Olympic Social Reporting and TNMH profiled in Harvard Business Review

During the Vancouver Olympics & the ferver of True North Media House‘s campaign, Dr. Alexandra Samuel (bio below) checked in with Kris Krug and I about the reasons and process of TNMH’s media efforts during the Games.

I’ve liberally pasted from the article here for the record, but encourage to read the entire article in context at How Social Media Is Changing Olympic Coverage – The Conversation in Harvard Business Review {by Alexandra Samuel, Friday February 26, 2010}. As Alex mentions, we’ve worked on projects over the years so she understands the expertise and enthusiasm Kris and I (and others of course) hold for the experimenting with social storytelling and documentation of cultural events. By the way, check Dr. Samuel’s blog for a variety of articles like: Five Unsolved Problems Social Media Could Fix.

German House Opening Ceremony - Vancouver British Columbia
Bonus: Dave Olson and brother celebrate the opening ceremonies - Photo by KK

The brainchild of Vancouver’s social media community, True North Media House (TNMH) was conceived as a way to organize otherwise scatter shot social media coverage of the games into something like what an alternative newspaper would provide. TNMH supports and spotlights Olympic coverage by independent bloggers, tweeters, photographers and videographers, adding their voices to an event dominated by carefully crafted messages disseminated by a controlled (some would argue subjugated) media. Each of those quotes above represents a story about the Olympics that’s been ignored by the mainstream media but is reaching a global audience.

I have firsthand knowledge of how effective the TNMH crew can be in spreading the social media gospel. I was a blogging newbie five years ago when I met TNMH founder Kris Krug. He introduced me to Flickr, cajoled me into learning the Drupal online community platform, and worked with me on some of my first online community projects. And I worked with Dave Olson, one of the other driving forces behind TNMH, to launch an online community for green Vancouver.

Kris and Dave were way ahead of the curve thinking about how the Olympics would intersect with Vancouver’s burgeoning social media scene. They anticipated an upswing in local blogging, and the influx of social media contributors, that would come with a global event. And they also anticipated that many of these folks would fall between the cracks of the traditional Olympic media support system.

“Most of the Olympics is about exclusivity and elitism,” Krug says. “True North is the opposite. You self-accredit and take the True North Media House oath, and you can print your own badge.” The oath is simple:

As a True North Media House Social Reporter, I agree to:
Take responsibility for my work
Publish with creative commons license
Tag content “TNMH” for sharing

To date, 108 contributors have signed up with TNMH and are busily shooting, blogging, tweeting and tagging. “The stories tend to be covering and documenting the fan experience rather than uncovering scandal or investigative reporting,” Olson observed. “With a diverse group of reporters following their key interests, you see compelling stories ranging from civic issues, art and culture, transportation, surveillance and security, to beer and wine.”

Kiratiana Freelon is a Chicago-based blogger who has used TNMH to make the most of her Olympics experience. “I came to the Games with the explicit goal of covering the black athletes here,” Freelon says. She says the TMNH pass “is useful to look like you are halfway legitimate media.”

Then again, none of Krug, Olson and Freelon is looking to make social media more like “official” media, either in terms of access or coverage. “I’m not sure that I want explicit support from Olympic organizers,” Freelon says.”Once you start connecting officially to the Olympic Games, things get restricted.”

Olson makes a similar case for the value of working outside the usual media system. “Once something becomes official and requires approval or adherence to guidelines, the vitality is reduced and (usually) no longer represents the true spirit of what’s going on,” he says. “All people who create and publish content on- or offline should have the same rights and responsibilities.”

Outsider status might preserve the authenticity of social media, but what does it do for the Olympics? Krug sees the International Olympic Committee’s Flickr photo group as a sign of the potential of the Olympics’ embracing of social media, and also a sign of the limitations. “It’s easy to make the right decision on photo sharing,” Krug observed. “But if they were to take their newly friendly attitude to photos and extend to videos, they would pretty much erode their traditional revenue model.

“We’re in for interesting times as the IOC tries to reinvent itself. The IOC is really a big media company like every other big media company. And they are behind the eight-ball because they are hardly an innovator.”

Alexandra Samuel is the Director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University, and the co-founder of Social Signal, a Vancouver-based social media agency. You can follow Alex on Twitter as awsamuel or her blog at alexandrasamuel.com.

Article: How Social Media Is Changing Olympic Coverage – The Conversation in Harvard Business Review

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