For 10 days in February 2014, Ashley Cox, a public relations major, spent 16-hour shifts consumed by the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – answering phone calls and e-mails, ferrying crews to events, and connecting with editors on stories featuring the work of BSU at the Games.
Cox, '14, served as the public relations director for the Ball State student-managed news organization, an immersive learning project to provide content to various American media outlets during the games.
"Before our trip to Russia, I worked to generate a media buzz about the trip, establishing relationships with outlets willing to publish our content and serving as the main media contact for pre-trip interviews, many of which focused on the safety of our situation," says Cox.
Threats of terrorist attacks drew media attention in the weeks before the games. During the competition, the students sometimes became the story for American media looking to profile U.S. residents who had traveled halfway across the globe.
"The reason we were able to succeed was based on the relationships that we spent nearly six months building," Cox says. "Each week, I was talking to different people in print, online, radio, and TV media about what we were doing, what we could do for them, and how it was going to help us."
As a result of her tireless efforts, BSU at the Games had about 200 multimedia pieces posted by NBC News, CBS News, CNN, and USA Today.
The exposure to Russian culture and working side by side with top journalists gave two dozen students an experience that few other universities could hope to duplicate, says Ryan Sparrow, project director and journalism instructor.
"The Olympic coverage was a mixture of social issues, sports culture, and what we experienced as a part of the Russian lifestyle," he says. "There were a lot of hot topics addressed during the games, and our students often broke the news at the same time as other media outlets, or sometimes even before."
In addition to the students who traveled to Russia, another five to eight worked in the Windy City for the Chicago Tribune, producing news graphics. Several students remained on campus to handle media relations, edit content, and maintain the project's website.
BSU at the Games made its debut in 2012 at the Summer Olympics in London. More than 250 student-produced stories, news graphics, photos, and videos were featured in major news outlets such as the Huffington Post, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune.
As a result of her participation with BSU at the Games, Cox wants to explore other countries.
"After traveling to Russia, I feel a lot better about the world," she says. "Experiencing a culture that U.S. media was portraying to be scary, even to the extent that our government issued a travel warning, and then seeing it to actually be very safe and friendly was a shocking insight into the sensationalism of Western media.
"Now, I feel like my job is to continue seeing the world. The most important thing I felt I learned through this experience is that Western media is as much entertainment-focused, as it is news-driven. Our media use fear to keep us from exploring the world, which continues our country's stereotype of being culturally ignorant. I want to get out there and see what the world has to offer."
BSU at the Games