What do you get when you combine one of the most famous cities in the world with the largest international sporting event? The London 2012 Summer Olympics. This dynamic combination presented a learning opportunity instructor of journalism Ryan Sparrow couldn't pass up. With funding from a Provost Immersive Learning Grant, he crossed the pond in July with 40 student journalists and instructors—a group collectively known as BSU at the Games—with a goal of providing Olympic coverage to media outlets nationwide.
Sparrow, director of the Ball State Worcester Centre in 2010 and 2012, was eager to find a way to bring more students to the United Kingdom. Amid an economy that's wrought monumental changes in the news industry, including staffing shortages for international events, Sparrow wanted to show students that journalism is still a worthwhile career.
"Working as a journalist means you get to see the world like no one else sees it," Sparrow says. "I wanted students to experience the rush and thrill of seeing their stories run on a major website, newspaper, or television station."
When the class opened, students from eight disciplines jumped at the chance to cover Olympians and the host city's culture while gaining unparalleled experience in journalism, sports broadcasting, photojournalism, public relations, and graphic design.
Working with the Pros
Brandon Pope, '14, a telecommunication and journalism news major from Richmond, Indiana, signed up for the sports reporting team. He was able to meet with Team USA Men's Basketball in London, attending practices and interviewing players and coaches.
"I'm a big NBA basketball fan," Pope says, "so staying professional while interviewing players like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant was pretty tough. It was the moment when my sports media dream became reality."
Preparation for the trip took the form of a spring semester class in which students thought of stories and made contact with athletes and media. In May 2012, five students attended the United States Olympic Committee 2012 Team USA Media Summit in Dallas for the chance to interview more than 100 Team USA hopefuls alongside major news networks. In the U.K., the group lived at the University of Worcester and took several multiday trips into London. There they spent countless hours and late nights finding story ideas, conducting interviews, and creating media packages.
"One of my favorite athletes to work with was John Nunn," Pope says. "As America's only entrant for race walking, he doesn’t get much media attention. I interviewed him and his coach outside of Olympic Village. I’m a video guy, so being thrown into interviews with nothing but a pen and notebook helped make me a better overall journalist."
Journalism graphics major Emily Theis, '14, also found herself doing more than she signed up for. Though her main task was designing graphics for the Chicago Tribune, she also counts published photos among her portfolio pieces from the experience.
Racking Up Results
By the end of the Olympics, the BSU at the Games team produced more than 275 stories, photo galleries and videos, and published 265 individual pieces in outlets including the Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, USA Today College, and Indianapolis TV station WTHR. Coverage of the experience itself proved nearly as newsworthy as the students' work, garnering 45 media placements alone.
"Seeing my work published was completely surreal," Theis says. "I have copies of Chicago Tribune papers with my name in them, and it still feels a little fake. It’s incredible to know I contributed to a paper that many professionals would love to work with."
BSU at the Games also garnered an impressive following on social media with more than 1,000 Twitter followers, 750 fans on Facebook, and more than 50,000 YouTube video views.
An immeasurable part of the students' experience is the connections made with potential employers and the opportunity to function as a full-service news agency. Sparrow says the program worked only when team members stopped thinking of themselves as students and started behaving as professionals.
"Immersive learning like this is the pinnacle of a student's college experience," Sparrow says. "I wasn't there to hold their hand and teach them how to do things. I was there as an editor, a coach, and a field general. BSU at the Games made me realize that giving students opportunities like this is crucial to a new era of learning."
BSU at the Games
College of Communication, Information, and Media
Department of Journalism
Department of Telecommunications
Provost Immersive Learning Grant