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An Olympic education

RTA sport media students get a crash-course in broadcasting with CBC Sports during the Winter Olympics
By: Will Sloan
February 08, 2018
Technicians facing screens in the broadcast studio

Photo: Ryerson sport media students are serving as shotlisters, research assistants, writers and graphics coordinators at the CBC’s Olympic broadcasts.

If you thought exam season was hard work, try working in a real-world environment where the eyes of the nation are on you, and anything can happen. More than 25 students from Sport Media, external link in the RTA School of Media are getting a crash-course in broadcasting with CBC Sports to bring the Pyeongchang Olympics to Canadian homes.

“The Olympics are like a tidal wave,” says Joe Recupero, program director for sport media. “When it hits, it’s 16 days in a row of so much stuff. This is my 13th Olympics, and I know that as much planning goes into it, it still unleashes itself. We have the plan, but once events start happening, the whole narrative changes, because you don’t know who’s going to win.

“In school, things are a little more regulated: you know where your classes are every week and you know when your assignments are due. Learning to expect the unexpected is really an eye-opener.”

Recupero, a long time CBC Sports employee, transitioned to a part-freelance, part-teaching career in 2008, but kept close ties with his former employers. In the years since, advancements in technology and changing financial structures have meant that networks now do the bulk of the work on an Olympics broadcast at home. “It allows more and more students to work on it,” says Recupero. “Whereas, when  I went to the Sydney Olympics, they wouldn’t have paid for students to fly over to Australia to do more junior jobs. They would have hired students from local universities. Now, we’re able to tap into our students.”

In 2016, a dozen second-year sport media students worked on the CBC’s Rio Olympics broadcast as runners, shotlisters, research assistants, and other positions. For the Pyeongchang Olympics, many of those students have graduated to more senior positions (production assistants, writers, graphics coordinators), with a new crop of second-, third- and fourth-year students filling the junior roles.

“You never know what’s going to happen in live TV,” says Stan Temming, fourth-year student and program assistant at CBC Sports. “You can’t truly be prepared for everything, because you don’t know who’s going to win. But you rely on everything you’ve learned in the classroom, and everything you’ve learned through your experiences so far in the field. Between those things, you get through it. It’s insane, but in the best kind of way.”

“It definitely gives you a dose of reality,” says Sarah Jenkins, fourth-year student and writer/researcher for the Olympics broadcasts. “We’re always told that sports run nights and weekends, so we need to get used to not working 9-5 shifts. When you’re in school, you still don’t know that because school is 9-5, but right now, I have a schedule that’s opposite of the rest of the world. Here, you realize you have to choose your priorities.”

For Jenkins, the work environment has provided a daily education in soft-skills. “You learn how to be a team player, and you will be rewarded for helping your producers and directors as best as you can. That’s how I ended up getting in the control room this time instead of just working in the research room: I was seen as someone who could help out even outside of my job description to make the show a little bit better.”