Alumni launch Olympic Storytelling course

The storytelling course will teach students to report on the 2028 Olympic Games.

Alumni Seth Rubinroit and Fernando Hurtado are teaching an upper division journalism course titled “Multiplatform Olympic Storytelling.” The class features guest speakers ranging from Olympians to sports journalists. (Areon Mobasher)

In 2028, the USC campus will serve as a hub for the Los Angeles Olympic and Paralympic Games. Dedeaux Field will transform into a temporary swimming and diving facility, badminton matches will take place on the Galen Center court, USC Village will host the Olympic media team and Wallis Annenberg Hall will be at the heart of the Olympic Media Village. 

At the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, preparation has already begun. 

Annenberg alumni — and now professors of Multiplatform Olympic Storytelling— Seth Rubinroit and Fernando Hurtado have gone on to cover a sum of eight Olympic games. Rubinroit, who graduated from the Marshall School of Business in 2013, serves as a senior manager of audio and digital strategy at NBC and Hurtado, who graduated from Annenberg in 2016,  is the network’s manager of digital video, and the two co-produce the “My New Favorite Olympian” podcast. 

In these roles, Rubinroit and Hurtado saw a unique opportunity to return to USC with their amassed expertise in multimedia production and sports storytelling in anticipation of the 2028 games. In Fall 2023, they launched an upper-division journalism course that they wish they could have taken as students: “Multiplatform Olympic Storytelling.”

Having worked as a team in the past, Rubinroit and Hurtado struck a natural balance in co-developing the curriculum. Hurtado uses his teaching experience as a visual journalism adjunct instructor at Annenberg to take a lead in planning multimedia coursework — such as a multiplatform podcast assignment — while Rubinroit’s extensive experience in Olympic reporting helps the pair recruit weekly guest speakers.

“It’s really amazing having Seth and Fernando as instructors,” said Alexandra Athon Diamant, a master’s student studying journalism. “They’re really on this cutting edge of what we’re moving toward in the landscape of sports storytelling, and especially Olympic storytelling. So, it’s this amazing, unique perspective that we have at our fingertips being in this class.”

Annenberg regularly brings the expertise of industry leaders and athletes, including Casey Wasserman and Michael Phelps, into its classrooms, Dean Willow Bay wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan. 

As the semester progresses, the nine-student cohort will have even more access to Olympic athletes and media experts through planned guest speaker events. 

In October, NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines, who won three Olympic gold medals at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatic Center in 1984, will return to campus as a course guest speaker. Gaines said Rubinroit and Hurtado’s course will allow students to capitalize on the Olympics’ global impact.  

“It’s really important to understand the history of the Olympic games,” Gaines said. “The history of the Olympics represents community and the world coming together as one.”

Returning to USC as a guest speaker and to L.A. as an NBC analyst in 2028 will feel “full circle,” Gaines said. 

Dain Blanton, an Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball, former sports broadcaster and head coach of the USC beach volleyball program visited the class as a guest speaker Thursday. He was joined by USC beach volleyball athletes Audrey and Nicole Nourse and Insight Sports Advisors founder Debbie Spander. 

Blanton said it was fun to share his triad of experiences with the class. 

“The information [in the class] is invaluable for the students to get real world experience or hear about real world experience,” Blanton said. ”That’s a fascinating class and something that would be really cool if I were a student.”

Diamant said there is value in having access to these mentorship and networking opportunities while still being in the low-pressure position of a student. For Hurtado and Rubinroit, this was one of the class’ goals.

“We’ve completely opened up our Rolodex,” Rubinroit said. “We’re hoping that these students are going to come out and have just these amazing contacts in the Olympic and Paralympic world and be able to get out there and not just start from scratch but really have kind of a strong network in this very niche field.”

Short track speed skater Apolo Ohno, the most decorated American in the Winter Olympics, visited USC for his first time to begin the course’s speaker series. Rubinroit said he hopes when Ohno returns in 2028, that he will want to promote and connect with USC after having visited in advance.

Looking ahead, the professors have also made a concerted effort to incorporate a Paralympic focus in the course. Hurtado wants this to move the needle among the next generation of journalists to draw more coverage to the Paralympic games. The class will be joined by Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann in October and track star Ezra Frech in November. 

“If there are ‘x’ amount of possibilities with the Olympics, there are just as many with the Paralympics, if not more,” Hurtado said. 

The course is not the first time Annenberg has incorporated Olympic storytelling into its programs.  The school has enjoyed a long partnership with NBC since 2008 to offer student internships in Olympics coverage in London, Rio de Janeiro and Beijing, Bay wrote in her statement.

As the class continues to explore multimedia storytelling and the Olympic and Paralympic world, Rubinroit and Hurtado will continue reworking the course to equip students with the most relevant skills to be prepared for L.A. 2028, or even the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. Rubinroit said that, since the Annenberg classroom the class meets in might be part of the Olympic media operation, the class already has a small but meaningful link to the 2028 Olympic Games. 

“There is that excitement, that practical excitement too, of, ‘Hey, you know this podcast I developed in this class? I could start making something in the lead up to L.A. 2028, mind you, even Paris 2024.’”

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