2010 Athlete's Village Financial Fiasco Grows Deeper Some of us saw it coming for a very long time,
local mainstream news media remained conveniently blind.
Published January 16 2009 -
While Rome burns in 2010 Vancouver, and media fans the flame, Olympic overrun issues get murkier and more convoluted.
The Athletes Village financial fiasco is top-of-mind for everyone recently now that newspapers and television are bludgeoning the issue to death. It stuns me it took local mainstream news media so long to address loan issues, especially considering we've written about the hidden cost factor in extensive depth at OlyBLOG.com since 2006.
For clarity, I'm Pro-Olympics - with a twist, which means I love the sporting aspect of the Games, but I hate the politics.
I tried for years to have local mainstream news media investigate inconsistencies regarding the ramp up to 2010, but for the most part they looked the other way and accused me of "tilting at windmills."
Jeff Lee, a reporter at The Vancouver Sun, a guy who dubs himself OlympicReporter on Twitter is incensed with me over my blogging about his reporting of the 2010 Olympics.
Lee and I have history. He gets upset when I critique his work, but instead of debating with me rationally and making an effort to prove me wrong, he takes it personally and sends snide messages attacking my credibility, which I suppose he feels is his only option because my research is rock-solid and leaves little wiggle room.
When Lee and I first started bumping heads around 2005/06 he would email me complaining I was unfair about his reporting, and that my research was not credible. From the very beginning he referred and compared me to a reporter and I corrected him immediately telling him I am not a journalist in the true sense of the word, but instead only interested in critiquing how he and his colleagues report. I do not want to do his job. I only want journalists to report more fully and accurately.
As you will see below, it seems Lee still has trouble understanding this concept, and I agree that in 2005 when I first began to develop my own style of "adopt-a-reporter" it was new to everyone, but it is now relatively common as evidenced in a recent message he sent via Twitter when he wonders why he doesn't see me "on the beat."
My role is more as a researcher and marketing analyst as opposed to a reporter. It's a big difference.
A couple of years ago I participated in Assignment Zero, an open source news media project developed by Jay Rosen and co-sponsored by Wired.com. David Cohn founder of Spot.US was also an integral part of this bold crowdsource / citizen journalism experiment.
It wasn't the first time I was involved with this type of experimental communication, but it was the most successful and widely recognized event I participated in and helped develop. The conclusions we drew and reported have been used by many organizations to in turn help them develop their own open source media strategies. In some respects the experiment revealed more of what not to do, and the interesting take-away for me was that newspapers did almost everything they shouldn't.
I did a couple of interviews for this project. One was with Michael Tippett from NowPublic.com, and the other was with Debbie Kornmiller of the Arizona Daily Star. She manages customer service relationships for the online arm of her newspaper, which was the first newspaper in the world to host a COMMENT section on a regular bases.
I asked relatively the same questions to both people, and not surprisingly the answers were quite different. The Arizona Star, even though they had the most experience of all newspapers were constantly struggling to maintain civility with their readers, while NowPubic.com had no problem in this respect. I discovered Kornmiller's newspaper had a very strict corporate set of rules, and Tippet's rules were humorously worded and more like suggestions.
It was the first time I fully appreciated how sensitive traditional journalists, and especially newspaper journalists were when critiqued, even though I have encountered it previously at the Tyee.ca (in 2007 and before I began using my real name in Comment sections my pseudonym was Working Memory). Kornmiller reminded me newspaper journalists, since the internet's inception, have been nervous about losing their jobs and they consequently interpret criticism in a defensive way. She also pointed out traditional journalists have always operated from a position of omnipotence, and to have someone in the relative public domain looking over their shoulder and commenting on how they report was incredibly disconcerting.
It made me think of the seventies when my father, who worked in the automotive industry complained he was losing his job to a robot on the line. The public at large basically said, shut up you union wankers and suck it up. It's progress and it will reduce the cost of cars because GM can now become more efficient and they will pass the savings along to the customer. Flash forward thirty years to GM on the verge of bankruptcy.
It also reminded me of about twenty-five years ago when I worked in the entertainment industry and we started replacing musicians with computers. Moog sampling was all the rage and musicians everywhere revolted and said you can't do that because it will destroy our livelihood. It fell on deaf ears while my organization, among many others experimented with the Kurzweil company and eventually fired our string and horn sections. Once again the recurring theme was "shut up, it's progress."
