Xinhua News Agency journalist Hu Zhe (L) interviews Liu Qingquan, head of Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, at Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese & Western Medicine in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, Feb. 6, 2020.
Lu Xingji – Xinhua News Agency
BEIJING, April 7, 2020 – When Wuhan announced lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Winter Youth Olympics closing ceremony was on going, the Olympic flame was extinguishing, and this is where the dark time of global sports industry began.
As the first country affected by the virus, China suspended all sports matches and events soon after January 23, sports facilities like gyms and ski resorts were closed too.
Those sudden changes broke the routine of sports writers in China firstly. Situation got worse when the COVID-19 virus spread globally during March, leaving a world with no football, basketball, skiing and whatever sports events, affecting sports journalism in all five continents eventually.
Under this situation, sports writers still have work to do as so many unprecedented things happened like the postponement of 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But of course, there are extraordinary changes and challenges of reporting sports in this sport-absence period.
As an international media institution, China’s Xinhua News Agency sends sports writers all over the world. Just like their counterparts, the pandemic has greatly influenced Xinhua sports writers’ working methods.
From sport to what’s beyond sport
“The common sports news are about sports events and athletes, when there’s none, I decided to focus on how the society has changed without sport,” said Liu Yang, a Xinhua Sports writer based in Berlin.
Liu wrote more than 30,000 words during March, the first month that mass sports events paused in Germany, he said he wrote even a little more than his ordinary amount.
There are lots of interesting topics in his article, for example a story about some German lower league football club presell wurst & beer ticket in their online “virtual fans bar” in order to struggle out of financial crisis.
Chinese audience, as well as Liu himself, probably would pay little attention to such lower football leagues if all the top clubs and athletes were on their normal track.
However, with those articles, Chinese audience could understand how important the grassroots football club and fans bar is to the Germans, which truly gives an insight into sports culture.
“COVID-19 paused almost everything in sports, therefore the recovering process is worth recording too,” Liu shared another opinion.
Similar with Liu, Xinhua sports writers based at home have paid a lot of attention to the “recovery” process too.
As the virus is gradually under control in China, recent reports from Shanghai municipality city and Heilongjiang province showed some optimistic signs that basketball courts, badminton gyms and ski resorts are going to be refilled by people.
Those Xinhua sports writers made a field visit to such reopened sports facilities, through which they got deeper understanding of how the virus has hurt to sports industry.
From face-to-face to phone interview
When the whole society is under quarantine, face-to-face interview are extremely difficult, creating a critical difficulty for journalists.
Although journalists can reach sources through phone calls or video chats. However, the basic problem is how to get those phone numbers? Then, how to get trust from the person on the other end of wire?
“Phone interview was always the Plan B for me, for sure you can’t expect it as smooth as the feeling when talking face-to-face, but it’s almost the only option now,” said Xinhua sports writer Lin Deren.
Lin admitted that this method works well when contacting persons that already know him, “but obviously it needs more work for the ‘cold start’.”
“Anyway, I still kept my patience and hope finally it can work out,” said Lin.
Some technical accident may happen during the phone interview too, for example the high failure risk when using the same smart phone to make interview call and voice recording at the same time.
Although there are so many difficulties in phone interview, but for Ji Ye who specialized in Olympic news, the IOC’s recent two tele media conferences provided remarkable opportunities for him.
“Based in Beijing, I couldn’t attend the IOC media conference before, the only way to cover those conferences was by watching videos after it had been held. During this special period, IOC decided to hold media conference by telephone, thus give me chances to truly get involved in it,” said Ji Ye.
It still takes time for him to get familiar with this new form of media conference. In the first conference, approximately 400 journalists were competing for few chances to raise questions to IOC President Thomas Bach, Ji Ye wasn’t get selected.
“The fierce competition was not beyond my estimation and of course I had strong will to ask President Bach, so I kept dialing the ‘*’+‘1’ to request question from the very start. I guess all the journalists from 5 continents were doing the same thing like me.”
Ji Ye said he got smart in the second conference. Prior the conference he sent a question list to Mark Adams, the IOC spokesperson who conducted that meeting.
“Mark knows my name, by sending this email to him, I recalled his impression on me and showed him I have valuable questions, so I got selected.”
Ji Ye also pointed out that with hundreds of journalists from different countries raising questions together, he could better understand the global concern of the Olympics.
“It should be an advantage, which provides me a great variety of reporting angles,” said Ji Ye.
Be Innovative, Keep Studying
During this difficult time, some innovations are happening in Xinhua Sports, one of the remarkable action is the wide collection of Users Generated Content (UGC).
Having estimated the difficulties in producing video content on site due to the nationwide quarantine, Xinhua Sports launched a program to collect some famous athletes’ in-door fitness video, which they shoot by themselves, the program has already expanded to ordinary people recently.
The regular cover of E-games and virtual reality sports competitions has also been added into report routine.
“E-games have barely been influenced by the pandemic, and I can’t ignore some competitions like shooting embracing some virtual reality features during this special period,” said Wang Meng, a Xinhua sports writer who is the major follower of the E-sports field.
The virtual reality reinforced Shooting competition was held on April 2 in different training facilities and live-streamed together by an online broadcasting platform, the athletes’ real time bio-data was provided, thus their stress level could be showed to spectators.
Locked by the global COVID-19 outbreak, it’s a relative leisure time for sports writers who were always on their way to the next interview. Also, it’s a good time for learning something new.
Wang Meng said she resumed learning Japanese recently. For sports writers, one optimistic side of the postponement of Tokyo 2020 is they may get more time to acquire that language.
Remote education methods are also being utilized to share the recent thinking and experience of sports issues.
Lin Deren joined the first AIPS Young Reporters e-College course on April 2, in which the former director of Marketing / Broadcast Rights IOC, Michael Payne, talked about marketing and the future of Tokyo 2020.
“It’s really convenient to do such international group discussing and learning through internet, the remote course is a great attempt to gather our sports writers worldwide in this difficult period,” said Lin.