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A journalistic test: reporting on a limited Olympics in Tokyo

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Times journalists attending the Olympics do much more than break down the play-by-plays and report the winners of each event. They capitalize on the local color of the host city, take a look behind the scenes of the massive operation and explore the athletes’ lives in intimate and organic ways.

One of the joys of Olympics coverage is the randomness, the serendipity that comes when you’re at an event with representatives from 200 countries, said Ken Belson, a sports reporter who is one of more than 30 people in Japan to cover. of the Tokyo Games for De Tijd.

Finding those scenes and moments will be much more difficult at this Olympics, where the competition started this week.

The number of coronavirus cases is on the rise and a state of emergency will remain in Tokyo for the duration of the Games. Several Olympic staff and athletes have recently tested positive. Concern about the Games was already high; polls have shown that a majority of Japanese citizens think the Olympics should have been cancelled.

How they pull this off, the eventual effect on the athletes and events will be quite dynamic to see, said Randy Archibold, sports editor of The Timess.

Mr. Archibold is also in Japan, where he will oversee the agencies’ broad report. That includes in-depth features, spot reporting in a daily online briefing, and a more robust presence in print.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee and the Japanese government have imposed severe restrictions. Daily testing is mandatory for all visitors. Athletes will not roam freely and many leave after participating. There are no international spectators and a few weeks ago Japanese spectators were also banned.

Some of these protocols will disrupt basic news gathering efforts. Capacity at each event is limited and journalists are prohibited from conducting interviews outside the press rooms and are prohibited from traveling on public transport.

This is the 11th Olympics that reporter Juliet Macur covers. Past events brought unique tensions, complications and demands, she said, but nothing compares to the loss of unfettered mobility she now faces.

Every Olympics has had its moment where you hold your breath and think: what’s going to happen? and it always works out, said Mrs. Macur. This is clearly the umpteenth degree of that.

While most events are expected to take place under as normal conditions as possible, the raucous arena crowds, lively street parties and hordes of flag-waving fans parading through the host city are over.

It will be a journalistic test for us to figure out how to make things as lively as possible if we don’t have the great access we’ve come to expect or the party atmosphere that makes the Olympics what it is, Ms Macur said.

For Mr. Belson, the cultural loss is especially disappointing. He lived in Tokyo for 12 years, writing about business in Japan for several publications, including The Times, before returning to New York in 2004. Three years ago, he started preparing for the Games.

I was really looking forward to telling the story of Japan to our readers through my experiences there, said Mr. Belson. Unfortunately, that will be hindered.

Andrew Keh covers his third Olympics. Like most reporters, he likes to search the margins for unusual stories. At the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Mr. Keh’s quest for local cuisine. In 2016, he wrote in Rio about the athletes who complained about the changes to the official table tennis ball. His colleague John Branch profiled Zamboni drivers in Pyeongchang. At the 2012 London Games, Mr. Belson in the barter subculture in the form of barter.

The reason I’ve always liked the Olympics is the sheer number of athletes out there, said Mr. Keh. Each represents a potential conversation, a potential seed of a story, a potential opportunity to learn.

Mr Keh described the Tokyo Games as a great situation for a reporter. He said the challenge of working in strange, restrictive conditions should make for interesting journalism. There have never been such an Olympic Games.

That’s why The Times recently sent about the same number of reporters, editors and multimedia journalists who have worked on previous Games to Japan. That doesn’t include the International desks Tokyo bureau, where Motoko Rich, the bureau chief, has reported on the run-up to the Games, or the Times editorial staff in Seoul.

Tokyo 2020 has already been pushed back a year. Critics still question the wisdom of hosting two-week events with thousands of athletes, officials and volunteers as the coronavirus rises. Whatever happens, there will still be important stories to report.

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