Dennis Ackerman has been going to the Games since 1980.
He remembers watching the 1972 Sapporo and 1976 Montreal Games. But his first experience actually working the Winter Olympic Games was in 1980 in Lake Placid as a volunteer for ABC Sports.
Thirty years later, Ackerman is now the news director for foxsports.com, and he says despite popular belief, not every Olympic is different.
“I haven’t found it that different. We make so many contacts with athletes before the Games even begin, because we know they’re representatives,” Ackerman says. “And you can’t shoot the Games as it is. NBC owns the rights to everything. You can’t go to the venues to shoot everything.”
If anything, the only thing differentiating each Olympics is the time difference, he says.
For Tony Cordaro, the Games act as an anniversary of missing important family moments.
As a senior producer and project manager for KEF Media, Cordaro left his home in Atlanta a week before other journalists covering the Games. Conveniently for him, the Super Bowl was the week before the Olympic Games, and duty called him there.
“That’s been the hardest part. I left a week earlier than most people because I was at Super Bowl before this because we had clients doing things there,” Cordaro. “So I’ve been away from home now for nearly two weeks, and I’ve got two more weeks to go. I do miss my wife. We’ve been married for 30 years, and it’s tough to be away this long.”
Three years ago, Cordaro went to Iraq to cover a football game between professional players and the troops based in Baghdad. Not only did he miss New Year’s with his family, he missed his daughter’s engagement.
“Working in the media is hard because it can become all-consuming,” he said. “You want to put everything into your career—not just for media, but it can be for other businesses as well. If you put everything into your career, you’ve got to leave time for family and then, for me, something else, something that you enjoy and have a passion about.”
As for the Olympic Games, he says covering them is always a challenge—more than just being away from family. He recognizes NBC has the rights to the actual Games, making it tougher on other media.
“Covering the Olympics is always a challenge. There’s so many rules and regulations the host broadcaster puts in place, in this case NBC. That puts it tough on people when you can’t get to athletes right after a win and you’ve got to wait 24 hours or 36 hours after or whatever the parameters in place is—makes it tough to cover the Games from the athletes’ perspective,” Cordaro said. “The world has moved on to something else because everything is so instantaneous now.”
Even if they don’t have the same rights as NBC, days are still long for journalists at the Games. Both Cordaro and Ackerman say 14 to 16 hour days are typical, and a lot of it is spent editing and then waiting for confirmation from home.
“As far as the people, the stories, the athletes, the whole reason we’re here—that’s the same no matter where you go. Everyone has a story about how they got to reach this point in their athletic career, and that’s what we’re going to tell,” said Cyndee Hebert, special projects manager at NBC station WTHR in Indianapolis.
But even as an NBC reporter, Herbert says she experiences pressure.
“I’m lucky, but I have to have the time to plan a really big project. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars for the TV station to come here—for our satellite time, for our food, for our hotel, for transportation. It’s a quarter of a million dollar investment that the station has to make, and I have to carry it off. I have to make sure it all works,” Herbert said.
With producing nine stories a day for WTHR, Herbert says NBC is looking for the same stories as any organizations—how people got to the Olympics, how athlete families are communicating with their son or daughter, and how they feel about the different culture.
Stories might be the same, but Ackerman says there’s at least one big change from Games to Games.
“Coming over here, the big thing has been security—you know, how safe are these Games? I’d say that’s the biggest thing that everybody’s had to deal with. Is it a concern? Sure. You don’t want to be so worried that it paralyzes you, and you can’t do anything or prevents you from coming,” Ackerman said. “You take all the measures and precautions you can … and you hope for the best.”
BSU at the Games is a freelance news agency operated by 41 student journalists reporting from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games through an immersive-learning program at Ball State University.