Sam Corea and Andrew Tzembelicos—Game of words: the role of editorial services and press operations (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

What do you have to consider when editing copy for a major international sporting event? Sam Corea started off as the director of editorial services for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and later passed the reins to Andrew Tzembelicos, whose department of four editors and one graphic designer coordinated all official Olympic- and Paralympic-related publications up to and during the games. Corea is now preparing for the press coverage he’ll have to help facilitate as the head of Press Services for the upcoming Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto. He and Tzembelicos gave us a glimpse of the fast-paced, high-pressure editorial environment characteristic of these grand events.

2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games

Tzembelicos and his team made up the editorial services department, one of 53 VANOC departments. Their job was to write or oversee the writing of all VANOC publications to make sure that the copy was on tone, on voice, and on brand. For example, VANOC represented Canada as honest, unassuming, and humble. “We’d say we’d stage stellar games,” said Tzembelicos. “We won’t say ‘best games ever’ because that sounds arrogant.” His team tried to use accessible language to reach as wide an audience as possible and kept an eye out for context-specific terminology that might confuse non-Canadians (such as references to the Juno Awards). They reviewed copy for all games departments, CEO reports, sustainability reports, medals, postage stamps, and web content. They also reviewed copy for partners (for example, the four host First Nations on whose land the games took place) and for sponsors. The sheer volume of work meant that the editorial team had to prioritize public-facing documents.

Because Tzembelicos’s team had to rely on external writers and editors, he and his team developed a booklet of writing tips, The Writer’s Playbook, that was shared throughout VANOC to encourage writing that would require less editing.

Fact checking was paramount, because the games were so easily politicized. Inaccuracies or misinterpretations could be fuel for opposition parties to attack the government.

Major challenges Tzembelicos faced included a last-minute decision to publish a 96-page hockey magazine. He also had to contend with a lot of back-and-forth communication with people who fancied themselves writers but lacked an understanding of the publishing process, although The Writer’s Playbook helped mitigate this problem. At the other extreme were VANOC members who simply didn’t care about editorial quality, but “everything is amplified when you have big international events,” said Tzembelicos. “Typos and mistakes don’t just reflect poorly on the event organizers; they reflect poorly on Canada.”

Surprisingly, his work during the games themselves was relatively quiet, because the bulk of the work had been done in advance, although he and his team did have to produce a daily newspaper for the Athletes’ Village, as required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC didn’t enforce a particular style (although the games were always referred to as “the Olympic Winter Games” and never “the Olympics”), but the individual sports federations occasionally had specific requirements (for example, in the use of ladies versus women).

2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games

In July, athletes from across the American continents will descend on Toronto for the Pan Am Games. Unlike the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, which had to produce copy in French and English, Pan Am copy must be trilingual—in English, French, and Spanish. The event will feature 7,500 athletes, making it larger than the Olympic Games hosted by both Calgary and Vancouver. For many athletes, their performance at this event is what will determine whether they qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Despite the event’s size size, the Pan Am Games don’t come with the sponsorship that comes with the Olympics, meaning Corea must coordinate communications on a smaller budget.

Corea will oversee press operations‚ including media relations, broadcast relations, and press logistics. There will be 1,900 accredited members of the press covering the games, mostly from Canada, Brazil, and the United States. Part of Corea’s job will be to coordinate the Games News Service, an international wire service that will provide the media with quotes from the athletes seconds after they leave the field of play (known as “flash quotes”), games news, and press conference highlights. Corea is aiming to have flash quotes transcribed, edited, and posted within twenty minutes. Corea’s team has also researched and compiled athlete profiles for easy press access. Corea estimates that 1.11 million words will be produced over the course of the games, with more than 740,000 from flash quotes alone.

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