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August 14 2012

14:00

Channel 4 Gives Blanket Coverage to Paralympics, While NBC Falls Short

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Later this month, the Paralympics will open at the same London venues as the Olympic Games, and for the first time, will get full-day and prime-time coverage in the U.K.

In 2008, Great Britain and Northern Ireland came in second in the Paralympics medals table with 102, including 42 gold, compared to 47 medals in the Olympics. But the success in the Paralympics was not matched by media coverage.

While the BBC, which held the rights to both games in 2008, aired several hours daily of Olympic action on the main networks, BBC1 or BBC2, their Paralympic broadcasting was limited to highlight shows during the week on BBC2, and live coverage on the weekend.

That imbalance between the major sporting events is about to change in the U.K.

When the Paralympics open on August 29 in London, Channel 4 will carry the broadcasting torch, marking the first time the contract has been split for the two linked Games.

Channel 4 is stripping back its entire schedule, leaving just its evening news and half-hour evening soap opera. The rest will offer 400 hours of estimated broadcasting of the Paralympics.

They have been building up profiles of British Paralympic athletes, challenging disability transport issues in London ahead of the games, offering free phone and tablet apps for following the event and plugging into various social media platforms.

Other networks around the world have signed up to broadcast the games, including China's largest national broadcaster, CCTV, Brazil's Globo TV, and ABC in Australia.

In April, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) said the 2012 Paralympics would be the most watched ever.

By contrast, NBC is not broadcasting any Paralympic events to U.S. audiences except for a highlights show on September 16 from 2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network is showing the Paralympics for the first time. But the coverage is limited to four, hour-long programs on September 4, 5, 6 and 11, according to Adam Freifeld, vice president of communications for NBC Sports Group, in an email to me.

He added: "This is the first time Paralympic coverage has been available on NBC Sports Network, the cable network that was rebranded earlier this year from VERSUS."

Channel 4's approach to coverage

Rachael Latham competed at the Beijing Paralympics and holds the European record for the 200m butterfly, the world record for 50m butterfly and British record for the 200m backstroke. But, because of injury, she has moved into broadcasting. Channel 4 conducted a talent search for new presenters, recruiting a number of fresh faces from different disability backgrounds, including Latham.

The 22-year-old from Wigan, Lancashire, was born with Erbs Palsy -- paralysis of the arm -- and said the increased coverage will make a difference.

"It is not that prior to Channel 4 winning the broadcasting rights there was bad coverage," she said via email, "It's just that BBC did not show enough. Maybe the BBC thought they knew what the public wanted and served them accordingly, seeing the Paralympics as having minority appeal rather than something in which the public could have a big interest in.

"In 2008 the BBC approached the Paralympics with respect, with most events available to the viewer; however, there was no substantial background or build-up to any of this.

"Channel 4's belief in the Paralympics is reflected in the amount of transmission hours given to the game and it is their biggest focus for the whole summer. The BBC can thrive on the Olympics and Channel 4 can thrive on the Paralympics."

Despite the criticism of NBC's delayed broadcasts of the Olympics, the Games so far have been a hit on both sides of the Atlantic for both NBC and the BBC, and Channel 4 will be hoping that interest will extend to the Paralympic games.

Regular features on "Meet the Superheroes" as well as other documentaries have introduced the athletes to TV audiences like never before, as well as explaining the sometimes complex classification system.

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The network is introducing the Lexi Decoder (LEXI) to help explain the different categories according to levels of impairments, developed in cooperation with Paralympic gold medalist Giles Lorig.

Latham said the media is a vital way to spread the word about sport and inspire people to participate, not just watch the Paralympics.

"Paralympic athletes train alongside the Olympic athletes in Britain and train just as hard," she said. "So for the public to build up their respect for Paralympic sport alongside Olympic sport would mean everything to the athletes. It is not Channel 4's job to 'turn round the attitudes' just more 'create an attitude'. I don't think the public has ever been given the chance to care about the Paralympics. At the end of the day, if you aren't given the chance to see something and understand it, you probably won't care, and that relates to all aspects of life.