About twenty years ago my stock photography catalogue went from being worth a million bucks to almost peanuts when Photoshop hit the scene. Again it was sold as progress. At first it bothered me considerably, but then I adapted and moved on.
About ten or so years ago when MP3 hit the streets with a vengeance, the writing was on the wall for every single creative medium depending on the protection of intellectual property rights.
Even books took a hit, although Jeff Bezos was brilliant and leveraged change management brilliantly through Amazon.com.
Well here we are in 2009 and newspapers are suffering the same fate, and all I can say is STFU, it's progress.
The next major industry to hit the wall will be the movie industry.
The most important talent for anyone today
is a capacity to effectively manage change.
One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Darwin. He wrote, "It's not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one with the greatest capacity for change"
Newspapers are in a fit of change, and they are not only watching their companies crumble, they are embarrassing themselves in the process. After all, it's not the first time we've seen this disruptive process wreak havoc on an industry, and it won't be the last. Instead of working harder to leverage the inevitable, they are going down kicking, screaming and whining.
Excerpts from Twitter
Tweet from Jeff Lee - Vancouver Sun reporter;
Olympicreporter - Geez, with all the Olympic village stuff quieting down,
what's there to do today? about 12 hours ago from web Jan 20 2009
12 hours later Lee Tweets ...
Olympicreporter - Olympic village developer speaks out. Wish I'd done the
interview. http://bit.ly/VE4Z32 minutes ago from web
end of Twitter excerpts ...
Here are three recent messages from Lee to me via Twitter.
He sent them after reading my post about a week previous ...
Olympicreporter @MauriceCardinal Hey Maurice, why don't you name names? You make much noise, but where's the beef? Who's on Vanoc's payroll? 10:26 PM Dec 10th, 2008 from web in reply to MauriceCardinal
Olympicreporter @MauriceCardinal Hey Maurice, by the way, how come in those 5 years I''ve never seen you on the beat? Nothing to ask? Or learn? Know it all? 7:24 PM Dec 9th, 2008 from web in reply to MauriceCardinal
Olympicreporter @MauriceCardinal Goodness, Maurice, are you STILL trying to flog your vanity book by attacking me? Childish. Grow up. You might sell more. 7:15 PM Dec 9th, 2008 from web in reply to MauriceCardinal
It might not seem obvious, but these comments from Jeff are a breakthrough for him. And not that it would change things, but it's the first time in a long time he's communicated with me and not prefaced it with a warning that his comments to me are private. You can see by his tone he is angry, but yet he sent these three messages to me on Twitter, which is one of the most public places on the internet. When you communicate on Twitter there is absolutely no implied or innate sense of privacy.
Basically, and I think inadvertently Jeff is calling me out in public, and to the casual observer it might not seem like a big deal, but you also have to know Jeff does not allow me to post to his 2010 blog because he objects that I qualify my comments by identifying I am the author of a book that specializes in the 2010 Olympics. Including my background in my posts differentiates me from armchair jocks blathering on about subjects they have not put considerable thought into. It gives my perspective credibility when it's backed up with extensive research.
In this waning era of anonymous comments and of increasing transparency, it's important to have a segment of the communication population identify themselves and their qualifications. I understand completely why some people blog or comment anonymously, but after a few months of following TheTyee.ca crowd I learned that if you want to be respected, tell people your name and your background. I very rarely follow anonymous work anymore, and there is a large and growing group that feels the same way. Most are on Twitter.
Remember too that one of our slogans here is "We don't break the news. We fix it," which means we help people interpret what they are reading much like Time magazine has changed their modus operandi from a company that recapped the news one week at a time, to a company, as described in the NY Times as helping people understand the news. Richard Stengel puts it like this; “We’re not in the business of telling people the news. News has become a commodity. They already know the news.”
Jeff wants names from me, and he wants me to quantify my "beat reporting" and I don't mind doing so at all.
But before I do I want to address his comment about my book, Leverage Olympic Momentum. It
exceeded our expectations long ago. Granted, it's not a New York Times best seller, but it is on the desks of enough civic leaders, executives, and business owners in our region to make us happy. From the beginning we indicated it was published primarily as a matter of record, and a tool anyone in our Olympic region or any other Host city can use to illustrate that Olympic organizations and their sponsors and partners including politicians and local news media, know up front what will occur respective of hidden costs and political wrangling. We don't want them to show up in 2011 and say, "We didn't know 2010 would roll out so poorly"
The book is meant to hold Olympic organizations accountable.
