After completing an internship at NBC 30 in Hartford two summers ago, senior journalism student Gabrielle Levesque ’14 (CLAS) decided she wanted to work on news stories – “big pieces about things happening around the world.”
Even as she fulfilled her responsibilities in class and as news director for UCTV, the student-run television station on campus, she took the next step toward her goal by gaining an internship at the NBC Weekend Today show in New York City last summer.
This week Levesque moves to the world stage. She is in Russia as part of the Today team covering the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games for NBC.
Levesque will be one of 16 production runners for the Today show who perform basic tasks behind the scenes that help to ensure broadcasts go smoothly, similar to the work she did as an intern in New York City.
“They didn’t really give us a job description,” Levesque says. “Their motto is to expect the unexpected. I reached out to some of the runners who worked the previous Olympics [in London] and they said they would do things as amazing as picking up the athletes who were going to be on the Today show and pre-interviewing them.”
She is one of eight Americans and eight international students selected from a large group of former NBC interns who will be based in the main press center. This center is located in what is called The Coastal Cluster, a complex that includes five ice sport venues, the stadium for opening ceremonies, and the international broadcast center. Sochi is located in southwestern Russia along the coast of the Black Sea, near Georgia and Turkey.
Levesque says NBC has provided a variety of information about Russian culture, customs, geography, and history to prepare everyone working in Sochi. She also receives regular updates on security concerns, most recently following the suicide bombings in Volgograd, which is about 400 miles away from the Olympic site. Security during the Olympics has been a prominent issue since the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, when there was a terrorist attack on 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team.
“NBC has been doing an amazing job of keeping us informed. Whenever something happens, they let us know,” says Levesque, who learned last September that she would be going to Sochi. “They’ve provided us the dos and don’ts when you’re out in public, and where we’ll be in relation to other places, along with reassurances about security updates.”
An avid skier and snowboarder, Levesque says she has been preparing for Sochi by researching the various sports she may become involved with over the next two weeks of international competition.
“I am a big winter freak. Snowboarding and winter sports are in my blood. I love hockey. I love alpine skiing, but I don’t know it all,” she says. “They’re doing freestyle snowboarding, launching off 70 gap jumps. I’ve been doing research on who’s going this year, people who you might not know about.”
Levesque says she expects the next two weeks will be much like her summer in New York City – a beehive of activity and the challenges of meeting nonstop news deadlines. She recalls the Saturday night last summer when the news broke about the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was tried in the fatal shooting Trayvon Martin in Florida.
She went to work to help prepare the coverage for the Sunday program, logging video clips of the reaction to the verdict until about 3:30 a.m., when there was another news story developing, the death of actor Cory Monteith from the popular television show, “Glee.”
“It was crazy. I was listening to attorneys, people from Glee [on the satellite feed],” she recalled. “I would be logging clips, pulling sound bites.”
Levesque says her classes and UCTV experience helped prepare her for the internships, particularly after she helped to implement a return to live news broadcasts on campus twice each week. Since September, she has served as general manager of the campus station.
“UCTV has taught me so much. I can’t imagine what I’d do without it,” she says. “What I’ve learned is not only how to manage people, but deal with pressing situations and deadlines. It’s tailored my brain to function in minute details and short deadlines. It has been integral to what I’ve been doing in and out of school.”
In addition to her Today responsibilities, Levesque will be interviewed by NBC 30 sports director Kevin Nathan, who will be in Sochi as part of the NBC Sports team covering the competition. The interview will be part of his coverage of local connections to the Olympics.
“I expect first and foremost to get one of the most amazing experiences I’ll have in my life,” she says about the next two weeks. “It’s also going to be the first time I’m away from home. I expect to be submerged in a culture I’ve never been aware of before, not only Russian culture but the culture of breaking news from a sports angle. That’s something totally different. I expect to see how news functions out of a normal environment, which is exciting.”