SBJ/October 30 - November 5, 2006/This Weeks News

USOC considers second Beijing media center

Media credential requests for the Beijing Olympics have reached a level not seen since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the last U.S. Summer Games.

To handle the demand, the U.S. Olympic Committee is exploring the possibility of creating a separate U.S. media center for nonaccredited journalists — the first of its kind for an international Olympics. The USOC would rent and run the center in order to meet requests that it cannot fill, including demand from lifestyle and culture reporters.

“We know the Beijing experience is a significant part of the story line for the 2008 Games,” said USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel. “With that, we’re seeing unprecedented interest from U.S. media in covering those Games. It’s a unique window of opportunity and one we want to take full advantage of.”

The USOC received more than 1,500 requests from 250 organizations for the 477 credentials that it has been allotted by the Beijing Organizing Committee. The number of U.S. requests topped all other foreign games and fell just shy of the 2,000 requests for the 800 openings that the USOC had in Atlanta a decade ago.

The U.S. is awarded the second-most credentials behind China. Neither NBC nor the Associated Press are included in the credential process. The IOC credentials non-rights-holding broadcasters.

Considering the newspaper trend toward consolidation and cost-cutting, the number of requests surprised a committee of 20 journalists from the Associated Press Sports Editors, who met with the USOC in Chicago on Oct. 11 and 12 to review requests and award credentials.

“The games are going to be as much a cultural story as a sports story and that’s why there’s greater interest,” said John Cherwa, a committee member and the Tribune Co.’s sports coordinator. “It’s the magical nature of going to a place most of us have never been.”

Publications that have been accredited for the games were notified Oct. 23, and the cost of sending a reporter has been conservatively estimated at $10,000.

They range from national newspapers and magazines such as USA Today and Newsweek to smaller papers and niche publications such as the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera and Inside Gymnastics.

This year’s selection process was the first to include new media, and more than 10 Web sites made 30-plus requests, according to the USOC. Yahoo! requested the most, asking for 15 credentials; the number it got was not disclosed. The USOC issued roughly 20 credentials for Web sites, which had to show proven traffic, a history of sports coverage and original content.

USOC representatives will be in Beijing next week on a logistical site survey investigating the potential of an additional center. In January, the Chinese government will make final decisions about visa qualifications for international media representatives. Once the USOC knows whether nonaccredited journalists can enter the country, it will move ahead with its plan for a media center, Seibel said.

“You don’t see opportunities like this every day,” he added. “If we can do it and do it with full support from the IOC, it’s certainly something we want to pursue.”

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