Try covering Sochi from a cultural viewpoint

Since I was a chunky kid in grade school, I have enjoyed watching the Olympic games on television. The athleticism of the great competitors can leave me in awe.

When I was a reporter, I used to think it would be an honor and a great privilege to cover either the winter or summer Olympics. So I am slightly annoyed at the complaining and wry observations coming from some journalists who are in Sochi covering the 2014 Winter Olympics.

If you haven’t seen or heard about it, go to Twitter and search under the hashtag “SochiProblems.” There are dozens of posts from journalists on-the-scene in Russia, tweeting photos of side-by-side toilets and toilet-seat covers not installed properly. Some of the rooms have curtain rods that are broken and door handles that don’t work properly. There are hundreds of tweets pouring in from people who are amused by it and are retweeting and adding their own commentaries.

Please. I can understand the need to inform people about the dirty water flowing from faucets, or the cramped quarters for some of the athletes. Those are the makings of a news story. But reporters amplifying their Seinfeld-like musings about their own accommodations appears self-absorbed; especially while on a highly prized assignment — one that some of their equally talented co-workers would jump at the chance to get.

They aren’t entirely to blame, however. Some of them are probably getting encouragement from their editors. If the writers are also blogging about their experiences, such entries about the quirky happenings at Sochi are likely driving online traffic to their news organization’s website.

Instead of making light of the situation, it should serve as an opportunity to step outside of one’s existence and see life through the eyes of another nation, another culture.

Michaela Saunders Wangler, web editor at Washburn University in Kansas, thought of her recent trip to Nicaragua when she heard about the reports from Sochi. She traveled to Central America last month with a group of Washburn students as part of an annual service trip.

Wangler posted on Facebook this morning:

“All this uproar about not being able to flush paper in toilets in Sochi and I’m thinking two things: Where is the uproar for Nicaragua and have these people never traveled outside of the “First World”? Yes, it is a privilege to be able to drop soft paper in the bowl. Now, instead of using your energy to complain, use it to make a difference.”

Rhonda Levaldo, a faculty member at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas and a former president of the Native American Journalists Association, likened the dirty water described by journalists in Sochi to problems within our own borders.

“… in regards to the water coming out lookin like beer color, uh that is happening in the United States! Be concerned about it here, not just when it is affecting you personally,” Levaldo wrote on her Facebook wall.

I’m hoping tweets about #SochiProblems will fade away soon and be replaced with some incredible stories of Olympic athletes and breath-taking photos from the competitions. It would also be great to see some stories that look at the culture in that part of Russia, and help explain why the country was not prepared well enough for the winter games.

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.

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