"Channel 4 is giving the Paralympics the air time it deserves and hopefully by doing so people will watch the athletes and understand the sport so they want to watch it. C4 doesn't need to do anything in particular to change people's attitudes, just by the network broadcasting it for the public to watch will be enough for people to make up their own minds and then potentially positive attitudes will be formed."

Social media coverage

Twitter and social media in general, has formed a massive part of the Olympics so far this year, and Latham said social media will also be a huge part of the Paralympic coverage. Channel 4 has always been keen in getting Twitter and Facebook followings for presenters and reporters, but this is increasing with the Games and promotion of the athletes as well. The free tablet and smartphone apps will also allow live-streamed action.

During the Games, Latham will be the main "mix zone reporter" at the pool, interviewing athletes after their races, as well other presenting duties. She had always set the goal of being in London for the Games, but the injury forced her to turn to presenting from competing. On a personal level, she said she is loving the opportunity.

"C4's goal is to bring Paralympic sport into full public focus before, during and beyond the 2012 Games and to deliver a lasting legacy, including developing public attitudes to disability and disability sport," she said. "If four years down the line, people are excited about the Paralympics as well as the Olympics, that will show C4 has been successful."

Channel 4 set a goal of 50 percent disabled on-screen talent during the Games and searched for new presenters to help towards the target. For the network itself, this is the biggest event in its 30 years, but they could not confirm at the time of writing whether they would bid to broadcast the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

A spokeswoman for the British Paralympic Association said in a statement: "We welcome the increased media interest in the Paralympic Games and we hope that, with the support of the British media in raising the profile of British Paralympic athletes and their phenomenal sporting achievements, the BPA can achieve its vision of positively affecting the way that British society thinks, feels and behaves towards disabled people."

Tristan Stewart-Robertson is a Canadian freelance reporter based in Glasgow, Scotland, operating as the W5 Press Agency.

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August 13 2012

14:00

Biggest Olympic Gripes on Social Media: Lolo Jones, #NBCFail, Doping, Empty Seats

The last medals of the 2012 Summer Olympics were presented this past Sunday, closing in on what could be the most controversial, drama-filled Games ever, especially online. From NBC and Twitter, to athletes and judges, virtually every party involved in the Summer Games has been written and tweeted about over the past two weeks -- and not always positively.

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The wide array of social media channels became an important instrument to gauge how the world felt about every element and moment of these Games, and because of that, the gripes that manifested and propagated on social media give interesting insight into how digital media has changed the way we experience the Olympics. Here's a rundown, via Storify, of some of the more interesting controversies at the Games and how the social media world reacted.

[View the story "The Best Gripes of Social Olympics " on Storify]

Jenny Xie is the PBS MediaShift editorial intern. Jenny is a rising senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying architecture and management. She is a digital-media junkie fascinated by the intersection of media, design, and technology. Jenny can be found blogging for MIT Admissions, tweeting @canonind, and sharing her latest work and interests here.

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August 01 2012

20:16

Why the Olympics, NBC Should Embrace Free Speech in Wake of Guy Adams Affair

Editor's Note: The following is an opinion piece from MediaShift contributor Trevor Timm.

Early Tuesday, Twitter finally apologized to journalist Guy Adams -- Los Angeles bureau chief for the Independent and an outspoken critic of NBC's coverage of the Olympics -- for suspending his account under flimsy and suspicious circumstances.

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Adams may be free to tweet again, but this is neither the first nor will it be the last incident involving the Olympics and censorship; it's merely the most high profile. And Twitter isn't the worst offender, either.

Twitter's (small) role in free speech at the Olympics

Twitter -- the self-proclaimed "free speech wing of the free speech party" -- admitted Tuesday morning that "we did mess up" when the "team working closely" with NBC at Twitter (thanks to a new partnership), proactively told NBC about Adams' tweet telling fans upset at NBC's Olympics coverage to send an email to NBC executive Gary Zenkel. Twitter owned up to violating its own policy of not actively policing content, but not that the tweet never broke any rules in the first place.

