverage

Putting death in the picture: sports journalism’s worst ethical dilemma

Snow-less Vancouver and the long road to London

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