Olympic access denial a kick in the teeth
Few things "get to me" these days. Maybe I've reached the mid-life point where I may not have seen everything, but things that might have shocked me as a 20-year-old have lost their impact.
I have to admit, though, that the decision to block regional newspapers from accreditation to the Olympics has me shaking my head.
When the news broke, I thought maybe a) it was a mistake or b) the eventual explanation for the denial of access would make sense.
No, not so. The reason given is that the regional media didn't, by and large, attend previous Games.
Have the people who made this decision ever worked in the regional press? Do they not know that, if it may be slightly too strong to say it's a dying industry, then it's certainly lying on a hospital bed in the intensive care unit.
Let's look at the reality of what they are saying. They are suggesting that a paper like the Newcastle Chronicle, to take a random example, should - if it wanted to now have its request for London 2012 access taken seriously - have sent at least one reporter to Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and Beijing three years ago.
But what editor, even 11 years ago before we'd ever heard of the credit crunch, would have had enough wiggle room in his or her budget to send a staffer for three weeks to the other side of the world?
On top of forking out for the air fare, Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world for hotel accommodation. I know, because when I applied (as a freelance) to cover the Paralympic Games in 2000 I was given a list by the organising committee of hotels where I could stay.
These were the "official" hotels, where the media were required to stay or face refusal of accreditation. I opted to stay in the cheapest one, but even then I was paying £70 per night.
So, let's say £1000 for the plane ticket, three weeks at £70 per night for a hotel, £20 per day for food. A ballpark figure for a regional newspaper sending a reporter to the Olympics in 2000 would have been £3000. Heaven knows what the bill would have been in China three years ago.
Not only that, but sending a staffer to Australia - or subsequently to Athens or Beijing - would have meant one less person on the (already short-staffed) desk for nearly a month, at a time when the football and rugby union seasons are in full flow.
Sure, to the outsider £3000 might not sound like very much but regional titles are often run on a shoestring editorially.
I was sent to the Isle of Man for a week in 1994 to cover a football tournament for the Liverpool Daily Post. When I returned and handed my hotel bill to the editor I was taken to task for having used the room phone to transmit my copy - the editor said: "You should have taken a pile of 10p coins to a phone box and used that."
Regional titles generally do a pretty good job of following the athletes from their area as they prepare for the Olympics. No doubt the sports editors of the Newcastle Chronicle, Shropshire Star, Lincolnshire Echo etc would have loved to send a staffer to previous Games to cover those athletes in action, but it just wasn't an option.
The Press Association does a good job in covering the main successes of the British team - the medallists, at least. But what about the track walker from Leicestershire who finishes 10th?
The Leicester Mercury would doubtless feature the story prominently, but will the PA file enough detail to allow them to put together a page lead? As a former digital sports editor of the PA I can answer that - no.
How many reporters do you think PA sent to cover the Athens Paralympics, for example? Answer - one.
Papers are being urged by the organising committee to support the Games by giving them as much publicity as possible (well, it helps sales of tickets and merchandise, after all).
Now they are effectively being shafted by the people who decide who should get the press passes. Meanwhile a regional daily in China, which covered the Olympics on their doorstep four years ago, would pass the test as having covered previous Games.
Some of the people who commented on the stories on HTFP applauded the decision to block the regional press. Why should they have free tickets to the 100m final, when other people are having to pay top dollar if indeed they are lucky enough to get tickets - that was the gist of it.
Covering sports events, I'm afraid, isn't a junket. I speak as a sports reporter with 24 years experience.
A reporter from the likes of the Derby Telegraph wouldn't be sitting with feet up, sipping champagne watching the 100m final. He or she would more likely, at that moment, be watching the modern pentathlon 50 miles away where someone from Chesterfield was trying to make it into the top 10.
So this decision isn't just beaurocratic and short-sighted, it's fundamentally flawed.
* Andy Morris is a former regional newspaper journalist who is now a celebrity biographer based in California. His home page is here.