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Twitter said at the time (and still does) that Adams violated its policy of posting personal, non-public email addresses. In this case, the email address was neither. Zenkel's corporate address was posted, not his personal. But most importantly, Twitter's policy reads, "If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy." Zenkel's email address has been posted on this site for more than a year.

The original move to censor has been seen by some as a reason to move away from the social network, but perhaps Twitter, more than most Internet companies at least, deserves the benefit of the doubt. It has a history of standing up for both its users and the First Amendment, challenging government requests for user info from three WikiLeaks volunteers and in a high-profile Occupy Wall Street protest case.

Its transparency report shows it took down exactly zero posts in response to government requests last year. Still, if the company is going to hold itself up as being the "free speech wing of the free speech party," censorship shouldn't be any more of an option for its business partners than with anyone else.


Guy Adams in a live video chat Tuesday with journalists Jeff Jarvis and Matthew Keys.

Censorship at the hands of NBC, IOC

At least with Twitter, this is an isolated case, and it's contrite in its actions. NBC, and the Olympic Committee at large, have insisted on heavy-handed controls on information, and in the case of the Olympics Committee, even outright censorship.

In the Internet age, they will learn the hard way that censorship rarely works -- and more often, it completely backfires. Instead of shutting down Adams' public forum, NBC effectively gave its No. 1 critic the ultimate Follow Friday. Less than 24 hours after his account was reinstated, his follower count more than quadrupled from just over 4,000 to almost 18,000, and at the time of the publication of this article, it's almost certainly larger. NBC has stated its only real worry was its executive's email address, yet the address has now been published by countless blogs and some of the nation's leading newspapers. No doubt, hundreds of thousands of more people saw the address than if NBC had ignored the original tweet.

The Olympics Committee, for its part, has been even worse, going to great lengths to censor athletes, protesters, and ordinary Londoners, and at times, they've sounded like the worst autocratic regimes.

The most absurd restriction can be found on the official Olympics home page, in a completely unenforceable section of its terms of use, saying Internet users can't even link to their site unless they agree not to portray the Olympics "in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner." In other words, as the Index on Censorship said, "You're only allowed [to] link to the official site of the Olympics if you're going to say nice things about the Olympics."

The IOC has also threatened to sue the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) after it refused to censor every Olympics-related domain name that IOC asked it to. Thankfully, ICANN has not budged.

While those policies are not enforced, speech prohibitions for athletes are in full effect thanks to a draconian social media policy. If you're an athlete and want to post to Twitter or Facebook, you must follow a myriad of rules and restrictions set out by the IOC or risk unspecified sanction.

Want to write about your experience? That's fine, but it "must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons." And no posting video or audio of anything inside Olympic venues is allowed. And if you tweet about your own sponsorship? That is the ultimate sin on which there is a total ban, as the Olympics will be making billions off of their own sponsorships. Of course, the athletes, who make all of this money possible, are paid nothing by the IOC and often make their living on the individual sponsorships they cannot name.

Spectators have it worse. They're banned from uploading pictures to social media at all. They are also prohibited from creating any sort of private WiFi access points, like tethering your phone or using it as a private WiFi connection.

'Most Stringent' Copyright Law in the World

But the biggest losers are the residents of London, who, thanks to a copyright law passed in 2006 in anticipation of the Olympic games, are all but outlawed from uttering the words "London Olympics" without paying a license fee. As the Guardian reported:

In 2006, accordingly, parliament passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, which, together with the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act of 1995, offers a special level of protection to the Games and their sponsors over and above that already promised by existing copyright or contract law. A breach of these acts will not only give rise to a civil grievance, but is a criminal offense.

To enforce these laws, the Olympics Committee is replete with its own private army of "brand police," preventing bakers from icing cakes with the Olympics logo on them or florists who put the Olympics rings made of tissue paper outside their storefront. Fans from taking pictures from inside the Olympic village or placing errant stickers on bathroom toilets face a similar fate," according to the Guardian's Esther Addley.

In fact, many legal experts think these are "the most stringent restrictions ever put in place to protect sponsors' brands and broadcasting rights, affecting every athlete, Olympics ticket holder and business in the U.K.," Addley wrote.

