Engaging Ideas

for Education

Olympics – Media Analysis

The London Olympics bring many opportunities to explore global issues.

The teacher might tape a portion of the Olympic coverage and can discuss what’s shown, emphasized, and what’s not. Alternatively, students can be asked to watch and record with a worksheet from home.  Or a newspaper/news outlet sports section could be used, either paper or on line.

Learning Objective: Make students more aware of the tendency of  American media outlets to focus primary on the United States.  This isn’t to detract from the United States athletes but to help students become more aware of the subtle impacts media can have more broadly on their lives and how they view others through the media.  The Olympics can be entry point to this wider discussion.

For instance, if your only interaction with a member of an ethnic minority group is through news depictions of them as criminals, how might that impact your view of them?

Other issues to consider include that media outlets pay substantial sums to cover the Olympics and they need an audience! They sell that audience to advertisers.  As such,  you can have students think about how they would plan their coverage of the Olympics.   You can see if they efforts end up reinforcing a focus on athletes from their country.

Areas to focus attention:

1. Camera shots–who/what does the camera focus on (both among participants and those who might be cheering.  You may notice focuses on teammates and family members).  The audience will develop more empathy toward those focused on.

2. Interviews–who is interviewed?  Which athletes, if not interviewed, are provided with a life story that makes them someone the viewer can empathize with?

3. Athletes from which countries are participating in the contest?  Typically earlier rounds are not covered, if they are, is it because a particular athlete is competing?   If it’s a semi-final or a final, which countries are still in the competition and how do they compare to the countries that started the competition?  In many sports, we end up with a First World-Third World dichotomy (the Second World was supposed to be the advanced Communist countries like the former USSR and China), with many Third World countries either not having athletes participating or not having ones that have been sufficiently groomed with resources and coaching to do well.

Students can engage in conversations about what it takes to be successful in particular sports–keep in mind that in some countries athletes can train full-time, but in others that’s impossible due to economic needs which must come first (also varies by sport in countries like the U.S.–with less prominent sports having less resource support).

Students could list or locate countries for a particular sport of interest to them.

4. Finally many events are going on at once during the Olympics and some get little coverage, others get a great deal.  Students could look at what sport got the coverage (Beach Volleyball is an interesting one) and which sports are neglected.  Have students discuss these choices…and if students plan their own media coverage (using the schedule below), they would need to also wrestle with these issues–and then can reflect on the choices made…and whether they expose audiences to new things or reinforce existing tastes and sports where the target audience’s country is more active or successful.

Here is a link to the schedule/results for the London 2012 Olympics:



Comments and other ideas welcome!

Contributed by

Dave Wells, Ph.D., Arizona State University







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