For dot-com journalists, the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, present some special challenges.
For one, they aren't invited.
Although the International Olympic Committee has made arrangements with TV networks from Argentina to Taiwan and print media of all kinds, it did not issue press credentials to Internet journalists.
"They basically said in advance that they're not going to credential any Internet companies," said Joe Ferreira, vice president of programming for CBS SportsLine.com. "The explanation that they give is that they don't have a way to figure out who's legitimate and who's not. Our response to that is that it's your job as a media organization to figure out who's legitimate and who's not. I think that's the bridge they are going to eventually have to cross."
Like the musicians railing against Napster as profits from their songs evaporate into cyberspace, the hidebound Olympics oligarchy is struggling to retain control of its "official" coverage by limiting it to traditional (read: paying) media.
International Olympics Committee officials said Internet coverage of the Olympics would expand the worldwide audience but would create problems among broadcasters who pay millions for TV rights (and receive millions in advertising revenues in return).
The committee does give credentials to "the written press" but for three consecutive Olympic Games has denied credentials to Internet reporters.
ESPN.com is among the major Internet sports news providers whose online journalists won't be in Sydney, but it will use free-lancers and a staff writer to report on the Games for its Web site, which has presented Olympics coverage since 1996. In addition to stories and profiles, the site will again feature the "Medal Tracker," which updates medal results for each country.
John Marvel, vice president and executive editor of ESPN.com, said that although Internet video is out of the question because of IOC regulations, the site will present results "as close to real time as you can get without being in the stadium. This is a great event for the Internet."
Marvel believes Internet journalists will be credentialed by 2002 for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
"Again, I think some organizations have been more progressive in their thinking than others, and I think the IOC has come a long way, but I think it still has a long way to go."
For SportsLine.com, the exclusionary rule has meant some extra planning, including making arrangements with the Associated Press, Reuters, newspaper stringers and writers for magazines such as Swim Info and others to provide information for their site.
Their arrangement with the AP will allow them to post statistics, scoring and stories as they happen, which Ferreira said is a "win-win situation" for SportsLine.com. NBC, which has the broadcast rights for the Olympics, will do the same on its site.
NBC also will deploy its cable networks, MSNBC and CNBC, for Olympic coverage. NBCOlympics.com, a partnership of NBC Olympics and Quokka Sports, will be the Internet venue. But even NBC will be limited in terms of the video it can put on the Web.
Although the site now includes video features on the Olympics, video of the actual competitions is "a different animal," said Mike McCarley of NBC. "NBC owns the rights to broadcast games in the United States, but the technology doesn't exist yet to limit the Internet to one country. If we were to put competition video on NBC.com, we would be violating the broadcast rights agreement."
But NBC will be presenting up to 20 minutes of delayed audio and video highlights each day for broadband Internet users only through Axient Communications Inc., which has the technology to limit the Internet coverage to the United States.
Australian viewers will see Olympic events as they happen, but because of the time difference with the East Coast, Americans will see them much later. For example, the gymnastics finals begin at 7 p.m. in Sydney, which is 4 a.m. in New York. NBC's coverage would begin at 7 p.m., a full day after the event.
The IOC believes the Sydney Games will be "the most televised and watched" to date. They say that their own official Web site, www.olympics.com, will be visited by more than 35 million users. (The 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, by contrast, attracted 2 million users.)
It is clear that the IOC wants to steer Internet visitors to authorized sites. In a news release issued in April, the IOC responded to a request from holders of broadcast rights, confirming it would not authorize any moving images or audio coverage of the Games on the Internet.
It also said that Olympic athletes "will not be permitted to carry or allow third parties to place any electronic device on their person for the purpose of gathering biometrics data for Internet or other use."
This last statement represents the committee's efforts to head off Internet piracy - the possibility of sneaking a video camera into the Games, or getting a bootleg copy from insiders and then distributing the footage illegally on the Web.