Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Walking That Fine Line

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Walking That Fine Line

Article excerpt

A local newspaper has a huge impact on the Olympic Games; things are already heating up in Atlanta between the Olympic Committee and the Journal-Constitution

WHEN THE INITIAL excitement over Atlanta's being awarded the 1996 Olympics faded, some Atlantans rolled over and left simple instructions, "Wake me in time to get tickets."

Indeed, some Atlantans probably figured that after the initial story of the city getting the Games was reported, the next big news would be how much tickets cost.

That has hardly been the case.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the city's only major daily, didn't roll over. It went to work with three full-time reporters and an Olympics desk. The newspaper sank its teeth into is sues such as the threat of taxpayers being stuck with the bill for the funding of Olympic venues and salaries of the top officials of the local organizing committee, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG).

The newspaper has also chronicled the various turf wars between the city, ACOG, Fulton County and community groups.

In addition, community groups that claim they have been ignored by Olympics organizers have been given a front-page forum to air their grievances.

The Olympics are more than three years away and still far from the playground, where the action is out front for spectators. The action these days is around conference tables and involves contracts, not gold medals.

Yet, even without the sporting events, the newspaper seems to have a hottomless budget of significant stories. It devotes one page in its Sunday Sports section to the Olympics, while another page in Saturday's "Local News" section carries anything from community development to the marketing of the Olympics.

As expected, the paper and ACOG have spatted. The paper's top editor, Ron Martin, says the Journal-Constitution has taken the role of monitoring ACOG's activities because of the impact ACOG's decisions will have on the community--$5.1 billion in revenue for Atlanta and Georgia from 1989-1996.

"We think we've done a fairly steady and aggressive job of covering what they,re up to and the various developments," Martin said. "We think the proper role of a newspaper is to move into those areas of coverage where a vacuum exists. As things are established now, there's not really any public process for monitoring what ACOG is doing. So we need to ask those kinds of questions."

One of the questions the newspaper wanted resolved was access.

"Early on, I think the approach was we weren't going to see or hear anything," an Olympics editor, Mike Tiemey, said. "Now they've gotten themselves on the record as saying they are going to be a lot more public with their activities and decision making.

"We have been pretty insistent from the very beginning that the process needs to be more open than it has been."

ACOG CEO Billy Payne said it was never the intention of ACOG to exclude the public from the process. "We've never had an intention of isolating the opportunity of the Olympics," Payne said. "It is a difficult job; you are making choices every day and only the winners applaud you and the losers don't like it. The process is eminently fair. We appreciate all the advice we can get from people."

One decision Tiemey says ACOG took little advice on was the creation of the Olympic mascot, Whatizit, a computer-generated mascot that looks a little like a bug. …

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