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Olympics coverage supplemented by social media

The Summer Olympics in London saw journalists banned from Twitter, a 17-year-old kid arrested when he sent hateful comments via social media to British diver Tom Daley, and Australian swimming athletes booted from the Olympic Village. But outside of the storm of social media catastrophes, connections were made, stories created and real-time news released. Meanwhile, some athletes used social media to be a little more real with their audience.

After winning the 2012 Tour de France as well as an Olympic gold this summer, British cyclist Bradley Wiggins apparently needed to de-pressurize. So posting pictures of himself somewhere near St. Paul’s Cathedral, he tweeted he was getting “blind drunk” while thanking his followers.

For National Post sports writer Sean Fitz-Gerald, this glimpse into Wiggins’ personal life afforded an access that wouldn’t have been available before. “I don’t think someone of his stature would volunteer that in a press conference,” he said.

But access to the athletes wasn’t only restricted to hoping for a soul-baring tweet. Hans Meyer, an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, took a group of journalism students to London so they could experience the thrill of covering the Olympic Games. But without the coveted press pass, getting access to an athlete wasn’t as easy. “Our students went to the press conferences, but they were press conferences and the athletes are well prepared, they know what they’re going to say. But on social media, they were who they were and you got to see a different side of them,” Meyer said.

Already pros at navigating the social media field, the students turned to Twitter and other platforms to connect with athletes. One student, for example, reached out to U.S. weightlifter Holley Mangold via Twitter and landed an interview. Scripps student Holly Moody used Twitter and Storify to create a story, compiling comments from athletes talking about their reactions to the Olympic Village.

Dubbed the Social Olympics, this year’s Olympics were the most actively followed on social media with 900 million users, noted Fast Company citing stats from Wildfire. This is compared to the 400 million active users from the 2010 Winter Olympics. Reader engagement was also a vital element of social media during Olympics coverage. If Meyer’s students were going to watch a basketball practice, they tweeted it and their readers would respond.

In the same vein, Fitz-Gerald found that he could provide readers with details they wouldn’t normally get from a regular news stories. He was also able to keep up with stories coming from different countries he wouldn’t ordinarily be aware of while in the thick of his reporting, like eight badminton players from South Korea, China and Indonesia getting disqualified for not playing hard enough. “It’s [social media] a big help because you react a lot quicker, and you can ask the right questions and Twitter raises a lot of good questions and I find that helps me,” said Fitz-Gerald.

Social media has become more than just a way to transport news, promote work and connect superficially; it’s become a community for some. Fitz-Gerald, who usually covers hockey for the National Post, noted he’s gone out for drinks with people in the Twitter community, people he now considers friends. Only time will tell how much more integrated social media will have become by 2014 when the Winter Olympics is scheduled to land in Sochi, Russia.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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