While the Games are in London, those in the U.S. are not safe from the IOC's copyright regime. A 30-year-old restaurant from Philadelphia known as "Olympic Gyros" was just forced to change its name or face a lawsuit.

Even Mitt Romney and President Obama are not immune from the IOC's reach. Last week, the IOC sent take-down notices to both major presidential campaigns which ran ads that were "Olympic themed." Both used footage from Romney's time as CEO of the Winter Olympics Organizing Committee for the Salt Lake City Games in Utah in 2002, experience which Romney has touted as proof of his leadership skills. This certainly seems newsworthy, yet the IOC seems intent on sending take-down notices regardless of whether a copyrighted image of theirs is used in accordance with standard fair use principles.

Given the Olympics means billions of dollars for the IOC, the networks covering it and its sponsors, they will all certainly continue to clamp down on information and use whatever leverage they have -- legal or otherwise -- to control its flow. But as the Adams incident shows, censorship will lose more often than not in the digital age, and the IOC would be better to embrace the 21st century than trying to hold onto tactics better suited for the 19th.

Trevor Timm is an activist and blogger at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. Previously, he helped the former general counsel of the New York Times write a book on press freedom and the First Amendment. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic and Al Jazeera.

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13:46

The Quixotic Quest to Avoid Olympic Spoilers on Social Media

Olympic fever hit me young. One of my earliest memories is of a coloring book featuring the raccoon mascot from the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics that my mom gave me when I was three. I colored in the pictures of the raccoons skating and bobsledding while I watched the Olympics on our old boxy television. From then on, wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I always took two weeks out to gorge on the Olympics, as the technology that delivered them to viewers evolved.

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I've passed on my enthusiasm to my kids. When my daughter was two and half, coverage of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was practically the first television I allowed her to watch. One day she saw an elderly neighbor of ours swimming shortened laps in the decidedly not Olympic-sized oval pool at our condo complex. She pointed and said, "A champion!" She pointed out champions everywhere -- joggers slogging down the street, slackers pedaling cruiser bikes, they were all champions.

During the Beijing Olympics, I managed to mostly avoid hearing results of competitions before I was able to watch them on the evening network TV coverage. But there are now more ways than ever to take in Olympic coverage -- network and cable TV, iPad apps, live feeds streaming on the Internet, and the athletes' Twitter and Facebook updates, to name some. The ubiquity of real-time coverage threatens to undermine what I most enjoy about the Olympics: the drama, the thrill of not knowing how the competition is going to turn out. So I will try to digitally sequester myself as much as I can during the London Olympics.

Against the Digital Grain

Why am I trying to go against the modern digital grain? When I was in high school, I almost won a 300-meter hurdles competition. There I was, charging down the track. I could hear my teammates chanting my name and saw no competitors in front of me. I was beginning to taste the thrill of victory that I'd heard so much about during my obsessive Olympics watching. Then I tripped over the second-to-last hurdle and landed flat on my face on the track. I picked myself up in time to collect my customary fourth place.

My loss was not at the level that an Olympian who has trained her whole life experiences when she makes an unfortunate mistake, nor would a win have been as great. But when you're rooting for an athlete, what you're really doing is rooting a little for yourself -- for the little bit of you that you see in every champion. And so, when you can see the win within her reach, and then something goes wrong, your own mishaps make you feel her pain. And you share a little of the athlete's glory when she wins, because you've been through the nerve-wracking experience together.

When, however, you hear through Twitter or a news site that an athlete tripped over a hurdle, and later you watch the race, it feels like all you're watching it for is to see when and how the calamity happened. This rubbernecking feels unwholesome somehow. It's less like the participatory feeling that watching a live sporting event can give and more like the why-have-I-sunk-this-low self-loathing that watching reality TV provides.

I have a few advantages in my quest to digitally sequester myself, chiefly that I am somewhat behind the rest of the country on my gadget acquisition. This is in part because I try to limit my online time, but mostly because on my meager writer earnings, I can't afford all those pesky monthly fees. So I don't have cable or satellite TV, and I still rock a flip phone without a text or Internet plan like it's 2005. I will try not to visit Facebook much during these two weeks. However, I can't give up Twitter. It's just too fun.

