If you thought you had winter bragging rights as Syracuse University students because of the snow that piles up every year, our weekend experiential learning course in Lake Placid may have you beat.
With Arctic-like temperatures and wind chills pushing 50 below zero, we had the chance to apply not only the photo, video and social media training we had learned at Newhouse to help cover the 2023 Empire State Winter Games, but some serious winter survival skills, too.
Over the span of four days in early February, the 18 of us were tasked with telling the stories of the largest Olympic-style winter sports event in the Northeast. Each of us had different roles, from photography majors who snapped thousands of images from the more than 30 events to broadcast and digital journalism (BDJ) majors producing features on a few of the Games’ 2,000 athletes.
As members of the digital team, we managed the Games’ social media accounts and kept our peers back in Syracuse up to date on the Newhouse Sports Media Center accounts. The weekend seemed like a constant juxtaposition between frigid high-adrenaline winter sports and huddling back in the warmth of the Lake Placid Beach House overlooking the solidly frozen Mirror Lake to take a look at the content we had just collected.
Bundled up in layers upon layers of clothing, we’d risk a couple of seconds to take off our gloves and snap a picture of the athletes wearing paper-thin ski suits, clearly undeterred by the dangerously cold temperatures.
Throughout the weekend, our team of five divided and conquered, waking up each morning and choosing which events we’d cover that day. From adaptive sled hockey to the biathlon, we were exposed to sports that we had no prior knowledge of, forcing us to be quick studies and often think on our feet.
Not only did the conditions and events test our journalistic abilities, but professors Jon Glass and Seth Gitner encouraged us to join the photo team in trying out Sony A-series cameras to photograph some content of our own. By the end of the games, we had captured game-winning goals, speed skating wipeouts and biathlon rifle shots.
Our daily goals generally included several live Twitter updates as results rolled in, and Instagram stories documenting the multiple events taking place throughout Lake Placid. We worked with ESWG operations manager Kimberly Beach to build excitement around the athlete village through Facebook and Instagram posts highlighting the attractions.
Over the course of the four days we covered figure skating, ice hockey, adaptive sled hockey, speed skating and the biathlon, expanding both our photography and social media skill sets.
It was an eye-opening experience for the two of us, along with the rest of our digital team. Luke Elliott wrote press releases for each event as results came in and Skylar Swart assisted with tweets, an Instagram takeover and Facebook posts. While playing to our strong suits, we both were also able to branch out and expand our journalism repertoire.
At night, our hostel’s common room turned into a makeshift newsroom as the BDJ majors transformed footage and interviews into polished stories and photographers narrowed down hundreds of photos, captioning them and uploading them to share with media outlets, athletes and their families on ESWGPhotos.com
At the end of each exhausting day, we exchanged our phones and cameras for board games and laughs with our “DigiTeam.” Our nightly routine included hours-long Trivial Pursuit battles, made even more difficult by its outdated and nearly impossible questions from 1984 (luckily we had a few professors in the room—thanks Glass and Gitner—to help us out along the way).
By the time we piled back into our Chevy Suburban for the four-hour drive back to Syracuse, we had new friendships and unbelievable experiences under our belts. We feel grateful for the opportunity and inspired to keep embarking on new adventures as we head off into our professional careers come graduation in May.
Alex Battaglia and Cameron McKeon are both senior newspaper and online journalism majors in the Newhouse School.