An independent reporter's guide to the 2010 Olympics

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As the 2010 Winter Olympic Games approach, tens of thousands of people will flock to Vancouver to take part in the global sports extravaganza. But for those who are there to report on the Games, either as independent accredited media or as citizen journalists or bloggers, there are many rules and restrictions that, if not followed, could turn this once-in-a-lifetime experience into something of a legal nightmare.

Olympic access

The first hurdle for reporters is access -- to events, to celebrations and, most importantly, to information. Monte Paulsen, investigative editor for independent online news site The Tyee, says there are three distinct groups seeking access: "The rights holders, some form of accredited media who aren't rights holders and then everyone else."

For each group, there are clear lines drawn in the sand. The rights holders have paid a lot of money for their position as the official media outlets for the Games, and are the only ones with the right to broadcast press conferences and program schedules, and use the Olympic marks when doing so.

The BC International Media Centre, located in downtown Vancouver at Robson Square, and the Whistler Media Centre, located in the existing Whistler Conference Centre in Whistler Village, will be operations bases for organizations and reporters who have been granted accreditation. The broadcasting facilities will act as an operating space for media, providing access to athletes, contacts and story leads.

However, journalists and bloggers who did not receive accreditation will have to think outside the box, says Paulsen. "Many people won't have access to the media centre. If you want to interview an athlete, make relationships now, not in February. There's nothing stopping an athlete from leaving the Olympic Village to talk with you."

While independent reporters may be frustrated with the lack of access to Olympic events and athletes, story opportunities will abound for those willing to look. As will resources, like the W2 Community Media Arts Centre, which will become a lab space for independent journalists and bloggers offering access to daily press briefings, artists, exhibitions, conferences, workshops and basic production technology. Users will need to apply online and pay a small fee to subsidize the equipment and space.

Another resource for the non-accredited is True North Media House, a group of bloggers and social media enthusiasts who are working to encourage others to get involved in covering the Games. "It's a great time to show off what Vancouver has to offer," says Kris Krug, co-founder of True North Media House. "A lot of the hype is around the sports and the torch, but it's really only a fraction of what's going on. There's going to be a lot of interesting arts and culture events."

Rules for reporting on the 2010 Winter Games

It's no secret that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is fiercely protective of its brand, and will take legal action against anyone who purports to use it unofficially -- witness its aggressive handling of the Olympia restaurant in downtown Vancouver.

So anyone who plans to cover the Games should check out the IOC's Guidelines for the Written Press and Other Non-Rights Holding Media.

There are numerous things journalists can do to save headaches down the road:

• Pick the right domain name: You can't include "Olympic" or "Olympics" in your site's domain name (e.g. www.[Your Name] However, an easy and legal workaround is to add "Olympics" after the backslash (www.[Your Name].com/olympics).

• Avoid video and audio: Another major sticking point with the IOC is the use of multimedia. The guidelines plainly state that moving pictures and sound are off limits to organizations for any Olympics event, "including sporting action, interviews with athletes in the mixed zones and competition venue press conference rooms, opening, closing and medal ceremonies or other activities, such as chat sessions which occur within accredited zones."

• Credit Olympic results content: The posting of any events results provided by the IOC must clearly be accompanied by the copyright tag line "© 2010 IOC."

The IOC considers blogging "a legitimate form of personal expression and not as a form of journalism," but accredited bloggers face the same rules with even more restrictions. All content must be about the blogger's personal Olympic experience, and photos depicting sporting events or ceremonies are forbidden, as is use of Olympic marks (Olympic rings, mascots, etc.).

The IOC has been very clear that it will take any available measures to enforce these guidelines, including legal action and fines, so reporters should be diligent in adhering to the rules when publishing content.

What can you cover at the Olympic Games?

While the rules may give the impression there's no place for citizen reporters at the Games, Paulsen disagrees. "The more powerful moment will be when someone is at the perfect spot at the perfect time with a camera, and this regular person takes a picture that could be seen by the rest of the world."

The IOC rules certainly haven't prevented local independent media outlets like The Vancouver Observer and The Dominion from publishing Olympics-related exposes leading up to the Games -- on issues ranging from greenwashing to civil liberties. Linda Solomon, founding publisher of The Vancouver Observer, says regardless of a lack of access, there are stories to be told. "The Olympics are a good story whether we have access or not. There's no way not to have a good story right now. There's so much going on in the streets, the courts and every aspect of society. There's no way to be shut out of it."

But the IOC hasn't been very clear about how it will deal with information reported on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Can the IOC control tens of thousands of people with access to the Internet and digital cameras?

"I've had a few paranoid fantasies about it," says Solomon. "But I don't think it's going to happen. We aren't against the Olympics, we just cover them. They have big issues to worry about. I hope they're not going to spend their precious time on me."

Krug has covered both the Torino and Beijing Games and says it will be extremely interesting to see how social media coverage impacts the Games.

"Fans, athletes, employees and citizens, we all have the power of a TV station, radio station and printing press in the palm of our hand. It's definitely difficult to control, and that can be scary for some, but there are ways to use it for positive results and it need not be feared."

For independent journalists, reporting on the 2010 Games may feel like an uphill battle, but a thorough review of the guidelines will prepare most, and if you remember a few key things, you should be fairly safe. No "Olympics" in domain names, no moving pictures or sound, no Olympic marks and a copyright credit to the IOC on all results posted.

Keep these things at forefront of your mind, and your coverage of the Olympics should be a smooth and fulfilling experience.

An independent reporter's toolkit

Here are a few tips to help your Games reporting go smoothly:

• Don't break the rules. Familiarize yourself with the IOC guidelines.

• Create a blog. This will be your hub, the place you can post your photos, tweets and updates.

• Post on citizen journalism sites. Websites like NowPublic and iReport will be looking for content.

• Use a mobile platform. Sites like Twitter allow you make updates on the go.

• Use a photo hosting site. Upload and share your photos on sites like Flickr.

• Tag your material appropriately. If you tag your photo album "2010 Winter Games" it will be put into the same pool as mainstream media.

• Don't drive. Take public transit. With road closures and parking restrictions, the streets will be a mess.

• Be yourself. Don't emulate the mainstream media. Find your own voice and style and have fun with it.

Interested in covering the 2010 Olympic Games? E-mail editor[@] with your ideas, photos, videos, podcasts and follow's Olympics coverage including alternative events and protests.

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