Hello VANOC, We’re nice, local, and invite you for a coffee and a talk – Open Letter #2

You're *so* tough.

Hello VANOC et al,

I am following up on the Open Letter to VANOC from Social Media Makers with a few notes as well as an invitation to continue the conversation with VANOC over a tasty beverage. The letter has made its way around the world with Twitters, comments, blog posts, and personal notes of support and/or confusion coming in from many corners of the globe.

So, to keep the conversation rolling, here are my annotated notes, thoughts and recaps from the past few days of opinions rolling in:

First off, Jeff Lee, the Olympic reporter from the Vancouver Sun explored the changing media landscape in an excellent article and an accompanying blog post. He talked to several interesting people and brought a veteran mainstream media eye to the conundrums in “Changes coming to media’s coverage of Olympics – But new forms of news delivery are restricted by Olympic committee rules“. He keys right in on the crux of the tension – money vs.choice.

“As traditional news organizations struggle with declining readership and cutting staff while trying to capture greater online presence, the Olympics is undergoing its own transformation. The change is also affecting broadcasters, who like the others, have not yet figured out how to fully monetize their Internet properties.

The traditional forms of media coverage — exclusive territorial contracts with broadcasters, appointment of news wire agencies by the IOC and press credentials parcelled out by national Olympic committees — are coming under pressure as people change the way they get their news.”

His article also brought an insider’s point of view from the head of the (enormous) newswire AP who raised the same questions we are within the inner-sanctum of the IOC:

“In an address to the press commission, Tom Curley, the chief executive of Associated Press, warned that the lines between traditional news delivery models are blurring. Newspapers want to use streaming video, but are restricted because the IOC licenses broadcasters for field-of-play images. Audio broadcasts are similarly restricted. According to those who were at the meeting, Curley’s address stunned many members.”

Mr. Lee (who is olympicreporter on Twitter) also published extended notes and thoughts in a blog post titled “Social networking media push for inclusion in Olympic plan” (accessed via Internet Archive Wayback Machine).

His blog post provides a full quote from Renee Smith-Valade, VANOC spokesperson, who took time on a Sunday to follow-up to Lee’s inquiry thusly:

“The IOC is the ultimate arbiter on the representation on the Press Commission, and each country’s National Olympic Committee determines which media get accredited for the Games. As the Organizing Committee we can and will encourage both entities to recognize and facilitate the immense growth of online media, however ultimately decisions for press commission membership and Games accreditation lie with them. We have not yet responded to the open letter from the social media group but will do so in the coming days.”

My colleagues and I are encouraged that VANOC has a reply in mind. While its unlikely that we would have been accredited going through the IOC and national press associations channels, we firmly contend we have value to offer by being engaged in the dialogue. We also have first-hand experiences to share about creative solutions (including non-accredited media centers) and strategies to embrace the social media makers without compromising the relationships rights-holders, corporate sponsors and the like.

Gastown Photowalk Crew
Gastown Photowalk Crew by Kris Krug

This quest isn’t just “for us” – we are starting the conversation for the thousands of people who are coming to participate in the Games as “amateur” reporters, photographers, podcasters, videographers, etc. and will eagerly post their content to audiences of maybe dozens, maybe millions of viewers. Individually, the coverage is very niche, and that micro-coverage is a big part of the appeal. Further, the collective content produced by “all of us” will likely rival the mainstream media output.

Mr. Lee’s article includes remarks from Yahoo Sports which articulates how quickly media is changing:

“However, change has already started. This summer, Yahoo Sports — which doesn’t have a print or TV broadcast property — sent 19 journalists and “analysts” to the 2008 Beijing Games. It had only one reporter at each of the 2004 and 2006 Olympics. Dave Morgan, executive editor of Yahoo Sports, said the investment paid off: more than 32 million “unique visitors” went to Yahoo’s Beijing Olympics microsite in August, outstripping even NBC’s online Olympic traffic.”

Photo by Boris MannSo how does VANOC let the enthusiastic and experienced amateurs cover the Games while not opening up a box of problems? For starters, we look to the Piemonte Non-accredited Media Centre in Turin as a good example as it helped the alternative and independent press understand IOC guidelines, provided press releases and updates, and in-formal collaborative workspace and office resources. The funding came from tourism boards, local press agencies, sponsors (especially from the hospitality industry) and resulted in richer “long tail” coverage of the Games and the region.

For my colleagues who were in Turin (I was covering from Vancouver), this facility worked out great for organizing photo sessions, conducting athlete interviews, and exploring non-sports stories about art, culture, industry and tourism. We’ll talk more about this example over a hypothetical coffee but, … whether or not there is a “non-accredited media centre” we will invite folks to our Gastown loft office to add another layer of coverage beyond what CTV (in Canada’s case) has in store.

