Olympic Summer for Student Journalists

Knight program students cover Special Olympics in Greece

Multimedia students Megan Garner, above, and Kathryn Rende, below, cover the Special Olympics and the riots over Greece’s troubled economy, respectively.

The UM team’s coverage included everything from the Opening Ceremonies, with performances by Stevie Wonder and Vanessa Williams, to the Torch Run, as well as short documentaries about the athletes and Special Olympics programs.

Traveling to the ancient birthplace of the Olympics, UM School of Communication students and alumni served as the official documentary team for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

Commissioned by the Special Olympics, ten multimedia graduate students and alumni covered the international event in Athens, Greece, which featured 7,500 athletes from nearly 180 countries competing in 22 Olympic-style sports. “When you meet the athletes and experience the games through their eyes and their families’ eyes, it is so rewarding,” says multimedia graduate student Chris Letendre.

Beginning in the spring, students began to produce multimedia stories from around the globe about the athletes preparing for the games: from soccer players in Ecuador and earthquake-ravaged Haiti to an open-water swimmer from Korea, among others.

In Greece from June 25 to July 4, the students worked in a 24-hour newsroom under the guidance of Rich Beckman, School of Communication professor and Knight Chair in Visual Journalism. Journalists from The New York Times and CNN were also on hand to coach the students.

Their reporting became a main component of the Special Olympics website, www.specialolympics.org, and was made available to all media covering the games, explains Kirsten Suto Seckler, vice president, branding and communications, Special Olympics International. “We were able to provide more comprehensive documentation of our athletes, families, fans, and volunteers than ever before,” she says. “Rich Beckman and his student videographers worked really hard to get at the heart of the stories of our athletes.”

For these budding visual journalists, Greece turned out to be the landscape for another international news story. The country, reeling from tumultuous political and economic conditions, erupted in riots during their visit. Video coach Trevor Green, B.S.C. ’11, ventured out to cover the protest for CNN.

“I wanted to talk to the people and get their feeling about what was happening with the economy,” he says. “There was a moment when the police were on one side and the protesters were on the other and the tear gas was flying. A flash bomb landed six feet away from me. My journalistic instincts were to stay and capture this footage, but my common sense kicked in and I realized I had to get out of there.”

This is the second time the University of Miami has worked with the Special Olympics. In 2009 Beckman’s students covered the Winter Games in Boise, Idaho.

   Click here to see UM students’ video coverage of the games.