La Trobe University sport journalism students will get a rare behind-the-scenes look at how the world’s greatest sporting event – the Olympic Games – is reported, produced and televised.
Sport journalism head, David Lowden, is working as a studio producer for Foxtel on Australia’s games coverage alongside thousands of the world’s leading sports media personnel at the International Broadcast Centre in London.
For the three weeks of the games he will be putting in a grueling seven-day night shift ensuring Australian audiences get the best and most comprehensive coverage possible.
In between he’ll bring London to La Trobe – presenting three weekly lectures and some tutorials via skype to his students on the Melbourne campus.
He will discuss with them issues like how you go about major events coverage, how an international media centre works, and how you gather and splice human interest stories, ‘postcards’ showing London’s iconic images and banter around sporting events, to keep people glued to their screens.
Interviews with leading sports journalists
‘Apart from the weekly lectures, I will record special interviews with leading sports journalists and producers from around the world to use in teaching when I get back.’
Mr Lowden says as well as research, story telling and technical skills, media organisations require journalists covering such large events to know how to manage other aspects of their lives.
‘You have to stay healthy and fit, pace yourself, remain even-tempered make sure you have a break when possible, even if only for five minutes.
‘So I’ll also be telling my students really basic things, like that eating and sleeping well are very important.’ He compares major event media coverage to a marathon. ‘Something like the Olympic Games is very different from regular sports television coverage where you might produce a show that goes for one or two hours on one channel.
‘In London my shift will be a minimum of 10 hours long per day, and I will be producing in one of two studios working simulateneously. We have to cover press conferences beforehand and then brief the producers who come on after us. It’s a rolling 24 hour cycle streaming to eight different channels, each covering different sports.’
Split second accuracy
Working with on-air presenters, Mr Lowden will help prepare interviews and other video footage – all structured down to a second’s accuracy around the sporting vision feed supplied to each nation by the International Olympic Committee’s media unit.
He says with the London Olympics, Australian television audiences will see for the first time a real difference between free to air and subscription coverage.
‘But even eight channels can’t cover everything. Foxtel will cover every gold medal event live and in full – but to broadcast everything we would need at least 20 channels.’
Mr Lowden says while most people perceive such jobs as glamorous, the reality is it’s a highly intense task. ‘Much of my work happens behind the scenes and it leaves little time for sight-seeing.’
Yet it can be extremely rewarding. A former Foxtel producer, he was thrilled to be invited back to cover his second Olympics for the channel after making the move to La Trobe.
With a background in radio and television sports journalism leading to sport production, he has covered the France 98 World Cup soccer in Paris, the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Sports university plan
He says it has been a great time to join La Trobe with its recently stated aim of becoming the number one sports university in Australia.
‘I love teaching our students, but there’s only so much we can learn from theory. It is much better if they can see in practice what sport journalists and other media do at the Olympics. I would like nothing better than to have some of my current students at the next is Olympic Games in Rio’.
The La Trobe sports journalism degree, he says, sets people up for a career either writing about sport, working in sport production or for a sporting organisation. ‘You use the same kind of skills, because it’s about making editorial decisions.
‘There is a narrative that runs through sport, a bit like theatre, although you don’t know the ending. There are main actors and an unfolding story, and you need to keep tabs on that story and make decisions based on how that that story may unfold.’
He says graduates are equipped to go anywhere in the world with the skills they are taught. They can work in America or England or other countries if they speak the language.
‘Journalists around the world all do pretty much the same thing. There are slight differences in approach, but we all work pretty much in the same way.’
Mr Lowden says he ‘loves the idea’ that journalism contributes to telling the story of the Olympics. ‘The athletes put in the work; they “write” the story, but we are the observers and we bring it to everyone else.’
‘In some way sport may be seen as trivial, but it is important as it gives people a break from the mundane and perhaps inspires junior athletes.
‘And you are producing something for history. You can look back and say: “I had some small part in that; I covered that event”.’