Frankly, this solution is hardly ideal (it *is* a working office after all) so we’re also touring downtown locations and talking to landlords and sponsors about acquiring a larger space – it’s too big of an opportunity to settle for “good enough”.

Opinion round-up

Competitive videographer and Bootup Labs Marketer, Jordan Behan comments with an inquiry about VANOC’s social media (non)strategy:

“The decision to exclude the likes of the Raincity gang is quite puzzling, even without a social media strategy in place. In Dave’s full letter, he highlights the history of the fan-based, non-intrusive coverage they’ve done at previous Olympic Games, and it’s clear that this kind of participation only benefits the host city, the Games and even the holders of exclusive broadcast rights. I’m holding out hope that Vanoc (and our Canadian Olympic committee, apparently) will take great strides, not only to appear to appease social media creators, but instead fully embrace the concept and help to redefine citizen journalism’s role in Games coverage. With some creativity, they should be able to do so inside of the confines of the above-mentioned (archaic in these times, if you ask me) broadcast rights.”

While Kris and I were in-between the official press briefing (where I somehow caught a cold) and the Olympic Resistance Network pres conference, Mr. Behan sent this Twitter update:

“jordanbehan @uncleweed It’s ok to be pro-Olympics, and still anti-exclusive rights broadcasting and media monopolies, etc. At least, I hope it is. 12:48 PM Nov 20th

Techvibes‘ Greg Andrews offered his insight with Vancouver 2010 Organizers Snub Social Media (Nov. 20, 2008 2:21PM), where he points out how Kris and I didn’t fit into either group (protesters or journos) with twitter updates and commentary:

“Unlike many Vancouverites that were outside the event in the rain protesting the Olympics, Olson and Krug had intentions of journalism, not protest. Between them and Raincity CEO Robert Scales, they’ve unofficially covered the last four Olympic games, in addition to Olson’s blogging and podcasting of Canucks hockey.

Via Twitter:

Got stopped at the door. “if you guys are here to protest pls go accross the street”. Now they’re checkin our credentials.

We were just escorted from the building. We had better access, even a welcome in Beijing and Torino.

@todmaffin agreed they can’t make us go home. but we’re not here to protest in the rain, we’re here as jounalists.”

Ruth Seeley commented on the Tech Vibes article pointing out the perception of value is no longer based on delivery method:

I wonder if they let in folk from The Tyee? It would be interesting to find out – because that could be part of the argument for allowing access to a broader definition of media. If anyone truly believes that 24 or Metro deserve access because they’re printed on paper and The Tyee doesn’t, some re-examination of belief systems needs to begin.

View from the Isles writer and photographer (now now working at Media2o) Tris Hussey offered his thoughts in “Raincity throws down the gauntlet to VANOC: Let citizen media in!” and asks what VANOC plans to do:

“Will VANOC step up to the plate where other host cities and Olympic Committees have not? That’s an open and excellent question. I for one would welcome social media participation at the games. I think we’d all be the richer for it.”

Raincoaster Lorraine (who teaches blogging workshops in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside) followed up with her thoughts:

“Vancouver’s citizen journalists have done an exceptional job of covering the last several Olympics, and have, in fact, become known worldwide for it. This is a creative proposal that would ensure that, rather than taking an oppositional stance, Vancouver’s citizen journalists take one in support of the Olympics and civic pride.”

Ianiv the Blogaholic (who also works at crowd sourced media site Now Public) writes about how ubiquitous recording devices have changed how media is created (and what media is) in, “Social Media and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics“, saying:

“With the prevalence of devices capable of recording video, still images and sound, it is almost impossible that a significant event will not be recorded in some way. And sometimes all this content created by the people is at odds with the interests of the corporations that produce or sponsor an event.”

… and Ianiv continues with concerns about the power of takedown notices which are often foisted at well-meaning and unsuspected fans …

“It remains to be seen what VANOC’s response will be, if any. It would be very nice if everyone could document their Olympic experience and share it with the rest of the world without the fear of getting takedown notices that would make all their efforts useless.”

Vancouver (really Victoria) blog-father, new PR ace, and theatre enthusiast Darren Barefoot posts his thoughts (complete with a geeky Venn diagram) in “Thinking About Social Media and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver” and frames expectations of what social media makers seek to make their reportage.

