Saturday, April 19, 2008

The price for honest Olympic coverage

Thursday night the Center for Sports Journalism focused on Olympic coverage with a panel involving former LAT editor Bill Dwyre along with editors Tom O'Toole and Jim Welch from USA Today and freelance journalist Jay Weiner. Welch highlighted the challenges faced by reporters in Beijing with a story about a reporter who, after covering protests in Tibet, returned to Beijing to receive harassment and death threats. He said the paper is working with the IOC to influence Chinese officials to make it easier for journalists to do their work. Dwyre said he hopes reporters will stay focused on human-rights issues, but predicted that "once you get into ... all the hoopla, a lot of the political issues fade into the background. That's sad, but that's the reality."
The panelists also talked about the new realities in newspaper sports departments, which have been influenced by market demands. "ESPN sets the agenda in sports," Dwyre said. Increasingly, the relationship between sports properties and those who cover them is blurred -- and not just at ESPN. Weiner mentioned sportnet.com, which has purchased the Web rights to several Olympic sports as an example. Welch talked about special sports sections produced at USA Today that have been paid for by sports organizations. He compared the practice to the Staples Center coverage by the LA Times in 1999, which at the time was condemned. "It's a whole different model," he said.

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