Covering stories outside the spectacle

David BeersDavid Beers, editor of The Tyee, sees the Olympics as a “giant performance piece” that heightens awareness of the insider/outsider relationship. Beers explains the The Tyee’s choice to cover the “outsiders”  in relation to the Games.

In Vancouver, the journalists were the first to be made aware that while the  Olympics can unite, in many inevitable ways, they divide. And the divisions they create are multiple in their gradations, along various axes. We became aware of that years ago when it was learned who had purchased total access to the spectacle (Bell Globemdia, NBC), who had secured deals to occupy the next ring of access (CanWest, etc) and who would be on the outside looking in (we at The Tyee, along with very many others).

Indeed, over time, I’ve come to view the 2010 Winter Olympic Games as a giant performance piece that heightens everyone’s awareness of the relationship between insiders and outsiders. The accredited vs. the non-accredited. Corporate sponsors vs. guerrilla marketers. VANOC vs. the protest movement. Those who got tickets (and could afford them) vs. the rest of us. Artists who took Cultural Olympiad money with its requirement they express no criticism of the Games vs. those who refused the money and so forfeited centre stage. Real estate insiders benefiting from the Olympics-driven price boom, vs. housing advocates trying to leverage the Games for more government investment. Those at geographical ground zero, and those just a bit too far away to get in on the promised spoils. Wealthy tourists from outside B.C. who arrive instant insiders, vs. low-income locals, literally shut out.

Covering such tensions with a special eye to the experiences — and grievances — of the outsiders was our chosen approach here at The Tyee. We started nearly three years ago with investigative editor Monte Paulsen’s series “2010: More Homeless than Athletes?” As Paulsen proved, stories attending to the insider/outsider frame need not wait until the eve of the spectacle. In fact, our aim was to pile up the bulk of our enterprise reporting on the Olympics well in advance, so as to provide context and an early radar on developing rifts and innovations happening at the edges.

We have made civil liberties concerns, commercialization, and the evolving anti-Olympics movement major focuses, striving to be neutral in tone and balanced in presentation. At the same time, we took seriously dissenters’ emerging tactics and messages in ways that other media with ties to the Olympics machine did not.

The yin to the protester’s yang was the billion-dollar security force charged with keeping a lid on the spectacle. The Tyee covered this angle regularly, including teaming with 24 Hours Vancouver, which like us had no business relationship with the IOC, to publish an in-depth four-part series on the 2010 Games’ top police officer’s controversial history of handling protest.

The Tyee has broken more than its share of Olympics-related stories while rounding out the democratic conversation, which we see as our mission. In the process, we’ve done our best to retain respectful relationships with all players by adhering to good journalistic practices, and have consciously aimed to avoid being co-opted into one camp or another.

We were well-situated, therefore, to cover not only the protests carried out in the first days of the Games, but also the internal debates and disharmony that emerged within the loose coalition of protesters after some used violent tactics on Saturday, February 13. We tried to treat all sides of that debate respectfully rather than issuing scolds.

With what you might call an anthropological approach, we sought to provide a guide to the various groups of dissenters. One of our most read pieces during the Olympics was Geoff Dembicki’s dramatic story of how a pie thrown by an anarchist into the face of a high profile Vancouver civil liberties lawyer signaled a serious divide in the ranks of the dissenters.

We’ve published a lot of Olympics cultural coverage and lighter pieces, too, but it’s pretty clear as I write this, what our readers have come to rely on us to report. Our five most read stories during the Games are (as of Friday, February 26):

Pie in Face Signals Split in Olympics Protest Movement
Fill Your Opening Ceremony with Arts, then Cut Them
Could Olympics Undo the Global Economy?
What’s Driving Olympics Homeless Protesters

Number five is a daily notebook that included an item on legalized marijuana crusader Marc Emery’s big smoke-fest with Olympics visitors.

A year ago, our lead Olympic reporter Geoff Dembicki published a piece titled “Citizen Journalists Poised to Reinvent Olympics ‘News’”. So as the Games approached, we sought to be a conduit for citizen media by creating a Flickr pool and posting a photo essay every day of the Games using Tyee readers’ images.We also instituted the daily round-up feature called “The People’s Podium” that we hoped would showcase the best video and multimedia coming out of hubs of social media including W2 Community Media Arts and the Vancouver Media Co-op.

While the photo essay has proved a great success, the next time a global spectacle rolls into town, we at The Tyee think we need to do a better job of tapping 2.0 creativity. The web sites at the Co-op and W2 didn’t prove to be as rich in content and story leads as we’d expected, and we hadn’t done the groundwork to establish relationships with enough individual citizen journalists to quickly find and publish their work.

What you will read and hear from the insider media now, as the spectacle nears its conclusion, is that the Olympics have brought Vancouver, its province — and even Canada — together in a way that proves their power to unite. That spirit in the streets is real, and we at The Tyee have enjoyed sharing that news through a number of reports.

However, the divisive issues created by the Games – or thrown into sharp focus by this multi-billion dollar arbiter of social priorities – will continue to be news after the closing ceremonies. With mild hangovers this week, we’ll resume reporting on the Olympics and the aftermath, and continue to do so from outside the official frame.

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee. To read further Tyee Olympics coverage, feature articles are archived here and all 2010-related posts on the site’s political news
The Hook, are here.