February 11, 2014

They left a day early to miss a snow storm, took a detour to Amsterdam and waited in some serious (and kind of dangerous) lines at Olympic Park, but after a few days, a team of student journalists are reporting from Sochi.

“It has not been an easy start to things,” said Ryan Sparrow, a journalism instructor at Ball State University, in a phone interview with Poynter.

Students in BSU’s journalism program are reporting now for a number of outlets with BSU at the Games. They paid their own way. They don’t have credentials to get into events. And they have less time to be at the Olympics than the team did in London two years ago, Sparrow said. So he’s working them hard and looking for chances for a little time off for sight-seeing. Those students, though, are finding stories.

One of them happened a few days ago.

Reporter Ryan Howe wanted to tell a story about Sochi’s drag club in light of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law. He found it, made contacts and went along with Sparrow and photographer Matt Amaro to Cabaret Mayak. Amaro wrote about the experience on his blog.

The interview begins, everyone is clearly nervous. We didn’t know the extent of the law or if anything bad could happen. In the interview, the question of if he had been threatened with violence or threatened to be shut down He replies, “Absolutely not. people misinterpret the law and have blown it out of proportion.”

The three weren’t the first members of the press to be there, Amaro wrote. But Howe, who an op-ed wrote Feb. 7 for The Advocate about his fears of traveling to Russia as a gay man, has stayed with the story, Sparrow said, spending time with performers from Cabaret Mayak and understanding the nuances of what they face.

“In doing so,” Sparrow said, “he understands that it’s not all black and white.”

BSU at the Games has just a few days left in Sochi before they return to Indiana and college journalism. While they’re in Sochi, you can follow their work and adventures here and here, with photos and videos of both what they’re experiencing and the work they’re producing. A group of students is also working from Chicago with graphics staff at the Chicago Tribune. Below is a sampling of BSU At The Games late-working, breakfast-smuggling, epic-reporting adventures told through Twitter.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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