OLYMPIC NEWS: Stronger, faster, higher

Canadian newspaper journalists as well as athletes are aiming for peak performances at the Olympics this month. While in-depth sports coverage is nothing new, the 12-hour time difference between central Canada and Beijing has made online coverage more extensive and sophisticated than ever before.

The breaking news will be online while the print editions will have more of a look-ahead angle, say sports editors. The time difference presents a challenge for staffing at home as well, with many newsrooms beefing up their overnight shifts. Blogging is also valuable – all four reporters from Sun Media are blogging.

Visuals are critical for such a colourful event. The Canadian Press has sent 14 people including four photographers. And because of the potential for generating other news stories on issues such as human rights, many newspapers are sending extra reporters. About half of The Globe and Mail’s nine-person Beijing team comes from news rather than the sports department. “The Olympics is more than a sporting event, these Games especially,” said Steve McAllister, editor of Globesports.com.

The Toronto Star and Canwest have both made a major online commitment to the Games coverage. “The Internet plays a big role in the reinvention of newspapers and the kind of journalism practiced,” said Mike Simpson, sports editor for the Toronto Star, which sent 11 people to Beijing, including three photographers and one videographer. Four of the writers will post to blogs throughout the Games. “We’ll be on it 24/7,” he said. “Now we’re expecting a lot more overnight traffic and we want it to be as up-to-date as it can be when people log onto their computers in the morning.”

The Canwest team includes 28 reporters and technical staff who will produce website features and photo and video galleries on Beijing, as well as 34 event galleries including Flash primers on each Olympic sport. Online coverage offers a chance for the newspapers to compete with broadcasters. “Only two stations have broadcast rights – CBC and NBC – and if you’re not one of them you’re out of luck, whereas on the web you can get around that and have a really complete package,” said Cathy Boucek, special sections producer for Canwest Interactive.

The fate of the Canadian Olympians is not only a national story, but an intensely regional one. For example, the Canwest team includes reporter Cleve Dheenshaw from the Victoria Times Colonist. “Victoria is unique because we have several national training centres here,” said Brian Drewry, sports editor at the Times Colonist. “There are 46 athletes going (from Victoria) as well as coaches and trainers. The people of Victoria are very familiar with them.

Newspapers are also looking ahead to the Vancouver Olympics. “We want to build a base for 2010,” said Marissa Nelson, senior editor of digital news for thestar.com. The website, in development since January, was launched in June. By the end of the Games, Nelson expects 1 million page views.