UNC student journalists headed to the Olympics

This summer, through UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, Lalezarian has the opportunity to report on the same athletes she worked with growing up at the 2016 summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

UNC, along with the University of Memphis, are the only two universities in the world working directly with the Rio 2016 Olympics, sending a group of student reporters to cover the events. 25 students come from UNC, representing each concentration in the journalism school.

Lalezarian said she felt fortunate to be a part of the program, representing one of the two universities in the world at the Olympics.

“I think it really shows what a unique place UNC-Chapel Hill is,” Lalezarian said. “The fact that we are one of the two schools going and we’re one of the few schools in the whole country that are given this opportunity.”

Another four UNC students are reporting for other media organizations, like WRAL, but are not working directly for Rio 2016.

“I know a lot of the people who are going, and that just makes it all the more exciting and I’m just excited to both be there as a journalist and also to cheer on people that I grew up looking up to and practicing with,” Lalezarian said.

Each student was given a specific sport to cover, along with other assignments. They will be going back and forth between the press center and the venues. These students also get the chance to live in the media village.

Charlie Tuggle, senior associate dean in the School of Media and Journalism, is leading the program after working with the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

“We get to be the only eyes and ears of other organizations in Rio, and that, I think, is pretty cool,” Tuggle said.

Tuggle said the study abroad office at UNC helped negotiate the cost of going down to $4,000 per student, but an anonymous donor covered half of that cost.

“You get to go to Rio — for a month, basically — at a cost of $2,000,” Tuggle said. “That’s a pretty good deal.”

“As soon as they found out that it would cover half of the costs, it was like a huge weight lifted off of all of our shoulders,” Lalezarian said.

Tuggle said to participate, students had to apply and interview for a place. Those selected were required to take a summer school course before the Olympics began. This posed a problem for students, like McKenzie Bennett, who were set to graduate in May. But they aren’t letting that stop them from the opportunity to report on the Olympics.

Bennett, along with a few other students, postponed graduating until after the summer to participate in the program.

“My original plan was to get a job after graduation, but I heard about the opportunity and I thought ‘why not,’” Bennett said.

“I’d rather be able to do something like that before I have to get a full time job just because of how unique an opportunity it is.”

Bennett said going to Rio 2016 will give her the opportunity to study abroad — something she didn’t have a chance to do during her undergraduate career. She will be covering swimming and diving at the Olympics.

“I’m also just really excited to learn more and gain more experience in reporting and news through the Olympic news service.”

Tuggle said not only was this an opportunity to work with media from around the world, it was also a chance to experience the Olympics first hand.

“When you’re there and you see the gold medal won by the Americans in women’s gymnastics or you see Usain Bolt break the world record, and you’re there in person and you see the numbers flash up on the screen — it’s like you can’t duplicate that.”

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