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BU Students Cover the Olympics

COM students report live from London

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BU News Service team reporting from London Olympics 2012, Bosotn University College of Communication, BU Study Abroad

Students and Susan Walker, the program’s organizer and a COM associate professor of journalism, pose in front of London’s Big Ben clock tower. Photo by Megan Happ

More than 10,000 professional journalists from around the world have descended on London to report on the 2012 Olympic Games, which officially begin tonight with a star-studded opening ceremony. Joining them are 14 students from BU’s College of Communication’s broadcast, print, and photojournalism programs who will provide coverage for six New England news organizations, as well as BU News Service’s website.

The Summer Olympics run through August 12 and will see 10,500 athletes from 204 countries competing in 302 events over the next two weeks.

The project was conceived by Susan Walker, a COM associate professor of journalism and an award-winning, veteran TV news producer who has experience reporting special events, including political conventions and the Boston Marathon.

“It occurred to me that the London Olympics were a great opportunity for students to provide coverage beyond the finish line that national organizations can’t or won’t do,” Walker says.

The idea for the program, which is offer by COM and BU Study Abroad, came to her after she became aware of some other colleges’ “deep dive” programs, which immerse students in an environment for a few weeks to provide an intensive learning experience, she says. Walker had previously spent time in London, and she began thinking about whether a program could be created that would allow COM students an opportunity to report on the Olympics for local news organizations that might not have the budget to send staff of their own to cover the games.

“Many news organizations don’t have anyone covering the Olympics,” Walker says. “Our students’ work expands and localizes the coverage for these news organizations. It’s a hungry beast to feed when you need to post both for a radio station and a website. It’s tremendous fun, very rewarding, but a ton of work.”

The intensive program took approximately two years to plan, says Walker, who had to secure approval from COM and the BU London Center, where the selected students are studying. Walker then had to develop the curriculum and secure news outlets willing to work with student reporters.

Dozens of students applied and underwent a lengthy application process, says Brittany Devane (COM’12). “I think there were 80 or so people interested in going, and there are 14 of us are here, so it was definitely competitive.”

BU News Service team training at BBC, London Olympics 2012 news coverage, Bosotn University College of Communication, BU Study Abroad

BU students get a visit from BBC news executive Stephen Mitchell. Photo by Megan Happ

Before the students could begin reporting, they had to take three weeks of intensive classes dealing with the politics, history, and business of the Olympics. They also met with NBC reporters covering the games and Olympic organizers who delivered additional context about the games.

Finally, the students were allowed to begin reporting for their assigned news organizations, which include WBZ TV and Radio (CBS’s Boston affiliate), Boston.com, the MetroWest Daily News, GoLocalWorcester and GoLocalProvidence, and WBUR, BU’s NPR news station. Students are responsible for writing stories, creating multimedia packages, and pushing content out via social media.

Michael Peplar, director of studies at the BU London Center, says the program is a fantastic opportunity for students.

“I’m very excited that we’re able to offer a program like this in an Olympic year,” he says. “It’s making use of resources that we have here in London. It’s not like the professor is starting from scratch, because we have classrooms, housing, and existing relationships.”

The students face one major challenge: because of demand from professional news outlets, they were unable to secure official press credentials to cover the games themselves. But, says Walker, that actually provides a great learning opportunity because it forces students to be more creative and resourceful in their reporting. They must report around the story, grabbing interviews with athletes’ families and looking for human-interest angles, rather than reporting on the games themselves.

Among the profiles the students have reported thus far are an interview with an East Ender tour guide who has been leading tourists around the city; a story about a local high school chorus from Groton, Mass., who will be performing at the Games; and a report on presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s visit to the Olympics (he served as president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics). They will also conduct interviews with families of some of the New England athletes who have traveled to London for the games.

Megan Happ (COM’13) who has been assigned to photograph for Boston.com, says she’s been thrilled with the program so far. “I’ve really liked working for Boston.com and they’ve given me a lot of responsibility,” Happ says. “It’s incredible that I’ve been watching the Olympics for 20 years on TV and now I’m in the same city as these athletes.”

Devane, who calls the program “unbelievable,” admits that it will be challenging to find stories, but adds “that’s what’s going to set us apart from the other news organizations here. It’s a great learning experience, and I keep thinking who at 21 years old gets to go cover the Olympics before they even land a job?”

In the video above, German rower Florian Mennigen (CAS’06) discusses his team’s gold medal in the men’s eight rowing competition. Video by Megan Happ (COM’13) and Emily Zendt (COM’13) for Boston.com

To see BU’s full coverage of the 2012 Olympics, click here.

The Olympics will be aired beginning tonight on NBC, so check your local listings. Events will also be streamed online.

2 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

2 Comments on BU Students Cover the Olympics

  • Monty Harris on 07.27.2012 at 9:24 am

    Kudos to Ms. Walker and the students!

    On behalf of COM alumni and fans of the Olypmics, you make us PROUD!

  • S on 07.27.2012 at 11:53 pm

    I would love to see what they have done, but I can’t. Why is the link to the BU’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics redirecting to the Olympics official website?

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