MUNCIE — About 40 Ball State University students will head to London next month for a rare opportunity: reporting on the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The journalism, telecommunications, public relations, graphic design and sports administration majors won't be covering the competition, which ranges from archery to wrestling.
They are leaving that to NBC, which is paying a record $1.18 billion for the broadcast rights, and other media. But the students will be telling behind-the-scenes stories from the streets, press conferences, training facilities and the Athletes Village in Olympic Park.
"We know our audience is not coming to us to find out if Michael Phelps won," said telecommunications instructor Chris Taylor. "Our focus is ... the stories behind the games, introducing folks to the athletes and their interesting stories."
In fact, the students already have started gathering news — traveling, for example, to Cincinnati for a story on boxer Rau'shee Warren, a flyweight who will become the first U.S. boxer to compete in three Olympics.
Warren grew up in a deadly, impoverished neighborhood, which the students visited.
"Let's go to my neighborhood," Warren said. "I'll show you what it's like."
"We shot video in the neighborhood where all this stuff went down," Taylor said. "We built a relationship with him. We did the same thing with (welterweight boxer) Errol Spence Jr. from Dallas. We went to his old gym in a bad neighborhood, but it was not as bad as Rau'shee's."
The students also have built relationships with diver Thomas Finchum, judo competitor Kayla Wilson, synchronized swimmers and other Olympians.
They spent several days in Dallas at the U.S. Olympic Committee's Team USA Media Summit, where Phelps was the star attraction.
The relationship-building resulted in some of the athletes recognizing the students at the media summit. "Hey, it's the BSU guys," one athlete said, to the surprise of some of the professional media.
"When we began thinking about this project, in the back of my mind I wanted to show journalism students something cool about the media," journalism instructor Ryan Sparrow said. "Nowadays, the industry outlook is really gloom and doom. Getting to go to Dallas and having access to nationally known athletes and coaches is really cool."
The project gives the students digital skills needed for employment in media other than print. Sparrow saw nontraditional media at the summit in Dallas, including bloggers, Yahoo and Twitter.
The project sprang from an existing BSU study abroad program at the University of Worcester, about a 90-minute train ride northwest of London, where the students will be staying. The students are paying much of the expense for their Olympic venture, for which they will receive class credit, although BSU Provost Terry King provided immersive learning funding to cover some expenses, like a London flat through which the students will rotate.
Why are public relations students among those attending?
"They're kind of our own media relations agency," Taylor said.
Content from the project will be provided to The Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, other major newspapers and more than 20 television and radio stations; WTHR, the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis; the U.S. Olympic Committee; hometown newspapers; the governing bodies of sports organizations, and other outlets.