‘Spoiling’ the Olympics with real-time news

August 10, 2012

I enjoy watching and reading about the Olympics. There’s something about all of the different sports being brought together in one two-week meet to get you thinking about the marvel and variety of human achievement by women and men of all shapes, colors and cultures.

I got a lot of mail about the 2012 event in London, however, complaining about The Post’s “spoilers”; readers said they didn’t like seeing prominently placed stories proclaiming the results on the Web site’s home page as Olympic events unfolded throughout the day.

Many people prefer watching the tape-delayed and edited broadcasts by NBC when they get home at night. They felt that The Post spoiled the surprise.

Here’s what one reader said: “I realize that the results are news, and I absolutely think that NBC is doing the wrong thing by delaying its broadcasts. But the fact remains that many events that have already taken place will not be aired on television until several hours later, and the fact also remains that many U.S. viewers, myself included, prefer to watch the events without knowing the outcomes.”

Here’s another: “I understand that the Post wants to report on events in real time, but it feels like the Web page goes beyond that with its unavoidable blaring headlines giving away the results before they’re aired. . . . I think this could easily be avoided by having a link on the home page that says ‘Click here for current Olympic coverage.’ This would give readers a choice of spoiling the event on our own instead of the live coverage being out there for those of us who don’t want to see it. In the meantime, I find myself avoiding the Post Web page altogether because I don’t want to know what happens in the events I plan on watching later in the day.”

Most major news Web sites did what The Post did — featured key Olympic headlines, with results, on their home pages — including the New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, NBCNews, ABC News and USA Today. Fox News and Yahoo News, however, required readers to click once from the home page to get to Olympic results.

Now, The Post did make some wise accommodations for digital readers. Olympic results were taken out of the subject line of e-mail alerts — you had to click on the e-mail to see the results. And the mobile team decided upfront not to send out “push” alerts to people who have downloadedPost applications to their mobile devices. A “push” alert is like a text message that shows up on your smartphone or tablet. The apps, however, did feature results in real time on their opening pages.

Post Sports Editor Matt Vita said that Olympic results are news: “We treat the Olympics as a news event, not entertainment, and we cover them as we would any other news event. While I certainly understand how some people may be unhappy to learn the results before they get to watch the Olympics on TV in the evening, this is not a new issue. The simple fact is the results are readily available across the Internet, on any number of social media platforms and are transmitted live by most international broadcasters. We’d be doing a disservice to our readers, many of whom are not in the United States or may not watch the NBC prime-time shows, to hold results back or pretend in some way that they were not yet known to us.”

I think that’s the right approach. I enjoy going home at night and seeing the TV broadcasts. But my job keeps me online and attuned to social media all day. I can’t avoid the spoilers.

So I embraced them, following the breaking Olympic news more than I ever have before. And I still enjoyed watching the evening broadcasts. If anything, knowing the results made me want to watch the taped events even more.

The old world of the morning paper over coffee, the evening paper on the commute home and the national evening newscast is pretty much gone. We live in a hyper-fast, super-competitive news environment in which The Post is trying to deliver news to people constantly on the go in their work and personal lives. The Post needs to get the news to them where they are, in real time, or be left behind.

Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@washpost.com.

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