The Tough Road to Beijing

beijing080708 The Tough Road to Beijing

Welcome to the Olympics! If you’re one of the 20,000+ journalists covering the games, you’ve probably arrived. But boy, it hasn’t been easy getting there. Over the past week, The Observer spoke to reporters and editors about their headaches getting credentials in Beijing.

"One day, they’ll e-mail us and ask for certain information and the next day, after we raised a question as to why, then it changes," said Tom Jolly, The New York Times sports editor. "This is mostly silly stuff—like requests for photos for credentials because there was a blue background instead of a white background. That literally happened."

"I think the biggest problem is set from the language barrier," said Fran Turkowitz, the assistant to the Times’ sports department who’s in charge of credentialing. "They really seemed like they wanted to please, but I don’t think they understood how."

"We had problems in Athens due to the language barrier but it was easier to find people who were fluent in English than in Beijing," she continued. "Everyone there is weak in their language—they try, but eventually you get everything you want but you have to word it a little differently."

It got so confusing that after a while even the implausible seems possible:"There was a request—not just for us, but for all visiting media—to register all electronic equipment and we got that in the last week," said Mr. Jolly. "Initially, there was a moment where we said, ‘Oh my God, are they talking about iPods and cell phones?’ There was a momentary fuss raised by a number of people in the media, and we soon discovered it was just a communication issue where they wanted to register the kind of equipment that would be used in daily coverage. If we’re bringing in a shipment of video equipment they want serial numbers, which is not typical, either."

"They’re sticklers for detail," Ms. Turkowitz said. "They sent out a credentialing manual, a book when we started the process. Everyone does it, but they were very particular about the photos. Next to it there was a sign: This is right, this is wrong. If there was a glare on the glasses—they wouldn’t want it. They want everything simple. So everything matched, so the pictures matched—if it’s a glare on your glasses, maybe they wouldn’t know who you are? No hats, either!"

Then once you get there, as The Observer noted this week, there is a noticeable class system for reporters: yellow credentials or blue credentials. The big, new press center versus the renovated hotel. It’s the difference between seeing the games and being offered a chance to buy a single ticket for a single event.