Ohio University journalism students may go on Brazil trip sponsored by U.S. Soccer

Plans for students at Ohio University's journalism school to travel with the U.S. Soccer Team to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, writing for and about the team, may come undone thanks to the students' tenacity.

On Monday, students in the E.W. Scrippps School of Journalism learned of the trip and a lot of them tweeted about it. On Wednesday, several students contacted the U.S. Soccer Federation to start asking questions, Bob Stewart, director of the journalism school, told Poynter by phone. And now, the U.S. Soccer Federation wants to take a breath.

"They're actually saying, let's slow down a little bit," Stewart said. They do, after all, have a World Cup Soccer team to pull together, he added.

The program seemed a sure thing Monday when the school held a press conference announcing the team-school partnership. In retrospect, it may have been a bit premature, says Yusuf Kalyango, director of the International Institute of Journalism at OU.

"It is still in the works, actually," Kalyango told Poynter. "There has been a lot of excitement from our students." But nothing is yet confirmed, he said, and the whole thing could fall through.

Journalism students being journalism students ran with the story and contacted the federation for details, resulting in the loud sound of brakes being applied.

Kalyango did hold the press conference with journalism students, but he didn't expect them, or the journalism school, to then report on it. And they did.

But so did Kalyango, who tweeted the deal was official and confirmed on Oct. 31.

Poynter contacted the school on Tuesday with questions about the nature of the work proposed. Preliminary plans called for 10 students to travel from the U.S. to Brazil, for which the students would pay. But they would then get free tickets to games with the U.S. team and free chartered air travel within Brazil with the team.

In addition, the school said:

While in Brazil, students will have full access to the U.S. Soccer players, coaches, executives and family members, and will assist the U.S. Soccer Federation with all the logistics of holding daily press conferences and briefings. They will tweet, write stories, shoot videos, take photos, and post on Facebook and other media sites administered by U.S. Soccer. They also will occasionally provide human-interest stories to the IIJ Blog, the international student-news blog of the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Feeding the U.S. Soccer's Twitter account and other media sites wouldn't be a problem for students in the school's public relations (Strategic Communication) track, but poses ethical issues for the student journalists.

"About one-third of the students in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism are studying Strategic Communication, and two-thirds are studying News & Information. All students are eligible to apply for this program. No doubt, some of the students selected will be from the Strategic Communication track," Stewart said in an e-mail to Poynter on Wednesday.

"There's definitely a strategic communications element to it," he added today.

Details are still being worked out, but the U.S. Soccer Federation will choose the students and oversee the content the students produce.

Stewart said if The New York Times wanted to take 10 students to Brazil and give them this opportunity, that would be great. But there are fewer and fewer opportunities for students now, "so our job is to try to give students as many diverse opportunities as possible."

Even if student news reporters don't go into PR, it may be helpful for them to see that side of the business, he said.

If they get to go, Kalyango said he'll have full details by Dec. 3. So far, Stewart said, no student journalists had raised concerns about the program.


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