A Two-Week Olympic Sequestration

During the first few days of Olympic coverage, my quest to digitally sequester myself has yielded mixed results. As I watched the Opening Ceremonies, I checked out Twitter, figuring that since this wasn't a competition, there was nothing really to spoil. I enjoy visiting Twitter during events that millions of people are watching together -- it's like throwing a party without having to cook and clean. But apparently the majority of the people I follow live farther East than I do, because I was reading lots of tweets about the parachuting Queen and Mary Poppins taking on Voldemort hours before I could see this in Colorado.

So I shut off my computer and enjoyed watching Kenneth Branagh, dressed kind of like Abe Lincoln, wandering around on that Hobbity hill in the pastoral portion of the Opening Ceremonies. If I'd had Wikipedia fired up, I could have learned that the top hat costume was meant to portray not Lincoln, but Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a British engineer whose "designs revolutionized public transport and modern engineering."

But I didn't need Wikipedia to tell me that Branagh is a great actor. His expression of joy and awe at the sight of the illuminated Olympic rings rising above looked so much more intelligent and convincing than the slack-mouthed stupefaction of the volunteers nearby him, who were perhaps feeling the same awe but weren't trained to express it through their faces. Branagh's eyeballs tracked side to side as he gazed at the spectacle, the way actors' eyes do when they give each other meaningful looks. Give that guy an Oscar.

Nor did I need Wikipedia to tell me who Tim Berners-Lee was when he appeared in the modern section of the ceremony. I had my software engineer husband to tell me that he established the first web server, and that in the opening ceremony he was sitting at a NeXT workstation, the computer he used in his pioneering work on the World Wide Web. My husband further informed me that Steve Jobs founded NeXT in 1985, the year he was fired from Apple. See! In the absence of the Internet, family members can also be fonts of information. However, my husband said, "I didn't know Tim Berners-Lee was British. I thought he was Swiss." So the same rule applies for information derived from Wikipedia and family members: trust, but verify.

Family Members Ruin It

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On Saturday, the first day of real competition, I fared less well on my digital seclusion. I avoided checking the Internet or listening to the radio, but at the birthday party for my dad that day, most of my family was armed with smartphones and iPads. My brother and my husband started a discussion that made it clear to me that Michael Phelps had not won the gold in the 400-meter IM. "Stop!" I said. "No more!" I ran away from them. So I was able to at least preserve the mystery of who had won the race until I watched it a few hours later and saw Ryan Lochte take the gold.

It will be hard for me to find time during weekdays to sit down and watch live Olympic coverage on the Internet, so as the London Olympics unfolds, I will continue my quest to maintain my ignorance until the moment when network TV chooses to enlighten me. I know, it's retrograde, but it's the best strategy I can come up with to maintain that Olympic magic that I first experienced as a kid.

However, I don't think I will be able to resist sneaking away from my weekday duties to watch a Colorado girl, Missy Franklin, in her swimming finals. She goes to the same high school that my little brother attended, which for some reason makes me feel like I have a stake in her wins. She's already won her first gold medal and is expected to contend for six medals.

She's taken it as her mission to bring some joy back to Colorado. At a news conference last week she said, "The only thing I can do is go to the Olympics and hopefully make Colorado proud and find a little bit of light there now." She tweets @FranklinMissy, and you can bet your gold medal I'll be following her.

Jenny Shank's first novel, "The Ringer," is a finalist for the High Plains Book Award. Her satire appears in the new "McSweeney's Book of Politics and Musicals."

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July 27 2012

17:34

Best Online Resources for Following the 2012 London Summer #Olympics

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The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London have largely been anticipated as the first social media Olympics. Athletes, fans, and the media shared their voices online during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, but this time in London, even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to adopt a full-fledged social media strategy. Starting with the Athletes' Hub - fully integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram -- fans can keep track of all their favorite Olympians. The IOC has also created official accounts on Tumblr and Instagram. Meanwhile, NBC continues to announce partnerships with social platforms, which now include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Storify. All of these social media channels provide countless ways for viewers to fully immerse in the Olympic experience.

