Media & Society

Spoiler Alert: The Olympics Are Back

The Olympic flag waves during the International Olympic Committee meeting in London on April 6, 2011. i i

hide captionThe Olympic flag waves during the International Olympic Committee meeting in London on April 6, 2011.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
The Olympic flag waves during the International Olympic Committee meeting in London on April 6, 2011.

The Olympic flag waves during the International Olympic Committee meeting in London on April 6, 2011.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

As over 10,000 athletes from 205 countries gather in London for the 2012 Olympic Games, it is expected that a record number of viewers from across the world will be tuning in to the action. Every two years, between the summer and winter games, the Olympics captivate audiences as some of the best athletes from across the world represent their nations and go for gold.

The excitement is undeniable, and watching the games has become something of a ritual for many, as listener Jesse Fettkether of Tulsa, Oklahoma, wrote:

"My plan for tonight was to come home, go for a bike ride, and then eat supper with my wife while watching USA women's soccer (followed by others). I left work early and was headed home for a nice evening when I was betrayed by a sudden quip 2 seconds long telling me who won all three matches. No warning. No lead in. Nothing to prevent the spoiler."

This issue comes up for many international sporting events in which results are available before the games are aired in the U.S. Many listeners have asked hosts to issue a "spoiler alert" to give them time to turn down the volume. Sam Household, of Austin, TX, for example, pleaded for even just a few extra words to be inserted before the results of this summer's French Open in tennis:

"Once again, I (and many listeners, who are also sports fans) are in a season of constant anxiety while listening to NPR shows. At any moment, without warning, we may have our day spoiled by an announcement that, 'So and so has just been upset (eliminated, whatever).'"

This year, the Olympics Games are in London, and the time difference for mainland American audiences ranges from 5 to 8 hours. Much like the arrows in an archery match, the complaints are sure to fly in from enthusiastic fans.

Each of NPR's previous ombudsmen has addressed this issue. We contacted Deputy Managing Editor Stuart Seidel to ask if there were any changes in policies for this year, and he confirmed what he told former Ombudsman Alicia Shepard in 2010. "NPR is a news organization," he said. "We do not hold off on announcing the news to conform to television scheduling."

But listeners need not despair. Seidel added: "It is, however, the practice of our Newscast writers to include a line or two of copy at the beginning of a report about major sports events to give listeners an opportunity to divert their attention during the upcoming report on results."

So, here's a spoiler alert: Alerts surely won't happen or be practical on every report.

Here are some past columns and an All Things Considered report on the issue:

Please Don't Spoil the Olympics, Feb. 18, 2010
Why Olympic Results Are Known Before Broadcast, Aug. 8, 2008
Reporting on the Olympics and the President, Feb. 12, 2006
The Sounds of Summer on NPR, Aug. 19, 2004

Lyndsey McKenna is the Ombudsman summer intern.

Please continue the discussion below, on Twitter @SchumacherMatos or at my Facebook page.

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