2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #12: The Media Caste System

There is a very interesting dynamic with regards to media personnel here at the Olympics (and probably other large events.) There is an unwritten caste system that informs all aspects of life, travel, work and access that governs behavior. For the most part it appears to be unwritten and you figure it out as you go. Bumping up against the next level up runs the risk of the equivalent of a hand-slap. Each level within the hierarchy has an escalating level of perks and power, starting w/ volunteers and interns, all the way up to “super talent.”  There are roughly 5 levels or castes and I’m a “level 3″ within the system which has an unusual benefit in that the level 1’s and 5’s work some of the worst / longest hours.  Here are the levels and their benefits / drawbacks and then details below:

Level 1: Volunteers, Interns, PA’s
Level 2: Production, camera, truck
Level 3: Experts, Analysts, researchers
Level 4: “Talent” and Producers/Directors
Level 5: “Super-Talent”

Level 1: Volunteers, Interns, PA’s – these are mostly very young and have jobs like “runner” or “spotter” or many of the volunteers merely stand in the venue to tell you if you can, or can’t enter an area. They live in the “volunteer village” or “media village” – huge complexes with bare bones accommodations usually a good distance from the venues and for the most part the level 1 folks do not have access to any of the venues unless they work in one, and some will spend the entire games in the IBC (International Broadcast Center) and possibly not even see an event (unlikely here in Russia due to the proximity of all the venues). They take public transport and buses or walk to get around. It is a rare treat when they get to tag along in a private car w/ the talent

Level 2: production and camera, truck crews  – these are the crusty veterans that make it all happen. They have credentials for key events and the commissary (food) and tend to be older and full of stories. They stay in 3 star hotels and some of them get on the “charter” – the direct flight to the games vs. the regular airline flights. They can often be found in circles outside the event smoking and telling stories. They work long hours, but sometimes get breaks.  Predominantly male, they also sometimes have transport due to their equipment.

Level 3: Experts, Analysts, researchers. Neither “talent” nor production, there is a few of us that enjoy some of the benefits of talent without the drawbacks of the Level 1 and 2 folks. We tend to have credentials with “ALL” on them so we can go to all the venues and see all the events. We get to fly on the charter and stay in a 4 star hotel. We often get to tag along with “talent” and ride in the private cars, but only when invited. If the car is full with talent, it would be a breach of protocol to ask to join. We are often in the meetings with talent / producers, but play a marginal role. We do some camera work, but not the main event. Because of specialized knowledge that is applicable before and during the event, but not so much after, we are often set free just as talent and production and directors/producers get busy. In Torino, races finished at 10pm, I was set free at 10:30pm and the producers, directors and talent stayed until 5am doing voiceovers and fixes. Level 3 jobs in my opinion are the best jobs at the games because on off days we have an all access pass to go watch any event and after the first event are mostly left to do what we want. Being a level 3 former olympian (many of us are) has double privileges as we are also invited to events, parties, and many of the “houses” with receptions etc. There is never a lack for things to do, people to meet, food to eat, or wine to drink.  Other “level 3″ players in Sochi – Mark Greenwald (long track) Kristi Yamaguchi and Katerina Witt (figure skating), Picabo Street and Jeremy Bloom (skiing), and Summer Sanders.

Level 4: “Talent” and Producers/Directors. There are some distinctions between “talent” and the producers/directors, but for the most part they have the same perks. They fly business class to the event, they have a private car and driver ready at a moments notice to take them anywhere, they stay in 5 star hotels and have the same all access credential Level 3 gets. The levels below them treat them with deference and both “talent” and producers/directors can be demanding. One distinction is that producers and directors tend to mock the talent a bit as “talent” tends to be less organized/timely/responsible than the hardcore “we have a show to put on” mindset of the producers and directors. At its simplest, “talent” has trouble being on time and following directions and the producers and directors want everything done yesterday and “better.” Both of them work long hours – particularly in situations like Sochi where it is not “live.” Live action results in no ability to “fix”. Taped means that producers and directors can exercise their desire for perfection and often results in very late nights doing “throws” and “lobs” and fixes.

Level 5: “Super-Talent”. Costas, Matt Lauer, Al Roker and the most senior executive producers are a whole other level of “talent”. Apolo is also mostly in this caste. They fly first class, get the suites in the 5 star hotels, and have “handlers” there to answer their every beck and call. Their credentials have special tags to get them into every room and they can go to the “NBC house” attached to the USA house. However, they also work crazy hours and end up working most of the games.

So, to conclude, I have the best job at the Olympics.

Photo: Sochi here I come! "ALL" is the best part: it means access to ANY event, on the field of play.

The all access credential – the single greatest perk of level 3 and above

IMG_2672The Media Village (above)

IMG_2673The “talent” hotel – Radisson Blu

IMG_2674My Hotel – not too shabby

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5 responses

  1. The weather looks sunny and mild in these pictures. I heard this has been the warmest winter Olympics on record. Was that you, John, seen (enjoying some of that Level 3 time off) jogging in a light green shirt and shoes on Wednesday with the Olympic Cauldron and the metal barriers in the background on the cover of the Wall Street Journal?

  2. Of course and so very excited for you that you are in an amazing place doing what you love. NBC knows and carefully selects the best. Enjoy and thanks for the great posts.

  3. Your pass starts with what appear to be codes ALL & BRO, but what might as well be a 20-year-old kid describing your access as “All, bro!”

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