“As Dave says, social media types aren’t expecting all-access passes to the gold medal hockey games. He’s right to point out that there’s a big hole to fill in the media coverage for such an event. I was thinking about it, and drew this little Venn diagram:

Venn Diagram about Social Media at the Olympics

The CTVs and CBCs are going to have the major, breaking news covered. It’s all that green space–that’s where social media creators can live. Through various channels, I’m seeing several ways forward for benefits for both parties. Social media creators get some tools, resources and access to help with their citizen journalism efforts, and VANOC enjoys a whole new layer of news coverage. Such a partnership would also highlight Vancouver’s place as a global for new media, citizen journalism and the like.”

BuzzNetworker Colleen Coplick sets the scene and asks for an update in “The Olympics Must Adapt to New Media” (in her usual witty style):

“Recently, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (aka VANOC – you know, the bigwigs in charge of all of the Olympic everythings in Vancouver) began a four-day “World Press Briefing” for more than 250 visiting journalists and media managers. There was some serious debate about how media coverage of the Olympics is changing dramatically due to new and emerging media.”

“So, Dave, Kris, Robert, where do we stand on this? Has VANOC gotten back to you? Have we come to any sort of conclusion here?”

Nothing yet Colleen, stay tuned for updates.

Out-Smarts Internet Marketing firm’s Mhairi Petrovic wrote “The Olympics and Social Media” speculates on the Olympic committee’s concerns and the unstoppable force of social media coming in 2010:

“Its no surprise that the Olympic committee is shirking this question.  Many organisations especially large traditional companies (those that vet each and every public communication to ensure it reflects the corporate line) view social media as a quandary and even a threat to their brand.  They think that encouraging community participation leads to loosing control of that branding process.  But the fact of the matter is that brands are out there in the public forum anyway. Isn’t it better to be part of the conversation to learn adapt and grow because of it than to be on outside throwing out press releases.

Social media journalism is undoubtedly going to be part of the Olympics in Vancouver with an army of bloggers, social network participants and online journalists all giving their perspectives.  Rather than stick their head in the sand the Olympic committee should be embracing this new way to entrench its brand with new generations and different communities.”

Jenn Lowther lays out our big mission with “Social Media and the 2010 Olympics” and peers into the future to how the possible scenarios might play out:

“Kris and Dave were there not only as representatives of Raincity Studios, but as ambassadors for Vancouver’s entire Social Media and Citizen Journalism community – their exclusion from the briefing sends a message that social media is not a welcome commentator when it comes to the 2010 Olympics.

Regardless of how VANOC feels about Social Media and Citizen Journalism, it needs to realize that we will be covering the Olympics for our various media properties. Ideally, we would like to work with VANOC, ensuring that we are aware of the basic guidelines that it has regarding our coverage, i.e. not showing a Telus ad when Bell is a sponsor.  By excluding us from the VANOC media briefing, the organization is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy – by not including members of the Social Media community for fear that we will not follow the rules, it is ensuring that we do not know what rules need to be followed.

Yes, currently we do not measure our readership levels at those of mainstream media, but in aggregate we do receive significant viewership. In my opinion, VANOC is being extremely myopic in their exclusion of Social Media and Citizen Journalism, when it has a perfect opportunity put in their laps – being the first Olympics to fully capitalize on the power of Social Media that is present in Vancouver’s thriving tech community. When the Olympics are over and the MSM’s coverage of the Olympics is relegated to a disk or hard drive in some storage area collecting dust, the coverage from Citizen Journalists will be alive online, gaining views daily, reminding people how truly awesome the Vancouver 2010 Olympics really were.”

Finally (for today at least) social media’s Clark Kent (and former Raincity Studios cohort) Will Pate offers kind words about us (thx bud) and words of advice for VANOC in Social Media’s Place in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games:

Several of the folks in question are colleagues of mine, and represent Raincity Studios, the web studio I’m proud to say I co-founded. Kris Krug, Robert Scales and Dave Olson are tireless social media practitioners, trainers, authors and conference organizers. They represent the best of what Canada does when it comes to the ongoing evolution of journalism through technology. They are treated with the respect due to recognized experts outside Canada, it would be a loss for the Vancouver games to overlook great talent in their own backyard. It would be a win to build on what they learned using social media to cover the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Nor should social media as a force for good and bad PR be overlooked. The news has been filled in the last few years with stories of journalists, politicians and businesses tanked by bloggers and cameraphones. But my colleagues are not proposing to build a virtual lynch mob, interfere with the major networks who pay good money for exclusive coverage of the events, or otherwise tarnish the image of our beloved Vancouver.

