Reporting the Olympics
The seven Terriers competing at the 2012 Olympics weren’t BU’s only representatives in London this summer. Fourteen communication students reported from the city during a one-off study abroad program.
By Ashley Lisenby (COM’13)
Author photo courtesy of Ashley Lisenby
I am convinced reporting in London during the 2012 Olympics was a dream. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that I would be one of 14 Boston University graduate and undergraduate students interning for New England news outlets during the Summer Olympics.
The first three weeks of the program were devoted to a class on the history and politics of the Olympics; the last three weeks, to reporting for our news outlets. I had the privilege of working for Boston’s National Public Radio station, WBUR; other students were assigned to outlets such as Boston.com and WBZ.
Over the course of the trip, I visited the Olympic Park; met International Olympic Committee members and Getty Images photographers; attended an Olympic women’s soccer game; toured the BBC media center and the International Broadcast Center; and interviewed a British amateur boxer, a British Olympic basketball player, and an American Olympic rower.
My meeting at WBUR before the internship began felt like the moment in the dream when you are falling, and excitement and fear are fighting in your stomach. The station’s executive producer and web producer met with me and my internship partner to discuss their expectations of us. I remember thinking afterward, I hope I measure up.
Crossing the Pond
My first assignment for the trip was to work on the Boston University Olympics website. Between journalism professor Michelle Johnson’s web expertise and my interest in web design and coding, we fashioned a site to showcase the work of BU’s Olympics reporters.
Aside from getting the website ready for the games, I was most excited about covering female athletes and women’s sporting events, especially boxing, which had its Olympic debut in 2012. My first pre-Olympic piece was on British amateur boxer Marianne Marston, the “Golden Girl.”
I arrived early at the gym where Marston teaches women’s-only boxing classes and waited until she arrived. Marston had no idea a reporter was coming that day.
She was direct and soft-spoken, but not timid. I recorded ambient sound of Marston training her student—the sound of gloves smacking hollow plastic pumped through my speakers.
After the class ended, I asked a few more questions, and I left the gym feeling accomplished and less intimidated. I thought: I can do this.
Then my first official assignment for WBUR’s Only A Game arrived. My internship partner and I had to gather the voices and sounds of London. We made mental lists of iconic London landmarks such as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye in order to capture the sounds of a city on the brink of Olympic frenzy and the thoughts of people caught in the whirlwind.
On the day of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, at 8:12 a.m., people gathered at famous landmarks to ring bells to welcome the start of the games. From the toll of Big Ben to bike bells on the sidewalk, London was alive with ringing for three minutes. I was capturing a fraction of the festive welcome from Leicester Square, not far from famous Piccadilly Circus, where a group had gathered around the Swiss Glockenspiel musical attraction.
A few days after we submitted the voices and sounds of London, our work was heard on NPR’s Only A Game.
One of my favorite stories involved gathering reactions to “London Boosted,” an Olympic-themed installation by Czech artist David Cerny. Accompanied by grunts and groans, a vintage double-decker bus practiced push-ups with giant mechanical arms. Crowds of passersby stopped outside the Czech Hospitality House in North London to marvel or scoff at the athletic bus.
Another piece was about the much-anticipated gold medal women’s soccer match between the United States and Japan. My internship partner and I were on a mission to talk to fans from both teams. We were surrounded by flag-bearing, cape-clad, face-painted fans eager to tell two reporters how they got to the Olympics and who they hoped would win. To our surprise, disappointed Japanese fans were just as eager to talk to us after the game ended with an American victory.
Finally, perhaps one of the most memorable moments I had in London was interviewing U.S. Olympic rower Will Miller and his parents outside the Olympic U.S. Hospitality House. He and his parents spent an hour or so talking with two Boston.com interns and me about Massachusetts, rowing, and the Olympics. It was an honor to speak with the athlete, but his mother, in my opinion, delivered the most memorable and poignant words of the interview.
As a parent, said Sally Miller, “You’ve been there all along. You’ve watched them from when they were little and you’ve encouraged them as they’ve grown. And now you give them wings and let them go and hope they are just as happy with all of this as you are.”
In the moments when no one was responding to my emails or phone calls and I wanted to give up, I realized that if I gave up on myself, it was unlikely that I was going to convince anyone else to take me seriously. I learned how to be persistent. I also learned that, while it is an accomplishment to get to a source first or have an exclusive interview, it is nearly impossible for one reporter to do everything on his or her own. Collaboration with other reporters in other mediums helps make a project stronger and well rounded.
My mother and grandmother tell me that from the time I started to write, I was writing sentences with misspelled words and backwards Rs on pieces of paper and calling them stories. My spelling has improved some since then, but my desire to tell stories hasn’t changed. Reporting at the London Olympics not only took me to a country I had never seen before, it also granted me the opportunity to do what I love—talking to people about their stories.
A version of this article originally appeared in COMtalk magazine.