USC Annenberg is known for offering its students many unique opportunities, and this month it will hold the distinction of being the only journalism school in the United States with students credentialed as working journalists reporting from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"They're both exceptionally bright and capable students," said Abrahamson of Murray and Shokoohi. "I've known Kimiya since she was an IOC Young Reporter in Singapore in 2010, and in Law's case, he has the ability to do sports analytics, which is a truly unique, breakthrough kind of thing. What he does for pro football and pro basketball simply is not being done in the Olympics sphere, so I want to see him bring this kind of analysis to the Olympic games."
Abrahamson, who teaches graduate-level sports journalism, has previously covered a total of seven Summer and Winter Olympics, and will be reporting from the 2014 games for NBCOlympics.com as well as various other NBC platforms. Murray and Shokoohi will provide coverage of the Winter Games for the U.S. Olympic Committee's editorially independent website, teamusa.org.
Though both student journalists will represent USC Annenberg and provide Olympics coverage for the same outlet while in Sochi, each reporter will also bring a unique background and perspective to his or her experience at the games.
Having served a stint as an IOC Young Reporter, Shokoohi, who attended school in Vancouver, Canada, is already familiar with Olympics coverage—particularly at the Winter Games.
“When the Olympics came to Vancouver in 2010, I was lucky enough to get an intern position working with the IOC,” said Shokoohi, who has to date covered a Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, and two Youth Olympics. “I provided a youth perspective and wrote about the youngest athletes at the games.”
It was while reporting from the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010 that Shokoohi, who is completing her Master’s degree in Specialized Journalism, Sports and Society, met Abrahamson and first had the opportunity to work with him.
“He gave me great reporting tips on how to cover the Olympics properly,” said Shokoohi of Abrahamson. “I was fortunate enough to be provided the opportunity to report from Sochi by Professor Abrahamson, so these Winter Games will be my first time covering the Olympics as a 'big girl' reporter.”
Shokoohi will write two to three articles each day of the Olympics, pitching her own stories and angles, and said that she is excited to return to Sochi, a place she's already visited twice before.
Fellow Annenberg student journalist Murray, a Philadelphia native, is also looking forward to covering the Olympics in Russia, in part because it will be only the second foreign country he's ever visited.
“It's hard to anticipate what an experience is going to be like,” said Murray, who is in the second year of his Masters in Journalism program. “But whatever there is to cover, I'm going to be prepared, and I'm going to respect the event and the moment. My main focus is to be ready for anything, and to be consistent and effective in communicating what the Olympics are.”
Murray and Abrahamson first met in 2012 before Murray took any classes with Abrahamson—and before Murray was even admitted to USC.
“I really wanted the opportunity to talk with someone who's had a career in sports media, and I knew that Alan was one of the foremost Olympic journalists ever,” said Murray, who reached out to and kept in contact with Abrahamson throughout his first year at Annenberg before taking his class this past fall. “When Alan first asked me to apply for the opportunity to cover the Olympics, I was definitely taken aback, but I knew he wouldn't have put me in that position if he didn't have confidence in me. This will be a challenge for me, but one that I readily want to take on.”
Part of that challenge, both Murray and Shokoohi acknowledge, will be keeping coverage of the games from being overshadowed by outside issues and events—though both journalists credit Annenberg with helping them to navigate such situations as reporters.
“Anywhere we go, we're journalists first and foremost, and we're there to relay things as they are,” said Shokoohi. “I'm more prepared to cover these Olympic Games than I have been for any previous Olympics, and that's credit to USC Annenberg, to Professor Abrahamson, and to all of the professors who allowed me to really mature as a journalist and head over to the Olympics with new perspectives.”
Murray, who will be covering his first Olympic games, shares a similar sentiment:
“I tell a lot of people that what Annenberg has done has taken academics out of the way I think about things and made them real,” said Murray. “As a student at Annenberg, you have the opportunity, that's why you're here, so now the real test is to produce. After a year and a half at Annenberg, I feel so much more comfortable with my ability to produce work at a higher level and be confident in my ability as a journalist.”
As for the unprecedented nature of their presence as student journalists at Sochi, both Murray and Shokoohi attest the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the people in their personal and professional lives who helped make it possible.
“This opportunity is so telling of the type of school that Annenberg has become,” said Shokoohi, who will graduate from USC this May and hopes to further pursue a career as an Olympic reporter. “It's going to be an incredible learning opportunity. Journalism is first and foremost a people business, and a writing business second, and exploring the world outside of the classroom helps us become so much better rounded and skilled.”
As an avid pro-football and basketball fan who had never envisioned himself covering Winter Games, the opportunity to report from the Sochi games has, Murray said, opened his eyes to new possibilities as a sports journalist.
“Not everyone gets to experience this kind of opportunity in a lifetime, let alone while they're still in school,” said Murray. “When I'm there, I'll be representing not just myself, but also my school, my family, my friends, and a lot of other people who have helped me get to this point. A lot of respect goes to Alan for bestowing his principles on everyone in his class and being a consistent, strong representation of USC's faculty.”
For Murray, the fact that he and Shokoohi will be student journalists reporting from Sochi epitomizes the way in which USC Annenberg is committed to providing students valuable learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom.
“An experience like this says that USC prioritizes putting students in really cool places and letting them do real things with their work,” said Murray. “It says that USC Annenberg pushes you, challenges you. None of this is by accident; a lot of people put a lot of thought into this. Other schools might get to this point eventually, but this is where USC Annenberg is now.”
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