This blog post originally appeared on the web site of the Harvard Business Review.

Plenty of locals in Vancouver are stymied in their efforts to decipher just what the protesters want; or more precisely, what it would take to satisfy them.

—Jonathon Narvey

Game play can help grow a community, offer positive mentorship, create gender equality, promote health, build confidence and is a highly effective educational tool.

—Lynne Kamm

As I’ve mentioned before, the BC Media Centre hosts a lot of press conferences. One highlight of many of them is long time Vancouver favorite, Nardwuar the Human Serviette asking questions of various people on stage.>

—John Biehler

If you’ve wondered how social media changes what we see of the Olympic Games, these quotes, and the stories they link to hold the answer. These snippets come from blog posts that are part of a self-organized experiment in social media coverage: the True North Media House.

The brainchild of Vancouver’s social media community, True North Media House (TNMH) was conceived as a way to organize otherwise scatter shot social media coverage of the games into something like what an alternative newspaper would provide. TNMH supports and spotlights Olympic coverage by independent bloggers, tweeters, photographers and videographers, adding their voices to an event dominated by carefully crafted messages disseminated by a controlled (some would argue subjugated) media. Each of those quotes above represents a story about the Olympics that’s been ignored by the mainstream media but is reaching a global audience.

I have firsthand knowledge of how effective the TNMH crew can be in spreading the social media gospel. I was a blogging newbie five years ago when I met TNMH founder Kris Krug. He introduced me to Flickr, cajoled me into learning the Drupal online community platform, and worked with me on some of my first online community projects. And I worked with Dave Olson, one of the other driving forces behind TNMH, to launch an online community for green Vancouver.

Kris and Dave were way ahead of the curve thinking about how the Olympics would intersect with Vancouver’s burgeoning social media scene. They anticipated an upswing in local blogging, and the influx of social media contributors, that would come with a global event. And they also anticipated that many of these folks would fall between the cracks of the traditional Olympic media support system.

“Most of the Olympics is about exclusivity and elitism,” Krug says. “True North is the opposite. You self-accredit and take the True North Media House oath, and you can print your own badge.” The oath is simple:

As a True North Media House Social Reporter, I agree to:
Take responsibility for my work
Publish with creative commons license
Tag content “TNMH” for sharing

To date, 108 contributors have signed up with TNMH and are busily shooting, blogging, tweeting and tagging. “The stories tend to be covering and documenting the fan experience rather than uncovering scandal or investigative reporting,” Olson observed. “With a diverse group of reporters following their key interests, you see compelling stories ranging from civic issues, art and culture, transportation, surveillance and security, to beer and wine.”

Kiratiana Freelon is a Chicago-based blogger who has used TNMH to make the most of her Olympics experience. “I came to the Games with the explicit goal of covering the black athletes here,” Freelon says. She says the TMNH pass “is useful to look like you are halfway legitimate media.”

Then again, none of Krug, Olson and Freelon is looking to make social media more like “official” media, either in terms of access or coverage. “I’m not sure that I want explicit support from Olympic organizers,” Freelon says.”Once you start connecting officially to the Olympic Games, things get restricted.”

Olson makes a similar case for the value of working outside the usual media system. “Once something becomes official and requires approval or adherence to guidelines, the vitality is reduced and (usually) no longer represents the true spirit of what’s going on,” he says. “All people who create and publish content on- or offline should have the same rights and responsibilities.”

Outsider status might preserve the authenticity of social media, but what does it do for the Olympics? Krug sees the International Olympic Committee’s Flickr photo group as a sign of the potential of the Olympics’ embracing of social media, and also a sign of the limitations. “It’s easy to make the right decision on photo sharing,” Krug observed. “But if they were to take their newly friendly attitude to photos and extend to videos, they would pretty much erode their traditional revenue model.

“We’re in for interesting times as the IOC tries to reinvent itself. The IOC is really a big media company like every other big media company. And they are behind the eight-ball because they are hardly an innovator.”