Saturday, February 13, 2010

On Nodar Kumaritashvili

As you have no doubt heard by now, there was a tragic accident at Men's Singles Luge training at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Friday.

21-year old Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili slid off his sled and off the track, hitting a solid post. When it happened, I was in the Mixed Zone. I didn't not personally see the incident, but I heard a disturbance. The reporters who were watching the live footage on the big screen exclaimed in surprise and distress.

Hours after it was all over, after the Opening Ceremonies, after a comforting dinner with some of my co-workers and lighting some candles at the Olympic rings in Whistler Village, I came home and turned on the TV. It was still all over the news. As well as a soldier's death in Afghanistan and a young woman's death in Ontario. It was a tough night for Canada.

I also posted a few stories on the incident. One on juggling being a reporter and being a human being. One on the balance between reporting the news and exploiting someone's death.

The latter got a lot of comments on my Facebook page, and most people agreed that the footage of the crash leading to Nodar's death should not have been showed. However, they disagreed on the degree to which the death should have been reported. I would like to share the comment I wrote in response to theirs.

It is worth noting that this was my third comment on the story. The first explained how the Olympic Broadcast Service cut the feed of the crash as soon as it happened, but CTV, ABC and other networks aired the full crash footage. CTV stopped airing the actual crash once it became clear that Nodar had passed away. ABC not only showed the full crash, they also aired a picture of his bloody face, receiving CPR before being put in the ambulance.

My second comment referred to the idea that people "need to know" and the media being the ones to deliver that information to keep people informed, though I didn't agree with airing the full footage and said that if someone was truly compelled to watch it, they could be pointed to it online.

Commentators on the post talked about conscience, the morbid interest we have in death - something we can't understand, on ratings and money, on having limits and respect and not airing something if you're "struggling" with the decision, on family and friends having to see it over and over again, and on how the incident airing live could not have been prevented but networks would never air the footage of someone being shot to death.

Without further ado, here is my long-winded response to all these concerns and comments. It is my form of therapy and sharing it with you will make it easier for me to deal with this horrific incident, put it behind me, and enjoy the rest of the Olympic Games.

There was no way of knowing what would happen live, so that's not up for discussion. I personally don't think that it should have aired completely, but if it hadn't, I and other reporters who are covering the story would have seen it and wouldn't have been able to understand what happened.
That doesn't mean that I would have put it on a broadcast. Like I said, I would have aired up until the sled started slipping, and cut it there.

An article doesn't work for TV, unfortunately, and having an anchor on cam for over a minute describing the incident doesn't work either.

There are rules in Canada - and journalistic ethics - that prevent the showing of someone's death on TV and it should have stayed that way. If there was any indication at all that Nodar had passed away (which there was - one reporter I talked to who saw the crash live (on the venue screen) said right away that he thought Nodar might be dead), then you shouldn't show the moment of death. It's a lack of respect, it's unnecessary, and it's gruesome.

Ratings shouldn't matter in this case. What if his family and/or friends had been watching and this was how they heard/learned about the death?

Similarly, nothing serious should have been tweeted/FB about the incident until the family was notified and the IOC confirmed the death. Reporting that there was a major crash is one thing. Putting it out there that he's dead when there hasn't been a confirmation is unacceptable.

Yes, journos want to get the story and get it first, but at some point, humanity has to step in. Just as there are embargo rules on deaths in military zones, there should be embargo rules applied to ALL deaths.

As for having it online, I don't think it should be advertised, but human beings can't help but be curious and want to see it for themselves to believe it, even if the footage is behind a gazillion disclaimers - people tend to ignore those. In this case, competition and ratings did take over, but before any networks put the OBS footage online, some people had apparently already put it on YouTube. That's gross and it pisses me off.

I was there, I heard the scrapping of the sled and the initial exclamation from those who saw it happen. I felt the moment of shock, when we were all frozen in our understanding and realization of what had and may have happened. Then, someone sprung into action and decided to head down to the crash site. By then, Nodar was already being moved into the ambulance. Some reporters saw more than I did, and photographers captured some gruesome images. I don't blame them, that's human curiosity. You do want comes natural, and taking the shot is what photographers do naturally.

I saw Nodar's feet as he was put into the ambulance. That was enough for me. When I saw the crash footage later, and how still Nodar had been, there was no doubt in my mind that he died instantly. The networks should have come to the same realization and decided NOT to air the footage.

Nodar Kumaritashvili, rest in peace. Here's a prayer for your soul and the quick healing of all our hearts. May we remember only the positives from your life and may your legacy make your favourite sport safer for all. I hope you left this world full of joy and the thrill of doing what you like the most, not fear or desperation.

My condolences to the whole Olympic family.

On Whistler

Yes, you read right.

I am now in Whistler after a volunteer here dropped out. My job title is the same - Olympic News Service Reporter - but the environment is completely different.

