Monday, February 24, 2014

Filling the Olympics' 24-hour news cycle

The Sochi Olympics are over. The athletes performed. The winners stood on podiums and accepted their medals. There were exultations and disappointments — the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" in the television cliche, but there was no terrorist attack, and the accommodations and competition venues held up throughout the fortnight of events.

Who would've thought this just three weeks ago as the world's sports entertainment media descended on this Black Sea resort? All the talk at the time was about the likelihood of terrorism in this tumultuous region and the appalling lack of modern conveniences in the hotel rooms set aside for the news media.

Blame the 24-hour news cycle for this deceptive anticipation and stoking of anxiety. When you're sent to a far-off site at great expense to report on the opening of the Olympic Games, you have to report something, event if there is nothing of consequence to report. So the prelude to the opening of the Olympics was all about how Islamist extremists in the region could infiltrate Olympic security and turn the games into a tragic act of terrorism and how the lodging was not up to New York City or London standards and how the Russian president was exercising his totalitarian instincts at Sochi.

Over the next two weeks, none of these preludes segued into the symphony of the Olympics. The games went well, despite some disappointments and some complaints, as are common at all Olympic games. The weather at Sochi was warmer than expected, but the athletes dealt with the warmer temperatures that turned the snow at some events slushy or icy. Whatever the conditions, all of the athletes had to deal with it more or less equally.

The 24-hour news cycle that turned the build-up to the Olympics into an epic of fear-mongering also turns a simple college football game into an all-day extravaganza. The ESPN Game Day crew arrives half a day before the game and talks and talks and talks about every imaginable aspect of the two teams, the players, the coaches, the cheerleaders, the university administration, the weather, the tradition, the history, ad nauseam. Whatever you do, you have to fill the 24-hour news cycle, even when there's not much there in the way of news.

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