A dramatic presentation

From basketball to badminton, table tennis to tae kwon do, "more" is the word that can be adequately used to describe NBC's planned coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. The network, along with other NBC Universal networks, is planning about 3,600 hours of coverage on NBC, USA, Oxygen, MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo.

From basketball to badminton, table tennis to tae kwon do, "more" is the word that can be adequately used to describe NBC's planned coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. The network, along with other NBC Universal networks, is planning about 3,600 hours of coverage on NBC, USA, Oxygen, MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo.

That coverage will go well beyond wins and losses, statistics, and medal counts. If recent Olympics are any indication, NBC will portray Olympic competition as more human drama than a series of sporting events, says Hubert Brown, broadcast journalism chair at Syracuse University's SI Newhouse School of Public Communications.

"I feel that NBC gave up a long time ago on covering the Olympics as a sporting event," he says. "The Olympics, as covered by NBC, is a drama - it's a miniseries - and you'll get great, high moments of drama, and a lot of that will have to do with the competition."

The protests surrounding the traditional running of the Olympic torch and the May earthquake in China's Sichuan province have set the stage for political and human interest coverage throughout the 17 days of the Games. NBC, the broadcast and cable networks covering the Games, newspapers, and Web sites are all prepared for the possibility of political turmoil to occur in Beijing. And such events might be covered by sports journalists, not foreign affairs or political journalists, says Roy Peter Clark, VP and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute.

"It's a little hard to figure out who's a news reporter, or who's a sports reporter... and I think the great thing about sports journalists is that they are so versatile, that if other issues, political or international, come up, they've shown time and time again [they can capably cover them]," he says, citing sports journalists' coverage of the San Francisco earthquake during the 1989 World Series.

"The problem," Clark adds, "comes at the point where something else happens in the world that's unrelated to the Olympic Games. For instance, what will NBC News do if there's an outbreak of war in the Middle East?"

Complicating coverage of the Games is the 12-hour time difference between Beijing and the US East Coast, which will emphasize digital coverage on news Web sites and messaging services.

NBC Universal is planning to stream 2,400 hours of events live at NBCSports.com, with all coverage originating in high-definition, according to Brian Walker, senior director of communications at NBC Universal.

Journalists covering the Olympics will also work on demanding deadlines once reserved for wire reporters, says Malcolm Moran, Knight Chair in sports journalism and society at Penn State University.

"Time changes have been an issue in Olympic coverage almost as long as there has been Olympic coverage, but now, regardless of the difference in time zones, the clock never stops because of the digital aspect... it's become a 24/7 operation," he says. "Really what's happened is that print reporters have been placed in the position that wire service reporters have been in for decades."

Yet, all coverage - be it sports or human interest - could be overshadowed by the political aspects of the Games, including questions on how closely the Chinese government will monitor coverage.

At press time, media companies, including NBC Universal, were stuck in a stalemate with Chinese officials about whether or not they could broadcast from non-Olympic sites, such as Tiananmen Square and Tibet, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

While all newsrooms are preparing for the unexpected - and getting ready to deliver news to consumers via Web sites, e-mail, and other mediums - many journalists know officials might be watching them, Moran says.

"If you go back to [the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in] Torino, that was the first time that you had [print] reporters being issued video cameras and audio equipment to get either sound or video that would be linked to the traditional print Web site," he adds. "But I don't know if I would be really comfortable being the first [reporter] to open a video camera in Tiananmen Square."

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