If you know an event is going to occur that will have a negative impact on your community, like increased homelessness in an Olympics region, and you do nothing proactive to prevent the carnage and improve the system, you are irresponsible.
Jeff asks sarcastically who I think the journalists are on VANOC's payroll, and I've explained exactly who many times in this blog and my book. He wants me to identify who is being paid directly by VANOC to publish Olympic information, and as I've explained the only people doing it directly are the people working directly for VANOC or the IOC.
Mainstream news journalists don't do it directly. Instead there is a buffer between them and VANOC and it is the journalist's company. I'm hesitant to explain how it works again because the process is simple and I've done it here so often, but here it is one more time.
It is you Jeff. You are on VANOC's payroll, and so is every employee at The Sun, Province or the Courier and all the other divisions owned by Canwest including Global Television. Maybe not directly, but the IOC pays your parent company Canwest to tell the Olympic side of the Olympic story. They pay them well, and you work for The Vancouver Sun. Don't even think of being righteously indignant, because your company has a history of questionable action and indiscretions regarding how you represent your advertisers. The Vivian Smith controversy is one example. BTW, media concentration in BC is higher than in all other provinces in Canada, and that alone is a scary proposition for west coast residents.
Whether you acknowledge it or not, if your company is paid even a nickel to promote the 2010 Olympics, you are biased. The question is are you unfairly biased? My answer is that if you report anything about the Olympics, in all good ethical journalistic integrity you have an obligation to clearly identify that your company is PAID to tell the Olympic story. If you don't identify at the top of each article you are a sponsor/supplier and bone fide 2010 booster your readers will have no idea you are biased, and they need to know in order to judge independently how much trust they can place in your reporting.
Doing it like you have in a clandestine-like manner is not 2009.
I've only seen two articles in The Sun reporting about the Canwest agreement with the IOC and one of them was incorrect. You're still living pre Twitter. You want to play in our community sandbox, but you're not following the Twitter code of transparency. Some people might not mind, especially those who are not familiar with the unwritten Olympic code or interested in winning your favor so you will write about them in your newspaper, but considering I've done extensive research in this field since 2003, I can't so easily look the other way. People need to be reminded your company generates substantial revenue through your association with the Olympics.
Like anyone Jeff, you have the legal write to use the word Olympic as a descriptor in your Twitter title. Kudos to you for registering it quickly. I'm wondering though who actually holds title to the name. Is it you, or your employer? Most companies I've worked with retain intellectual property rights for all the material an employee or contractor develops during and sometimes even two years after their agreement expires, which leads me to suspect The Vancouver Sun owns the title. Consequently, Canwest obligations influence how the title is used. Your Twitter bio is also very clear regarding where loyalties lie because you make no effort to say the views expressed are your own and do not reflect the opinion or views of your employer.
I mention this is because The Vancouver Sun has an incredibly long and stringent set of rules and conventions they enforce aggressively. You will see why this is important in a minute.
You make a very clear statement on Twitter by calling yourself OlympicReporter. It succinctly establishes your identity. We all know the IOC guards their brand jealously, sometimes to a ridiculous level, and that unless a professional journalist didn't have a connection and the implied right to use the Sovereign mark, Olympic, the IOC and VANOC wouldn't allow it. It shouldn't be considered lightly that you have their blessing to not only tell their story in an official paid capacity, but also in the transparent world of Twitter. You're blurring the lines in the same manner as "advertorials." The Bio on your OlympicReporter account at Twitter says, "2010 Olympics reporter for The Vancouver Sun." It mentions nothing of the fact your employer is well paid by the IOC to report Olympic information. Also, your 2010 blog hosted on the Vancouver Sun server also does not clearly indicate your partisan relationship with the IOC and VANOC.
Remember, I don't position myself as a reporter. Reporting is your job, but there is a link below to a story I published in this blog and my book way back in 2006 regarding Vancouver's Athlete's Village, and if you would have taken the time to read it instead of dismissing me out of hand you would have seen it does name names.
To turn your phrase, when I was naming names in 2006 where were you Jeff, and why haven't you reported in a timely manner the many inconsistencies regarding a wide variety of problems at the Olympic Village? Covering a story after it's too late to do anything about it is unacceptable for someone calling himself an Olympic reporter.
A really interesting twist regarding the Athlete's Village financial fiasco is that the mother lode has been online for ten months, and you and all your mainstream news colleagues missed it. According to Mike Howell of the Courier, page twenty-one of Vancouver's financial statement entitled "Southeast False Creek and Olympic Village Development" is a public document and it has been online since April 2008.
