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University of Wisconsin–Madison
School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Making yourself the Story: American Journalists and the 2014 Olympic games

Although the Olympics are supposed to be all about international sportsmanship, for many journalists, the games often become a critique of the host country’s politics. During Beijing’s 2008 games, journalists wrote about China’s human rights violations. And two years later in Vancouver, they questioned the displacement of Canadians in preparation for the games.

These types of stories appear around every Olympics games.  This year in Sochi, journalists complaining about the conditions in hotel rooms and buildings are making themselves part of the story. Reporters representing numerous publications from the U.S. have taken to Twitter to share comical, yet somewhat critical photos of Sochi. From missing light bulbs to awkward bedroom arrangements, journalists have had no qualms protesting their housing. Someone even created an @Sochiproblems Twitter account, which now has more followers than the official @Sochi2014 handle.

Are their stories true? Most likely. Are their posts funny? Usually, yes. A framed picture of Vladimir Putin in your hotel room isn’t something you see everyday.

But journalists at the Olympics may be making ethical errors for a couple different reasons: the first being the message that their “pampered” tweets are sending to the rest of the world. CBS recently released a story that compiled tweets from people calling out the privileged and whiny nature of the journalists’ tweets. It’s a perspective worth considering. For all the reporters living and working in third world countries, a trip to Sochi right now would be luxurious beyond belief. Even journalists living comfortably in the United States would love to have the chance to go to Sochi, and would happily sleep in a hotel with two toilets per stall if that meant the opportunity to interview the greatest athletes in the world.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, journalists are skewing the focus of their assignment by writing about themselves. The goal of most news organizations is to write about other people and their experiences, and not about the water in their hotel rooms. Most of the reporters in Sochi are employees of a news organization (who is paying for them to be there), and many even have the name of their publication in their Twitter byline. As a result, it’s difficult to imagine that international reporters will not see them as representative of American news, and American-style reporting.

By this point in the games, the chatter about hotel rooms and unfinished projects has died down. It’s old news, and most of the journalists are now excellently reporting the events of Sochi. But in just two more short years, journalists will find something new to complain about, and perhaps even another way to shine the spotlight on themselves.

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