For two weeks in July, UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications students trained and told the stories of the Special Olympic athletes, coaches, families and volunteers who came from across America to Lincoln, Neb. to compete in the 2010 USA National Games.
To be sure, this was a wild experiment by our college; throwing two journalism professors (me and Jerry Renaud) into what I feared was a dark chasm with two advertising and PR professors (Amy Struthers and Adam Wagner).
We were asked to team teach a class of advertising, PR and journalism students who would work closely with each other documenting the games in support of Special Olympics.
Over 12 days, students and faculty averaged working days stretching 13 hours or more. We coordinated content with Special Olympics Games Marketing and Public Relations V.P. Sarah Leeth and her assistant Sarah VanDalsem.
About 3,000 people with intellectual disabilities competed in 13 sports venues across Lincoln.
The games, the largest multi-sport event in Nebraska history, attracted 15,000 family members and friends, 1,000 coaches, 8,000 volunteers and 30,000 fans.
- Our student’s videos, photos and words have been published on a Special Olympics USA National Games media website dedicated to athletes, fans, friends, family, news organizations and groups from across the United States. The website has given news consumers in-depth coverage throughout the games.
- The students documented the USA National Games by producing more than 300 photo set and video reports. They also uploaded more than 3,181 Special Olympics USA National games photos to our Flickr photo website .
- By late July, the Special Olympics USA National Games media website had generated more than 20,910 visits, of which 12,662 were unique visitors. Visitors looked at more than 108,000 pages and spent just under six minutes looking through the website when they visited. The visitors came from every U.S. state as well as countries in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
- Our Flickr USA Games photos had drawn 24,346 hits to see 3,405 photos posted by our students.
- Content generated by our students has been used by several local, state and national print, web and broadcast outlets including CNN, the Lincoln Journal Star, Lincoln radio station KFOR, Omaha ABC affiliate KETV, the Daily Nebraskan, the Professional Golf Association and Golf World magazine.
- Students produced and presented packaged and live reports on four half-hour daily newscasts that aired on 5 CITY-TV and 21 SPORTS, two of the city’s cable television channels.
- Nebraska OnDemand has carried dozens of the students reports on Time-Warner’s statewide cable TV network.
- Advertising and Public Relations students in the class created sponsor documentation for groups, businesses, civic organizations, institutions and corporations that contributed money, supplies, services and support for the USA National Games.
- Advertising and Public Relations students coordinated social media on Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare that helped spread word of our documentation efforts and helped us stay in touch with each other.
- Mentors from our college, university, NET Nebraska, Ball State University, local PR/Advertising firms spent a day or more training or mentoring students by working with them in class and in the field.
The rest of the story
These basic stats tell you what our students accomplished in this class. It won’t tell you what these students learned about themselves and each other, or how they will apply what they’ve learned these past two weeks.
Aaron Krienert, a member of the “Special Olympics- Journalism 498” class that documented the Games, summed up his experience by writing:
“Most of us may have assumed Special Olympics athletes are less capable of doing the things we might do ourselves
So how does an unbiased journalist block out the sentiment of joy when these athletes do more when they are perceived to be able to do less? We don’t. We feed this emotion on the inside by capturing it on the outside.”
(Read about Aaron’s thoughts in this posting.)
Much of what students produced were photos and video reports and vignettes on the Games. One of the most touching was about Nebraska power lifter Gregory Blankman. He had a personal best performance while competing in the Games. The vignette was produced by students Mattie SimBarcelos and Amanda Schutz. Click here to see their story.
Student Marcus Scheer captured a magical moment when he covered the Oregon soccer team this week. Marcus wrote:
“On Friday, one unified soccer team made a goal that sent the players, coaches and fans into pure elation. The goal didn’t win a gold medal. It didn’t even win the game.
Yet for one team from Sutherland, Ore., this goal was just as sweet. The team had not scored a goal throughout the entire regional, state and national competition.
In the team’s fifth game at the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games, one ball changed everything. In the first half between Oregon and South Carolina, Brittany Thompson received a pass from her teammate.
She dribbled toward the goal. Past the last defender. And shot.
The ball zipped by the goalie into the yellow net.”
Click here to see the video of Thompson’s goal-
Advertising student Kaitlin Arntz tried her hand at reporting when she and Beth Kavan produced a report on young athletes. Watch the report
There are many more great examples of our student’s work this past week. They’re on the Special Olympics USA National Games media website. Please take a look if you have time.
If I sound like I’m bragging on these students, please forgive me. I am proud of them for what they have done.
Journalism, Advertising and Public Relations students and faculty, breaking down traditional walls and working so well together.
As professors, we walked through the valley of cross-disciplinary teaching death. We emerged with smiles on our faces, energized by the experience. Like Aaron Krienert, we were also touched by the Special Olympics athletes, families and volunteers whose stories we helped document. I’m sure we’d be willing to do this again.
For some reason, Dean Gary Kebbel and Associate Dean Charlyne Berens had faith in us (gave us much support) and allowed us to pull this off.
It was amazing to watch these students apply their learning during those 12 frenetic days. We frequently had to tell them to go home after long days because they simply wouldn’t stop working to make their stories, videos and photos better.
Most amazing of all- the personal growth and character I’ve seen blossom in this class. Krienert may have said it best:
“But what I will take most out of Special Olympics Journalism 498 is that the media have the power to shine a light on issues the public sometimes overlooks.
Journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault once said, “If people are informed, they will do the right thing. It’s when they are not informed that they become hostages to prejudice.”
Mass communications can change others’ outlooks – as well as my own.”
In the future
Will we do something like this again? Absolutely!
By all accounts it could easily be a new cross-disciplinary teaching model for Journalism and Mass Communications programs. I believe it was effective, and meaningful. Best of all, it was memorably fun.