For one, it actually looks like winter here. I'd kinda forgotten how it felt to walk in the snow. Thankfully, I did pack my super warm snow boots. Unfortunately, I left behind all my layers/skiing clothes because there was no reason to pack them given that I wouldn't have time to make it to this mountain.

I had a wonderful time at the Main Press Centre. The team I worked with was fantastic, my editor in chief was amazing, and the venue was gorgeous. Sure it took me 2h to get to downtown Vancouver, and then 2h to get back, but staying with my family made up for it all. I do miss them, but I'll be seeing them for a few days before I fly back to Montreal.

Being at a sports venue is amazing. You really get to know the athletes, the crew, your co-workers... You get submerged in the environment, the venue, the sport. You're in a little bubble for the duration of the Olympic Games, which is both a good and bad thing: you become an expert in your field, just from being surrounded by it all the time, but you also miss out on some of the other things that are going on.

Still, by checking other Olympic news regularly and taking the time to go out, explore and relax after your shifts, you can have a more than enjoyable time and still be a pro when at work.

In case you were wondering, I'm assigned to the Whistler Sliding Centre, aka luge, bobsled and skeleton. Yes, I was there when the tragic accident happened. More on that to follow.

And I think that despite this horrible, unfortunate incident, we'll be a stronger team: athletes, coaches, reporters, volunteers... We'll all band together. And we will overcome this hardship to fully enjoy some of the best Olympic Games the world has ever seen.

Go Canada Go!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

On Vancouver

Week 1 in Vancouver has been truly amazing. I finally met one my aunts and some cousins, I am about to see another set of cousins after, oh, maybe 15 years? And I am surrounded by the natural beauty of the Fraser Valley.

Oh, and did I mention I'm volunteering at the Olympics?

It's been a wonderful experience so far, from figuring out transit from Mission, BC to Canada Place (as opposed to Canada Hockey Place), to picking up my bright blue volunteer uniform and getting along so well with my family. I've only done a couple of shifts at the Main Press Centre and things have been slow due to the Games not starting for another week or so, but I'm going to be working with a great team, and I am now a master of the news system ;)

I will admit I was a bit bummed at not getting Main Media Centre accreditation, which would have allowed me to visit friends and to network at the International Broadcast Centre next door. However, limiting credentials to essential venues only is probably a good move by VANOC and I would assume that it severely reduces potential security threats. So I can't hold that against them. Still, IBC buddies, as you have access to the MPC with your accreditation, I look forward to you stopping in for a chat in my little neck of the woods.

Speaking of the woods, the scenery in Vancouver is absolutely stunning. Everywhere you turn, you can see mountains and tall trees. Whether you're downtown, on the SkyTrain, or in the suburbs, this wise, ancient environment surrounds you. Some of the mountains are lit at night, being ski hills. Others are best viewed during the day, with their snowy tops reflecting in the sun, which we've been having a lot of, thankfully. It's also consistently been between 9 degrees Celsius and 12C during the day, which is great for me but not so great for Cypress Mountain.

The bridges here are amazing as well. They are beautiful architectural structures and overlook the most entrancing landscapes. I imagine it might get boring after a while, but I keep feeling blessed by these mountains you just want to hug and lakes you can't wait to paddle. What else could I ask for? I have breakfast on the sunny deck looking out to the mountains, wait for the bus looking at other mountains, ride public transit on these gorgeous bridges and over the logging, cabin-sitting rivers, and all the while, the air is crisp and fresh and warm.

Vancouver seems like a great place for me. I haven't even reacted to the dog!

After a week, I've gotten used to the time change and actually went to sleep at 3am voluntarily last night, which is a good sign considering that once I really start my Olympic shifts, I'll only be able to get to bed around 2:30am. The only thing that's not so good about Pacific Time is, though I kept claiming to be living in that timezone when in Montreal, that it's hard to stay in touch with people. Not just friends and family, but my whole online system, my Twitter buddies and news streams... they're all based in Eastern Time, and I'm having trouble keeping up! Still, these kinds of busy trips help me eliminate some of the clutter in my life, from websites I realize I'm not really interested in catching up on or Facebook friends whose updates aren't really relevant to my everyday life anymore. Usually, these trips help me re-focus my energies on what's truly important, and I'm looking forward to figuring it all out once this journey is over.

Meanwhile, I can't wait until all my broadcast buddies settle in Vancouver later this week. It's going to be nice to hang out and explore together and who knows? Maybe I'll even have a hot tub, hot dog, house party! Since we're in Vancouver, everyone will be super polite (I love that people here yell out "thank you" even when exiting the bus by the rear doors) and you'll all be wearing track suits (I heard that Vancouver was casual, but I was expecting lululemons and Pumas, not sweats and Converse), so it'll be a grand time! (That's right, I've picked up some Irish lingo from my Irish family).

And on that note... Slainte!