Sail-World Mailbag: Readers respond to the Olympic Media Commentary

Olivia Powrie and Jo Aleh are interviewed by one media group after their Gold Medal win in the Mixed Zone

Sail-World readers comment on Gladwell's Line: 2012 Olympic Review - The Media - Friend or Foe?

We have produced their comments below on the story!www.sail-world.com/indexs.cfm?nid=101902

(NB Usually we will only publish letters where the writer is identified, unless there is a a very good reason to maintain confidentiality, which is the case in both of these letters. )

Sender: BG - Australia - Message:

What a strange article from Mr Gladwell. I am not sure what point he is trying to make.

Foxtel, the Australian Subscription TV rights holder for London 2012, broadcast every medal race live and in full as well as at least two sessions of Sailing per day. There was a reporter and crew based in Weymouth for the duration of the Games. The Australian TV audience was exposed to Olympic sailing like never before and they loved it. The sailors were most appreciative of the coverage and responded by delivering three gold medals and giving TV and other media very open access.

Yes ,The Media, particularly in Australia is a FRIEND.

Richard Gladwell: That was our point exactly - treat the media as part of your wider team and they will be your friends, and work for you. It was great to see the CEO of Yachting Australia working his way through the Media Centre on the final day talking with whoever wanted a quote or background comment. It was most appreciated, both in the words and gesture.

August 8, 2012 - Weymouth, England - Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) Gold Medal winners speak with the media in the Mixed Zone

Sender: SP: Message: Richard, I understand your point in this article and where you are coming from, from the media's point of view. You are there to do a job. If the people who's event you are reporting makes themselves unavailable for whatever reason it makes your job harder, let alone the point you make of themselves missing out on the opportunities talking comfortably with the media affords them. I understand that.

However, I remember reading the article you wrote during the Olympics where you didn't get access to Polly and Jo and your comment on this could be considered as being a bit self indulgent and sulky - I know I
certainly considered it came across that way in what I was reading.

He may look like one person in the crowd in the Mixed Zone, looking to catch a quote, but Bernie Wilson (foreground) (Associated Press) brings a readership in the millions, if not tens of millions
RG: The problem with people not talking to you after the race/game is that you are placed in a very difficult position – do you just write what you saw, guess or say nothing?

In this case I would have had to write that Jo and Polly had finished 18th but I had no idea why. (This was off a race which had dropped them back onto equal points with the Brits going into the Medal race. But at the end of Race 9, NZL had an eight point margin on overall points. After Race 10 they were back to deuce. It was a very significant story.)

The implication off that is that I was too lazy to go to the Mixed Zone and find out. Or, I could have guessed – which would probably have been wrong. (Often such a placing is due to a gear failure, which is not apparent, when viewed from a distance).

As it turned out I had seen them at the back of the fleet looking across from a distance (initially I thought they were the Australian crew as the mainsail emblems look very similar from afar.)

As a photographer I have to work with other people in the boat, and we go ashore only when everyone has all they need. I got ashore, got out of very wet gear and went along to the Mixed Zone – a little late but that should have still meant that I would have had a wait of about 10 minutes – which is no problem as I had to set up. On the way to the mixed zone, I ran into a rather unhappy Peter Montgomery, who told me what had happened to him - that the NZers had gone straight past and wouldn’t talk. I kept going to the Mixed Zone, couldn’t see anyone and it was clear that no-one was there to talk. Same had happened, I understand, to the other journalist there, Fred Woodcock from Fairfax.

Olympic Games Sailing at Weymouth, Dorset, August 2012. Triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie wins gold in the Finn class. Ainslie speaking to the press after winning his gold medal..
So I came back and wrote what I wrote. I didn’t think I had much alternative but to be honest, and get over it. I realised that approach wouldn’t come across very well, but it was the best I could do in the circumstances. I was up for a 0130hrs finish that night anyway (as with every night), and didn’t have too much time to stuff around with a group of Kiwis that didn’t want to talk. I don’t know what PJ or Fred filed, if anything. There was a flurry of emails that went back to NZ (YNZ) that night, but it is a complete waste of time as the deadlines had been missed and the moment could never be re-created.


Sender: SP: The public you write for doesn't want to know if your having trouble getting access to the sailors for whatever reason, they just want to read the quality reporting you and the Sail World site are known for about the sport you're reporting on. Write the article on the interaction of the sailors and media as you make good points. But be real careful your interactions with several organisations and the personalities at them doesn't cloud the points you are trying to make to your readers I guess is all I'm trying to say.

RG: Yes, granted – but we can’t play the game where the sailors/teams won’t tell us what has happened, and then start making comments about us getting it wrong when we have to speculate. Generally we won’t write anything that we haven’t heard first hand, seen in a photo or video, or seen with our own eyes. If we can't meet those rules, I think we have to tell our readers, and why. If that comes across as complaining, then so be it. But we have to stay honest, and just not saying anything, or repeating the PR spin coming out of a team is not an option for us.

August 5, 2012 - Weymouth, England - Dan Slater (NZL) interviewed in the Mixed Zone
As an aside, in the Olympics I generally didn’t go to the mixed zone, I didn’t feel I need to, as I had usually seen all I need on the water. (I was out every day for five to six hours, in a camera boat which meant we could travel between the courses quite easily). There was quite a lot of planning about where we would go within our boat, and with the staggered time of the race starts – it all worked out quite well.We had two or three of our Sail-World team at the mixed zone every day. I understand they experienced the Kiwi non-cooperation too, on a number of occasions. It was easy enough to pick the rest of it up from the result sheets and mark roundings, which were always readily available. I was also there more from an international perspective and not just looking at the Kiwis.

From memory, I only went to the Mixed Zone about four times in 15 days – once to talk to Dan Slater about the Finn medal race (Dan is always good honest copy), had a very brief chat one day with Paul Snow-Hansen, and then with the NZ Gold and Silver medalists. I did try and attend all the medalist media conferences I could. The only ones I missed were the Laser and Laser Radial, and the Womens Match Racing on the last day, which was very informal and conducted in Spanish.


Sender: SP: On the Olympics though, from a personal point of view, I was quite happy with the written media coverage of the Games and I thank you and the rest of the Sail-World contributors for it. It was certainly a lot easier to stomach than the TV coverage with the unbelievably bad commentating that we saw here in NZ. To my mind that is far more damaging to Joe public and their perception of the sport than perhaps what was some pretty reasonable quality written media, that missed the occasional chestnut or quote because the sailors sometimes made themselves unavailable. Ask around who saw the coverage and I guarantee you there will be very little positive said about the commentating on any of the TV coverage. Just a thought ?

2012 Olympic Regatta - Womens Windsurfer Media Conference - from left Tuuli Petaja (FIN), Marina Alabau (ESP) and Zofia Klepacka (POL)