If you spent less time helping VANOC hype MukMuk Jeff, maybe you would have seen it. Or maybe you did see it and ignored it.
I understand completely why you ban me from your blog and pan my book. I'd be upset too if someone undermined my work.
After you read my article from 2006 let's debate online in a public forum how we each perceive the 2010 Olympics to be impacting our community. Or better still, call your partner John Furlong and anyone else who pays your company to publish information about the Olympics and lets all have a public chat.
My colleagues and I have a long list of questions for you and your Olympic posse, questions you should have asked and answered long ago, and that I'm eager to get out in the open before you sink our community any deeper into 2010 Tax Hell.
I know I'm not the only one eager to hear the answer.
If you don't want to do the public forum thing, then at least let me ask questions on your blog. We'll debate you in any venue you want.
My Athlete's Village article from June 2006 is even more relevant today considering that while you were nowhere to be seen, I was doing your job and challenging Jody Andrews, Deputy Vancouver manager in charge of the Athlete's Village - the guy who surprisingly resigned yesterday in 2009 amid swirling controversy.
You will discover when you read my article that when I questioned Andrews in June of 2006, he claimed he had no idea the Athletes Village in Sydney Australia had similar challenges regarding reclamation of contaminated soil. According to Andrews he didn't have a clue another recent Olympic region had arsenic and lead in the soil and that they too were building homes in it, which indicates he did zero research to see how the Australians dealt with it before he jumped in and started spending Vancouver's tax money.
So much for legacy information passed on by the IOC.
Considering Vancouver 2010 has such serious financial issues and has been trying to reduce costs for a long time, I'm now wondering if the False Creek contaminated soil was removed or reclaimed properly.
How is it possible I knew about this issue, but Andrews didn't?
Maybe he did know, but it was just one more secret to keep buried.
And maybe if you Jeff, and your colleagues would have been on the "beat," or taken my repeated suggestions to investigate and report more responsibly, our community three years later wouldn't be in such dire financial straits. Who knows what you might have dug up regarding finances while you were digging up the dirt on bad soil?
Instead, it now seems The Sun was too busy collecting payments from the IOC/VANOC and looking the other way. Nice work.
Contrary to what you think, taxpayers are your customers, not VANOC.
In retrospect, maybe your primary goal should have been to serve our community, which I'm sure would also save news media jobs.
Here's another reason mainstream news media is struggling . . .
Excerpt from The Canadian Journalism Foundation ...
"The Canadian media played a major role in focusing attention on the plight of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar and pressuring the government to establish an inquiry after his release. But the media also allowed itself to be manipulated into publishing and broadcasting unverified leaks that exacerbated the Arar trauma, and no one in the media has yet been held accountable."
Arar said it best ...
"Accountability is not about seeking revenge; it is about making our institutions better and a model for the rest of the world. Accountability goes to the heart of our democracy."
- Maher Arar read more here ...
His statement applies in spades to mainstream news media relationships with Olympic organizations. It's time for accountability.
I'm not sure if I just don't get your sense of humour Jeff, or if you're gloating, but on January 17 a day after I posted this article, you do a self effacing shuffle announcing you posted PDFs of the Athlete's Village in-camera sessions on your blog. Considering it is old news, you're making a big deal of nothing, and all I could think of as I read it was if mainstream news media had done their jobs properly, Vancouver might not be in this gargantuan mess.
You chide reporter Frances Bula, whom you refer to as "a former Sun pal," for suggesting the PDFs came from Daniel Fontaine - Sam Sullivan's former chief of staff.
I understand why Bula suggested it could have been Fontaine, but if we're doing pie-in-the sky speculation, and even though it's unlikely, it is also worth considering VANOC could have made sure the PDFs ended up in your lap Jeff. They have great incentive to deflect controversy away from their camp.
If I were John Furlong, I'd want the public to look at everyone but me during this melee, and feeding the Vision rumour would do so. The IOC is expert at playing both ends against the middle because as the public argues over moot issues time is wasted bickering and not spent impeding VANOC, which is under an incredible time constraint.
From a 2010 operations perspective it makes no difference how it was leaked and how it ended up in mainstream news media hands, but it is interesting to note The Sun received the in-camera PDFs and not The Globe, the newspaper that actually broke the story in the first place.
