Journalism students put media skills to work on Special Olympics

Released on 07/21/2010, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., July 21st, 2010 —
Members of the College of Journalism team covering the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games interview Team Michigan bowler Kolan McConiughey (far left) after he competed on July 19. Members of the COJMC team interviewing McConiughey were (from right)
Members of the College of Journalism team covering the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games interview Team Michigan bowler Kolan McConiughey (far left) after he competed on July 19. Members of the COJMC team interviewing McConiughey were (from right)

A multimedia website, a nightly television broadcast and two new courses have been created by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications for students to cover and promote the Special Olympics 2010 USA National Games in Lincoln.

Fifty students in two Journalism and Mass Communications classes have joined forces with the games' media professionals to produce a website ( that will tell the stories of the athletes and of competitions in text, photos and videos.

About 3,000 people with intellectual disabilities are competing in 13 sports venues across Lincoln. The games, which are the largest multi-sport event in the state's history, have attracted 15,000 family members and friends, 1,000 coaches, 8,000 volunteers and 30,000 fans.

As many as 300 local and national media personnel are using the college's Andersen Hall newsroom as a work space during the weeklong event, July 17-23.

"Students' reports are used by national media and by the athletes' hometown newspapers. And photos and the videos are a great way to showcase the athletes to their family, friends and fans and to promote the Special Olympics movement," said Sarah Leeth, vice president of marketing and public relations for the USA National Games.

"This kind of engagement with the community is the essence of what we teach," said dean Gary Kebbel. "Reporting, distributing, promoting -- those are the means by which communications students help people use news and information to improve their lives and better understand the lives of others."

The classes are an experiment in journalism, advertising and public relations students collaborating to cover a major event from their discipline's perspective, Kebbel said. Journalism students (print, broadcast, multimedia) report events of the games and their public relations colleagues cover stories about the event's sponsors. Each group is giving tips to the other and each is shooting video and photos for all to use. Their work is available to news outlets around the world.

Students are gaining invaluable experience in the field, said Amy Struthers, advertising sequence head and associate professor of advertising.

"Students are documenting and promoting the Special Olympics under deadline, under pressure and under chaos," she said. "Our students are working side-by-side with media professionals from across the country."

Struthers and advertising lecturer Adam Wagler are teaching the advertising and public relations class; Professors Jerry Renaud and Barney McCoy are teaching the multimedia journalism course.

"We are sending students out to the venues every morning to produce high-quality multimedia content for the website," said Renaud, professor of journalism. "It is an intense environment that is hard to normally create in a classroom."

The college also is partnering with the city of Lincoln to produce a live nightly newscast from Andersen Hall during the week, said Bill Luxford, operations manager for 5City-TV and 21 Educational Access.

The students are using social media in a variety of ways, including Twitter and Foursquare as newsroom assigning and management tools while students cover the venues. They use Foursquare to check in and let assigning editors know where they are; they use a Twitter feed to alert the team to news tips or as a way to send students to their next assignment. Students also are posting photos and video to Flickr, where the public can enjoy their work.

An advertising and public relations social media team uses the tools for promotion and interaction with the media. Student Emily Bliss is using Twitter to list story ideas for the news media, and Casey Mattison is Tweeting information about Special Olympics events to the public through the organization's Twitter feed.

Kebbel said the students are quickly learning that social media is a fantastic reporting tool.

"What's ironic about it is that it uses methods of journalism that were used 100 years ago," he said. "Correspondents were only allowed to write their lede so they had to go in short spurts, then they had to wait their turn because 30 other reporters were lined up to use the telegraph."

The students say they are learning many valuable skills.

"I've been working with video and video editing so I can bring more to the class than just my advertising-public relations background," said NaTasha Rollerson, a senior public relations and advertising major from Omaha.

The school began preparing for the games last year. During the fall semester, students in three courses developed promotion strategies and athlete profiles. During the spring semester, students in Wagler's advanced new media design course created the website. College faculty and staff have been meeting with Special Olympics officials since January to plan the event coverage.

"The synergy of the games, the feeling that the sum of what we are doing is greater than all the separate parts, will be the most powerful result of reporting on the Special Olympics," McCoy said.

Struthers said the games' organizers are excited to work with students and faculty who are committed to conveying the lives and messages of the intellectually disabled.

"Special Olympics organizers will find they have 50 advocates with a richer and deeper understanding of friends and neighbors with intellectual disabilities," she said.

WRITER: Cassie Fleming, College of Journalism and Mass Communications

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