For the first time in recent memory, the Spectator will not be staffing the Olympics.
At least not the Popsicle Olympics, which are set for Italy a few months hence. Presumably Beijing in 2008 is still on everyone's radar.
The reasons relate to timing and resources, and while the issue has been discussed in some detail inside the sports department (and Patricia says her door is still open for those who want to talk about it), the news doesn't appear to have seeped out across the newsroom floor very widely.
The decision points to some interesting questions about who we are and what we do.
On a very personal level, I could care less about our Olympic coverage.
The Olympic Games (summer or winter) have always brought out the worst in countries and their press, a fortnight of unbearable chest thumping bravado and jingoism wrapped in multi-colored flags and dusted with a phony patina of nobility and self-sacrifice.
Having said that, I must also acknowledge that those athletes that
aren't busy blood-doping and slipping high tech cocktails into their
bloodstreams when they think nobody's looking, can be, and often are,
inspiring. I like watching their work on TV and listening to people who
know what they're talking about explain the finer points to me.
I even like reading analysis of it the next day in the newspaper.
But here's the thing.
Do I need it to be MY newspaper's writers who give me that analysis and color?
This question really has nothing to do with the Olympics. And nothing to do with the depth and quality of the reporting our sports crew could bring to this story - Steve Milton, for one, is widely regarded as a national figure when it comes to figure skating.
But this isn't about Steve. And despite my earlier sports section baiting, this isn't about the Olympics.
This is about any big international story and our (relatively) little local paper. Just what is our proper role?
I am torn.
On the one hand I believe our future lies in providing readers with a unique (and uniquely local) vision of the world around us, a product that combines superb storytelling and knowledgeable analysis with a variety of strong and distinct voices. When we yield that role to the wires or our parent paper, we yield our right to live.
On the other hand, in a year when we don't personally cover 200,000 tsunami deaths in Asia, or 1,000 flood/hurricane deaths in New Orleans, how can we justify spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to send some reporter or photographer around the world to elbow wrestle with about 6,000 of his equals in order to watch a contest he could see better from his hotel room TV?