August 1, 2016

Anna Joy Batchelor powdered her hands and practiced her balance on the beam for 14 years. Despite a broken wrist and several other injuries, she flipped and landed,  stretched and twirled for the love of her sport.  But  she realized when she was eight that most gymnasts don’t make it to the Olympics.

In college, she threw herself into something else she loves, broadcast journalism. Now, her reporting career is taking her to the gymnastics arena of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

She isn’t alone. The University of Memphis graduate is one of 14 students from her college who will be a reporting intern at the games. With the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Memphis has made the only agreement with Rio’s Olympic Organizing Committee to bring journalism students as interns.

The arrangement is the result of almost two dozen emails sent by Roxane Coche, assistant professor at the University of Memphis’ Department of Journalism and Strategic Media, to the committee.

“I wrote to every email that I could find and pitched my idea,” she said. “I was a freelance reporter during the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and I thought of doing the same at the Olympics. But then I came up with a better idea: Why not take my students and show them what it feels like?”

She still doesn’t know which email finally did the trick. The committee agreed, but Coche did not have enough qualified students to fill the internship slots. So she reached out to her alma mater, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. C.A. Tuggle, her adviser and a senior associate dean for undergraduate studies, was on board.

“Not everyone gets to say that they got to report at the Olympics,” Tuggle said. “Our students will get to watch history in the making.”

The University of North Carolina shortlisted 25 candidates to cover the games. The internship offered by the committee is unpaid, but students have been provided free accommodations and meals during shift hours. The interns had to account for airfare and other expenses on their own.

“Since I graduated in December, I couldn’t apply for any scholarship or financial aid,” said Batchelor. “I worked three jobs and saved every penny for the trip. I didn’t even wait to get selected through the application and interview process, I wanted to be prepared just in case.”

Several of the University of Memphis students tried raising the required amount of $3,700 per person via crowdfunding on social media. An anonymous donor gave $50,000 to subsidize travel costs for students from UNC, almost half of the cost of the expedition.

The students have been assigned a sport, which they will cover during the entirety of the games for the Olympic News Service, a newswire for the Games. Much of their time will be spent collecting quotes from athletes in press centers and the mixed-zone (where athletes are buttonholed for sound bites), and feeding them into news service for accredited media, officials and National Olympic Committees. The official training for the interns starts Monday before the Games, but students have already been trained by Coche and Tuggle.

“The students were enrolled in a special course where we taught them about the Rio Style Guide, how to ask quick and effective questions to the athletes specific to their sport and lastly, about their behavior and conduct at the games,” said Dr. Coche. “It is a high-pressure, fast-moving environment. They really don’t have multiple shots at things.”

Coche is confident that her students will do well when they’re are thrust into the action.

“Dr. Tuggle and I are going to be on the ground supervising very closely and being their emergency blankets whey they need help,” she said. “My students are learning. They are interns, so of course they will not write like sportswriters with 10 years of experience. But they have been in the classroom long enough, and all have internships within the States. It is time to give them a bigger stage.”

Batchelor knows it’s going to be very intimidating covering gymnastics with some of the most seasoned sports reporters in business.

“It is very scary,” she said. “But I know my sport, and we’ve had to do research and practice stories on our assigned sport prior to landing in Rio. I know I may make some mistakes, but I can’t let that define me. I’m ready for this.”

The group will receive three hours of academic credit for their work. Though there are concerns regarding Zika and crime in Rio, supervisors said that they have done everything necessary to take precautions for the students. They had a wait list ready in case anyone wanted to cancel, but only one student has pulled out so far.

The students are tweeting about their experience using hashtags #UNCinRio and #MEM2Rio.

“I can’t wait for the opening ceremony.” Batchelor said. “Let the games begin.”

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