In Sydney Australia during the ramp up to the 2000 Summer Games, SOCOG, the Sydney Olympic organizing committee also awarded
news supplier designation to two local competing newspapers, and they learned quickly that playing favorites only served to land them in federal court amid charges of unfair advantage. VANOC has tremendous incentive to play each newspaper against the other in order to instigate "mild" controversy because it keeps the Games at top of mind in the public sector, but they also don't want to create animosity between the two newspapers and have them battle it out in court, which is harmful to the IOC's reputation and the Games locally.
Vancouverites might think incidents like this are unique, but we're not that special. Stuff like this happens in other Olympic regions.
Here's an example from my book Leverage Olympic Momentum ...
"As you can see, selling sponsorships to two rival newspapers turned into a nightmare in many respects for Olympic organizations. In effect newspapers ended up tattling on each other, and in many instances the public came out the winner. Needless to say though, it worked well for Olympic organizations too because a sponsor newspaper did have a legal obligation to keep many aspects of what they knew confidential. It's a tradeoff that each Olympic region has to deal with on its respective terms. One thing is certain, selling sponsorships to rival newspaper companies ensures that each will look very carefully at the other and be exceedingly tempted to report incongruities." end of excerptYou can read more about it here ... ]
Now that Vancouver has hit the wall regarding the Athlete's Village loan, BC has to quickly enact new legislation and change our charter to allow Vancouver to borrow half a million dollars for the new deal. Normally it would take at least three readings in the house to pass legislation this important, but the plan is to jam it through in one day.
It happens like this in all Olympic regions, so Vancouverites shouldn't be shocked. BC has already made many changes to zoning and other business related legislation respective of the Olympics. Here's what I wrote about the process in my book in 2006 ...
Excerpt from Leverage Olympic Momentum
"... municipalities remove hundreds of thousands of regulations from their books and then, as the Games approach, legislate new ones. Legislation is passed specifically to make it easier for a community to produce the Olympics, but they often don’t pay attention to how it will affect the entire community. A sharp developer or real estate company, or maybe a manufacturer can take advantage of what are usually less stringent regulations. In many cases, after the Games leave town old regulations are brought back, which means the window to capitalize on new regulations could be relatively narrow. It is not uncommon for land use plans to change quickly in a heated Olympic climate. For example, in Vancouver in January of 2005 Vancouver’s new mayor, Sam Sullivan, made an announcement that he decided considerably less subsidized housing units should be built at the Olympic Village than promised in the Bid. Originally the plan was one-third market, one-third modest income and one-third affordable housing. The new mayor changed it to eighty percent market and just twenty percent non-market." end of excerpt
Now here we are in early 2009 with another major law change!
Excerpt from OlyBLOG.com 2004
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis revealed that the country's deficit jumped more rapidly and higher than all other European countries. It shot up 4 times its projected level and twice the legal limit allowed for European Union member countries.
As a result, bond-rating agency Standard & Poor's dropped the country's debt-rating outlook from "stable" to "negative" blaming "an accelerating loss of fiscal discipline" partly related to the Games. They also reported Greece's fiscal position is the weakest of any major European economy.
Karamanlis placed the blame squarely on the Olympics.
If you want more names Jeff, read my book.
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1st printing no longer available at CHAPTERS locations in Vancouver
Own the Podium?
The official creed (guiding principle) of the Olympics is a quote by the
founding father of the modern day Games Baron de Coubertin. He said, "The
most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part,
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.
The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
The Olympic motto consists of three Latin words Citius, Altius, Fortius,
which means, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." The 1924 motto is meant to encourage
athletes to embrace the Olympic spirit and perform to the best of their
No where does it imply that winning the most gold medals for your country
is part of the agenda. In fact it implies exactly the opposite.
The IOC maintains that it doesn't actively encourage countries to collectively
win the most gold medals, but on the other hand they also don't institute
anything to ensure that the Games are not turned into corporate money
In fact, IOC sponsorship and partnership business models encourage a win-at-all-costs
mentality. It is the reason they have doping, fraud and bribery scandals.
The IOC invites young people to compete in the Olympics using the original
Creed & Motto. But when it comes to delivering on the promise they
fall incredibly short.
The Olympics today isn't as much about sport as it is about money and
Priorities changed over the years and so too should their Creed &
If athletes go for the gold, and the IOC goes for the gold, and corporate
sponsors go for the gold, and governments go for the gold, and considering
that you will have to foot the bill for their gold, why should
you be edged out of the race?
Move to the starting line.
Own the Podium?
Own Your Home?
Real journalism consists of
what someone doesn't want published,
all the rest is public relations." George Orwell