We also saw the ugly side of social media this week, as Greek athlete Voula Papachristou was promptly removed from the Games for posting a tweet that was deemed as racist. But hopefully, the vast array of social media options will carry out their intended function in the next two weeks - that is, to allow everyone involved in the London Olympic Games to share more of their stories and thoughts in more engaging ways. And to help you navigate the Games' endless flow of exciting content, the following list compiles the best resources across the Web.

SPECIAL SITES AND PAGES

BBC's London 2012 page

ESPN's Olympics page

Huffington Post's Olympics page

IOC's Olympics site

IOC's Olympic Athletes' Hub

NBCOlympics.com

NY Times' Olympics page

Official London 2012 site

SB NATION's Olympics page

Sports Illustrated's Olympics page

The Guardian's Olympics page

Yahoo! Sports' Olympics page

TWITTER LISTS

AP Olympics Staff list

Automated Results from the Games

International Paralympians

NBCOlympics' Summer Olympics List

NY Times' 2012 Olympians list

NY Times Olympic journalists list

Twitter Verified Olympians

2012 US Olympic Athletes

2012 Great Britain Olympic Athletes

TWITTER FEEDS

BBC News' coverage

Canadian Olympic Team

Great Britain Olympic Team

NBC Olympics

NY Times' coverage

London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics

Swiss Olympic Team

The Telegraph's coverage

UK's Press Association

US Olympic Team

FACEBOOK PAGES

IOC's Olympics page

Official London 2012 page

NBC Olympics

NBC Olympics app

OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA COMMUNITIES

Instagram: @Olympics

@facesofolympians

Google+: IOC's Olympics page

Pinterest: NBC Olympics

TODAY Olympics

2012 Olympic Games

Quora: 2012 Summer Olympic Games

Storify: 2012 Summer Olympic Games by NBCNews

Olympics topic index

Tumblr: IOC's Olympic Moments Tumblr

London 2012's Explore the Ceremonies Tumblr

Youtube: London 2012

NBC Olympics

PHOTOS

The London Olympics 2012. Get yours at bighugelabs.com

Flickr's 2012 London Olympic Games pool (in a slide-show below)

Guardian's live blog

Huffington Post

IOC's photo page

NBCOlympics

Yahoo! Sports

VIDEO

IOC's video page

London 2012's video page

NBCOlympics videos

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NBCOlympics streaming video

Yahoo! Sports video

MOBILE

London 2012 mobile apps

NBCOlympics mobile apps

BLOGS AND ARTICLES

10 Bold Predictions for the 2012 Summer Olympics

30 must-follow Olympians on Twitter

London itself is something of an Olympic Village

London Olympics: This time, Summer Games are about the athletes

Marketers to spend big in social media during Olympics

Missteps at the 2012 Olympics

Twitter Crashes Day Before Olympics

Twitter Embraces Olympics to Train for the Big Time

US Olympic Committee wants Olympics footage out of campaign ads

If you know an Olympics resource that should be on this list but isn't, please share in the comments, and we'll add them!

Jenny Xie is the PBS MediaShift editorial intern. Jenny is a rising senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying architecture and management. She is a digital-media junkie fascinated by the intersection of media, design, and technology. Jenny can be found blogging for MIT Admissions, tweeting @canonind, and sharing her latest work and interests here.

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14:00

Student Journalists Go Global, Think Locally in #Olympics Coverage from London

Amid the thousands of professional journalists gathered in London for the start of the Summer Olympics will be a handful of journalism students with the unusual opportunity to work in school-sponsored teams to cover the high-profile games.

Several U.S. universities have launched new programs to bring journalists-in-training directly to the scene of the giant international sporting event, where they have set up working newsrooms to create content for news media partners, school outlets, and in one case, for the U.S. Olympics Committee itself.

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Boston University's College of Communication, for example, has created a six-week study abroad program that brings 14 journalism majors and grad students to London. They'll primarily be producing sidebar coverage of New England athletes for half-a-dozen media partners.

