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Journalism at Rio Olympics 2016: challenges and opportunities

Taking an in-depth look at Rio 2016, Laura-Jane Filotrani delves into the logistics and considerations involved in covering a huge live sporting event
01 August 2016

LSBU’s Course Director for BA (Hons) Journalism, Laura-Jane Filotrani, answers questions about the possible challenges and opportunities of providing media coverage for the Rio Olympics 2016.

What would you consider are the main challenges when planning and executing coverage of major live events such as the Rio Olympics?

LJF: This depends on who you are producing stories for – but generally, the main challenge is the imperativeness of getting news up first, as soon an event has started or finished. Everyone will be working towards tight deadlines in a hectic and continuous cycle, ensuring results, quotes, images and footage are correct and ready to go immediately. It’s very competitive.

What’s involved logistically in covering such a large live event?

LJF: Logistically, covering a major event like this is complicated. As a journalist you need to be incredibly well prepared. Doing background research, visiting venues, checking communication channels, keeping up with Olympic News Service (ONS) content and ensuring you know where the mixed zone (the area where press and athletes mix) is – these are just a few things that need to be thought about. It’s also imperative for a journalist to keep in close contact with their own news desks for feedback and guidance on stories.

Preparation is the key. Ensuring that hashtags are set up, Periscope links have been tested, you’re following the relevant official social media channels and keeping an eye out for official channels that are producing content for the Games, is really important. For example, for the Rio Olympics, Snapchat will have a dedicated channel for the Games which will run daily coverage, and BuzzFeed are going to be curating content with behind the scenes videos. Ensuring that you are following all available sources is a must.

How would you choose which stories to cover? 

LJF: One of the roles of a journalist is to act as a curator for your audience - finding the best stories and being the source that your audience goes to first.

My advice to journalists is to always think laterally around a topic. For example, I’d advise that they don't just follow the winners, but think about the competitors who haven’t won too. There are often more interesting stories to tell from those who are on the periphery. I’m always interested in the backstory and the support around the athletes.

Also, there are incredibly important considerations around finance and sporting events. Where is the funding for the Games coming from? What are the implications? What are the benefits or losses post-Games, for the host city and its residents?

Specifically in Rio, there has been lots of coverage around the vast numbers of families living in the favelas near to the stadium who have been turfed out of their homes to accommodate construction and a general city clean up. What has happened to them, and what will happen after the Games have come and gone? Are the families coming back, and how do they feel? What is the consensus in these communities? Will there be any clashes between these groups and the police during the Games? Understanding the audience and running with an angle that piques interest is important; it’s also about asking the right questions to form the story.

I would also be keeping a close eye on some of the privately funded venues after the Games, such as the Olympic village itself which will be converted into luxury accommodation. There will be questions around the hosting government's social responsibility, as there always are after every Olympics.

How would you go about finding an exclusive story or a different angle to competitors? 

LJF: Finding a different angle is all about preparation, and ensuring that you’re putting yourself in the right place at the right time is important. I’d go for the losing competitor, talk to the coaches, mix with the spectators, talk to fellow journalists, eat in local bars and restaurants, talk to businesses, and go to the schools. It’s about asking the right questions, understanding the angle and how to run with the story.

In your opinion, what do you think could be some of the big news stories this year?

LJF: For Rio in particular, there are going to be issues of travel, personal safety and health concerns, not just around the Zika virus (lots of athletes have pulled out and journalists too for that matter).

I think one of the major stories from these Games may be surrounding the water and energy crisis in the country. Brazil is in the midst of a 40 year drought and bearing in mind that the country gets about 70% of its energy through hydropower this is a very real concern for the Olympics, which will obviously be reliant on a consistent supply of power.

There is also the matter of pollution in Rio - this could have a major impact on the events based on water. Guanabara Bay, which is hosting the sailing events, is notorious for the rubbish and raw sewage pumped into it. The government put in place a massive clean-up operation of the bay, but I am not sure they have met their original targets yet, and not sure they will have by the time of the opening ceremony. 

Other than that there are plenty of opportunities for a big news story to arise before, during and after the Games - so, as a journalist, it’s about keeping your ear to the ground and being prepared for anything.

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