My colleagues want to help the mass of people who will arrive to watch and create social media at the games. I would like to see VANOC and the IOC reconsider bringing them to the table, at least so their exclusion doesn’t become a story that detracts from what I expect to be a most successful event.

If I may humbly offer a piece of advice: a little love goes a long way with the social media crowd. You don’t need to give them the VIP treatment, a seat at the big kids table is enough. Recognizing the powerful voice of the people will do wonders for getting them to sing on key.

Well said Will, a seat at the big kids’ table *and* a tasty turkey drumstick will help us all ;-).

My three cents

My personal reason for caring about all this starts from being a sports fan, a social observer and a documentarian and a belief that authentic media works better for many audiences. What I’ve found about the Olympics is what you see on TV is not like the experience on the ground.

The viewpoints and stories which are the richest and most compelling aren’t the ones getting the round-the-clock coverage. If i drift into anecdotes here I’ll never get this posted so I’ll save my loquacious stories for a fireside chat with a tasty beverage ;-). Be sure to ask me about the impact of a :10 video clip of the first ever Nepali Winter Olympian.

I should point out for the record (since I am being transluscent here). I grew up in Whalley in the 70s, I lived in both Salt Lake City, Utah and Nagano, Japan prior to those regions hosting the Olympics and witnessed controversies aplenty. I’ve also seen the changes (good and bad but mostly good) resultant from hosting an event of this magnitude. I traveled and worked in 20+ countries and now live in North Vancouver and will be hosting all sorts of international friends at my place during the Games (well those who bribe me appropriately at least – hint: bring micro-brews).

Like many British Columbians, I am bombarded with negative Olympic-related news from loan guarantees gone wild to security budget chaos and street closures. I work next to the heart of DTES and see daily the lives of the disenfranchised and addicts and homeless. These are very real problems but also beyond the Olympic mandate. Certainly though, pausing to consider their point of view will cause the most calloused to think twice about how we spend public money.

I have a 14 year old son who is stoked for Aerials and Moguls and Snowboard at Cypress Mtn. I saw 4 out of 6 Team Canada men’s hockey games in SLC and saw every hockey team (men’s and women’s) in the tournament at least once. Heck, Don Cherry even wore my hat! and i held the torch a few times … ooops i am starting on the stories …

Anyhow, this time, I am personally most excited to meet more Latvian hockey fans and watch Jeremy Wotherspoon fulfill his Olympic potential at the glorious new oval – where I also hope to see my friends from Thuringen, Germany again set records and party afterwards. Like I said, i’ts a whole different Games on the ground compared to the TV coverage of superstars and scandals.

Indeed, there are huge social problems facing residents of our fair region, but they won’t improve by complaining, instead we must use this platform judiciously and show that Vancouver has the ability to shine a light towards the possibilities of what we can accomplish as a progressive, creative and cooperative society – the Games are coming and I am ready in many ways.

Notes from the Resistance

Ready to wow the world

As for protesting the Olympics, … the Olympic Resistance Network‘s press conference didn’t get too much International coverage as hoped but some Canadian sources took notice of their various concerns: Canadian PressThe TyeeGlobe and Mail.

These concerns are express by people who frankly have a hard time getting their message heard by the “suits” and as such, feel disconnected from the process and a bit ornery about the Games to say the least. I recorded audio to go along with photos and video of the Olympic Resistance Network event and will try to get that posted to share their important stories and concerns.

Keeping the conversation going

I’ve also pinged the erudite Olympic scholar Dr. Andy Miah in the UK for his comments so hope to hear from him for the next update, along with sharing whatever response we receive from VANOC. As rumoured, we are planning for a meeting next week to riff ideas about creating social media centres in Vancouver and Whistler (perhaps with sponsors?) – whew.

Mainstream media who wish to speak with Kris Krug, Robert Scales or myself (Dave Olson) about this topic, contact details are at the Raincity Studios media kit. Social media makers already know how to find us ;-).

PS If I missed including your coverage, please leave a comment. Ditto if you have something to say about the role of Social Media in the Olympics.

2 thoughts on “Hello VANOC, We’re nice, local, and invite you for a coffee and a talk – Open Letter #2”

  1. Have been meaning to leave a comment for some time, but now seems the appropriate time as I head off to cover a local New West event for 10th to the Fraser, the hyper-local New Westminster blog.

    Am I on the guest list? Yes.

    Was there any question in City of New West’s mind re whether I’m representing media 1.0 or media 2.0 – or that it mattered? Um, no. I realize it’s not on the same scale as the Olympics. But still, when some parts of the Metro Vancouver establishment ‘get it’ so effortlessly, what *is* wrong with VANOC?

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