News outlets the BU team will be reporting for include Boston's CBS network affiliate WBZ TV and Radio. Boston.com, MetroWest Daily News, WBUR's Only a Game, and other outlets in Providence and Worcester, Mass. The BU students will also tweet to their own Twitter account, and post to their own website, which launched July 25.

"We're trying to teach real reporting...It's a great exercise for the students," said Susan Walker, an Emmy Award-winning TV journalist who teaches at BU and is supervising its London newsroom. "The idea is to give them a great education in how to cover an international event, cross-platform."

[DISCLOSURE: I'm a graduate of Boston University's journalism program, but have had no formal and little informal contact with the program since graduating 30 years ago].

Putting games in context; covering 'backyard heroes'

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The student team -- made up mostly of broadcast journalism majors, with a few print journalism majors and one or two photojournalists -- will operate as a multimedia newsroom for the partner sites and its own outlets, Walker said. That means tweeting, blogging, and filing video reports, still photos and audio slideshows, as well as written articles.

Walker also added that the first three weeks of the program were organized as a for-credit summer course into the history, politics and issues surrounding the Olympic Games, with the final three weeks of coverage structured as working internships.

"Student[s] need to learn the context before they go out to cover [the Games]," she said. For example, students learned about the history of women in the Olympics prior to covering one of the first female members of the Saudi Arabian team. They also did classroom work on the Munich massacre, Olympic judges, doping, and presidential politics around the Games, to create long-form reporting projects prior to the start of the games.

But Walker said her team is focused on carving out coverage of Boston's "backyard heroes" at the games. One example is a video report on a Rhode Island boxer who barely missed making the U.S. team and must now decide whether or not to go pro. Another is a report on a local high school choral group that is raising money to go perform at the Olympics.

Walker is under no illusions her student journalists will get big stories that other journalists can't, if only because her reporters could not be credentialed by the International Olympic Committee.

But the challenge of sidestepping Olympics security has already been the source of much resourcefulness in the team's coverage, she added. For instance, students are getting information directly from Olympic athletes who are using social media to share their views on their housing, the Olympic Village, and more. They've also pigeonholed athletes crowding a nearby shopping mall in the days before the Opening Ceremonies. And numerous stateside interviews were also arranged, some with athletes even before they made the U.S. team.

Scripps program an 'opportunity to take risks'

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A similar team of 16 students from the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University has also formed an Olympics summer abroad newsroom in London, where they will be reporting for a school-sponsored news site and Twitter feed.

Hans Meyer, a one-time community newspaper reporter who now teaches online and multimedia journalism at Scripps, called the school's Olympics initiative "the perfect opportunity for students to take risks. They'll be in an environment where there are a wealth of stories and reporters. I'm urging them to tell different stories than all their counterparts."

His students will report a range of spot news, long-form features, and sidebars on local athletes, and he said he's encouraging students to use as many multimedia tools as possible to experiment with backpack journalism. The stockpile brought on the road include digital SLRs with boom mic attachments, digital audio recorders, and video editing laptops.

Meyer said, "I'm pushing them as much as I can to think differently about their work... I really want them to try something they haven't, such as video if they are primarily a writer, or social media tools, such as Storify."

Like their BU counterparts, Meyer said the Scripps students dedicated themselves ahead of time to researching athletes of local interest, along with issues affecting the games. As part of the preparation, they took a spring semester course covering Olympic history, issues and media coverage, and Meyer worked with them on web-first reporting approaches.

Also like BU, Scripps reporters lack credentials, something Meyers said almost derailed the program before he got offers of help to submit one-off media requests for individual events and was reassured by sports journalist alumni that there were many stories beyond officially sanctioned events; students just needed to keep their eyes and ears open.

For instance, Meyer said he and student Melissa Wells were on a tour bus that was diverted off a bridge, so the two of them jumped down to start reporting, and then put together a soon-to-be-published story on a London cabbie protest.

Meyer added in an email from London shortly after arriving and getting online: "The most important measure of success for me, and I hope for the students, is the experience. As a reporter, I attended only a handful of events where there was more than one media outlet present, but I always remember those events as good gauges of my reporting ability. I could compare my coverage against those of more seasoned professionals and identify what I did correctly, and on what I could improve. For students, I think this opportunity is invaluable. I'll consider the program a success if students come away knowing how they stand in their preparation for a journalism career."

