New Media. New Games. Lessons from the Beijing Olympics for #media2012

an unconference talk covering 3 stories: of access, viagra of media and of cultural exchange

On the 4th of October I was invited to speak about my Beijing Olympics experience and research at the launch of #media2012 blueprint for the London Olympics, during Abandon Normal Devices Festival in Manchester. The proposal promoted by my supervisor, Professor Andy Miah, advocates for the assembly the social media people of the world and the creation an open media environment, where culture, sport and local stories can be told across international zones. The one-day event brought together representatives journalists, researchers, artists whose work is linked with previous or future Olympics in an attempt to start the dialogue about the lessons that need to be learned and actions that need to be taken in order for the London Olympics experience to go beyond sport and beyond London.

I have therefore designed my talk to answer one major question: why would anyone interested in the London Olympics be interested to hear what happened in Beijing? I chose therefore to concentrate on the new media aspect and challenge it through a series of stories. The key word of the talk was access.

Story 1: On access

On January 2007 the Chinese authorities have passed a law that granted extended access to foreign journalists. The law was to be in effect until the 17th of October 2008. In order to benefit from the provisions of the law, journalists accredited both in the Main Press Centre as well as in the Non-Accredited Media Centre (a parallel media centre, usually organized by the city authorities, for all those journalists interested in the Olympics that do not make it on the IOC lists as well as for those journalists interested in everything Olympics except sport) had to apply for a journalistic visa. This meant that journalists needed to produce evidence of their affiliation with a media outlet.

The journalistic visa in conjunction with their accreditation badge granted them access to their respective media centres and activities organized by them. MPC (Main Press Centre) IOC accredited journalists could enter any sporting areas, including the international area of the Athlete’s Village. The Non-Accredited media centre journalists were invited daily to cultural events and explorations of Chinese culture and heritage while also being given opportunities to interact with athletes.

These journalists also benefited from uncensored internet access (with several exceptions) which allowed them to produce, upload and share their stories with their organizations and publics at home.

Lesson 1: To have access, one needed credentials.

Story 2: On who is the media?

While in Beijing I have discovered that there were many people documenting their Olympic experience. Some posted their photos, videos and thoughts on their blogs. Others, like Robert Scales and Kris Krug, were invited to submit their videos for BBC’s “Your videos: Beijing Olympics”. Representatives of some of the media outlets accredited by the IOC, including the New York Times. BBC and the Guardian, were blogging as well.

This happened at a time when the IOC released its first ever blogging guidelines that defined blogging as “a type of website where entries are made (such as in a journal or diary), usually displayed in a reverse chronological order”. The guidelines however, were not addressed to journalists, but rather to accredited persons who maintain personal blogs, accessible by the general public, that contain any content related to their personal experiences at, and participation in, the Games. The guidelines thus aimed to protect the Olympic brand rather than regulate journalistic activities online.

Lesson 2: Media isn’t what media was. In Beijing traditional and citizen journalists together with individuals with an interest in the Olympic were all documenting the Games. Their stories provided a richer, more complex depiction of the Olympics.

Story 3: On cultural exercise

At the beginning of 2008 China had replaced the USA in the chart of the countries with the highest internet penetration in the world. This happened sooner than it was predicted. However, the Chinese Internet usage patterns differ a lot from the western ones. Despite the differences local and foreign bloggers have met during the Olympics to share their stories. Moreover, videos like the ones uploaded on the BBC video-blog told different stories from Beijing some aiming to demystify the city’s pollution, others trying to unravel its hidden cultural, heritage or culinary gems. Even without access to the Olympic areas, these “alternative” journalists provided stories about the Games. Their alternative stories broadened the spectrum of stories told from the Olympics depicting the Games as a festival of culture and sport.

Lesson 3: Dialogue is key to taking the Olympic experience beyond the host city. Collaboration, meetings and a desire to share stories and exchange ideas can help spread the festive mood of the host city to the host country and beyond.

All the recordings of the talks and Q&A sessions from the #media2012 blueprint launch are here, thanks to the hard work of the Ipadio team. To view all the presentations and photos from the event, please visit #media2012’s dedicated posterous.


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