Covering the Rio Olympics

Marc Rosenweig with Panelists Karen Crouse and Bruce Beck

The 2016 Rio Olympics was heavily covered because of the conterversies surrounding multiple facets of Rio, Brazil. From the Zika virus being a major health concern, to the polluted waters where the Olympics would be held, the corrupted govenment, doping scandals, and Ryan Lochte’s huge lie that single-handedly tarnished the reputation of the U.S. The Olympics were going to be a media frenzy before they even began. Karen Crouse, reporter for the New York Times, and Bruce Beck, lead sports anchor for NBC 4 New York recalled their experiences at the Rio Olympics on November 22nd at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.

Journalism professor Marc Rosenweig, mediated the panel and delved right into what the panelists experienced during the huge sporting event. Karen Crouse called the Olympics a marathon, “falling down some sort of rabbit hole to be writing at 4 a.m.”. Deadlines for reporting events and interviewing athletes, coaches and family members were never-ending. The mental strain of having stories to publish during the course of the Olympics was a constant pressure according to Crouse and Beck. Beck said the Olympics was, “phenomenal to cover, but a drain on your body.” The weather and lack of sleep alsp added to the mental stress reporters faced while in Brazil.

Simply reporting an event isn’t enough anymore for journalists in the fast-paced digital age. Necessities to write or type as the event is happening, photo and video-taking and interviewing are essential to the sequencing of a succesful story. Accompanying visualizations to your written words is the way most successful stories are constructed. The panelists were most interested in the storytelling aspect of the athletes overcoming an obstacle. Though they covered it, they weren’t as concerned for the hard news of who won, but the best part of the Olympics for Crouse and Beck was the journey the participants went through.

In preparation for the Olympics, Beck kept a folder filled with profiles of the athletes, mostly of local Olympians from New York and New Jersey. He brought this folder to the panel discussion, and the girth of the folder was impressive. He had athletes broken up by folders with all of their information and little quirks that make for interesting, detailed stories. Beck had all the information of Olympic athletes accumulated before even leaving the country. Crouse similarly had index cards filled with information on the athletes. Crouse and Beck agreed on being overly prepared before landing at the Olympic games. This piece of advice is crucial to journalists entering the field, because the worst thing to do when covering an event is knowing nothing about what you are covering. Beck reiterated that the more information and prepared you are before tackling an assignment, the better.

Anything can go wrong when covering something live, so to have a plethora of information accumulated can help carry a story when limited resources and access are available, like the panelists at the Olympic games. Crouse recalled having sparse access to athletes, so being able to ask the questions she planned were not be possible with time and access restraints. Beck agreed, saying a reservoir of contacts is essential, from parents of athletes, coaches, and siblings. While some athletes may be busy and boring in their responses, their loved ones always love to brag about them and would make the story more dynamic.

Both panelists sent out stories to the organizations they work for as soon as events ended. Crouse was sending stories out to the New York Times as the games were going on, with captions and photos. These were to be later edited and added on by the team back in New York for the finalized products. Beck would post on his Twitter account as the games were taking place. Beck was particularly concerned with social media accounts being fake or opinion-based overcrowding the facts and hard-working journalists. He was irriated by the inflation of regular people, without training or professionalism tweeting about topics they know nothing about to a mass audience that is the internet. Amateurs are trying to take the roles of the real journalists and have large followings because of their controversial posts or being first.

To be right instead of first, however, were the mantras these two reporters live by. “Omission over commission”, as Beck calls it, when making sure everything he reports is correct. This held especially true when news of Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte getting robbed at gunpoint at a Rio gas station broke. Crouse was critical once this news broke, saying there were multiple dramatic stories of people being robbed while in Rio and this seemed like another one of them. Crouse and Beck were both told to be weary for robberies in Rio and to never bring valuables with them due to security concerns. Red flags were made apparent from Lochte’s account of resisting with a gun to his head. Lochte’s mom seen on a shuttle crying and told a reporter her son just got robbed, another red flag. If he were really robbed why would he call his mother as soon as it happened? Crouse warned, “journalists beware of stories and don’t take everything for truth. Know your facts.”

Ryan Lochte ruined the United States’ reputation. He undermined the city of Rio, and they had no choice but to do everything in their power to prove their right. Although Rio showed the videos of Lochte causing the vandalization and proved he lied, the reputation was already tarnished. Lochte had millions lost in sponsors and advertisers, and affected how the rest of the world views us as “the ugly American”, acting with entitlement and immune to laws. These accounts from Beck and Crouse are what all journalists can learn from: be prepared and informed about what you are covering, and “do your due dilligence”, as Beck said and make sure your facts are correct before you post it. The rush to be first does not overpower the right to be right. It is your moral duty to ensure the correct information is being released to the public, for it is irreversible once it’s released.

The Brazilian police charged Lochte with filing a false robbery report, however he left the country shortly after the incident. Lochte later admitted to being intoxicated during the robbery, influencing his vandalism. He said he over-exaggerated his accounts, but the damage to the United States’ reputation was already done. Two of Lochte’s biggest endorsements, Ralph Lauren and Speedo, dropped him after the scandal, along with a few others. The moral of Lochte’s story is simple: do not lie, especially when there is evidence showing the truth. Journalists and media outlets have a moral duty to report the truth for the greater good of the public. Celebrities do not get to have special treatment for breaking the law or being deceptive, and should be exposed and reprimanded accordingly.