Testing the waters at Olympics trials

Among other Olympics-related programs is one at Penn State, where the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism has a sent a team of five undergrad and grad students to London to produce feature material for the U.S. Olympics Committee's press service, as well as for a school outlet and as freelancers for news organizations (More here, plus a video).

Another initiative involved the University of Oregon. Prior to the games, the school's Daily Emerald had a small team covering the Olympic trials in Eugene, an experiment publisher Ryan Frank wrote about earlier in a PBS Mediashift column.

Frank explained that for the project, "Our big focus was local athletes, especially ones with UO ties. Most of the fans were from within our region." But he added that the team also tried to cover major news and tried to compete with the local professionals and the nationals for the big stories.

The project also aimed for a 50-50 digital-print mix, said Frank. One or two longer daily print stories were matched by a series of what he called short web-based "stub" pieces for each significant event as it concluded. He added that the team live-tweeted almost every development, that by the end it was live-streaming every press conference, and that it developed a stream of user-generated Instagram pictures of the action.

A. Adam Glenn is associate professor, interactive, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and a longtime digital journalist and media consultant. Connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn, and follow his Twitter feed. This monthly column draws liberally from conversations about digital journalism teaching practices on the online educators Facebook group of the Online News Association. The ONA Facebook group is currently a closed group but you can view ongoing conversations (see our group Q&A tracker), or join in via ONA membership.

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July 26 2012

17:00

Special Series: Olympics in the Digital Age

It used to be that there were two ways to experience the Summer Olympics: watch the games on your TV (and on NBC's schedule) or travel to the games themselves.

Oh my, how things have changed. This summer, you can follow your favorite Olympian on Facebook. Live stream the finals on your laptop. Look at near real-time photo galleries online. Track the most important news from the Games via a special Twitter page.

Over the next two weeks, MediaShift will be looking at how coverage of, and interaction with, the Olympics has changed and what that means for everyone from fans, Olympians, media players, journalists, journalists-in-training and technology companies alike.

Stay tuned. And if you have a story to share, please be in touch.

Series Posts

> Covering the Olympic Trials: 8 Lessons in Journalism Education News and Business by Ryan Frank

> London 2012: The Thrills (and Agony) of the Social Olympics, by Terri Thornton

Coming soon:

-How journalism students are using the Olympics as a training ground, by Adam Glenn

-Your guide to online resources for following the 2012 Olympic games, by Jenny Xie

-5Across: Athletes on Social Media (with guest Olympians Natalie Coughlin and Donny Robinson), hosted by Mark Glaser

-Storify: Highlights from the most interesting Olympians on social media, by Jenny Xie

-How one Olympic junkie adjusts after cutting the cable cord, by Jenny Shank

-A special Olympic Mediatwits podcast, hosted by Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali

Previous Olympic Coverage on MediaShift

2010 Vancouver Games

> Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games by Craig Silverman

> Photo Gallery: Citizen, Alternative Media Converge at Olympic Games in Vancouver by Kris Krug

> Best Online Resources for Following 2010 Winter Olympics by Mark Glaser

> True North Media House, W2 Provide Citizen Media Hub at Olympics by Craig Silverman

2008 Beijing Games

> A Mix of Skepticism and Hope on Propoganda Tour 2008 by Elle Moxley

> China Partially Lifts Great Firewall for Media But Access Remains Pricey by Elle Moxley

> Cell Phone Use, Texting Widespread in China by Elle Moxley

Managing editor Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer, editor, teacher and farmer based in central Montana. In addition to her work with MediaShift, she teaches online courses at the University of Montana's School of Journalism. Before she came to MediaShift, she was the co-founder and editor in chief of the now shuttered online magazine NewWest.Net. When she's not writing, teaching or editing, she's helping her husband wrangle 150 heritage turkeys, 15 acres of food, overgrown weeds or their new daughter. She blogs about life on the farm, and other things, at www.lifecultivated.com.

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