Journalist Hannah Storm is no stranger to the Olympics — Rio marks her fifth time on the frontline. But this year brings a host of different concerns, including heightened safety measures and a hyper-vigilance for Zika. However, Storm isn’t going to let anything hold her back. She’s prepared, just like the rest of her ESPN team.
Storm spoke with Variety about this year’s Games, her concerns about traveling to Rio, women in the sports industry, and the future of sportscasting.
This is your first time back at the Olympics since Salt Lake City. How does it feel?
I’m so excited because when I first started off in broadcasting my idol was actually Jane Pauley because she broadcasted Olympics. I knew I wanted to go into sports and I wanted to be a sportscaster and there weren’t really very many women doing that on television, but they were doing Olympics. The morning show anchors would always go to the Olympics so I always watched her and thought that’s exactly what I wanted to do. At NBC, I got to host for the Olympics. Because NBC had the Olympic rights I have not gone to an Olympics since I left NBC. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the chance to physically go to another Olympics and cover it. Taking “SportsCenter” on the road on the first time ever at an Olympics, I’m thrilled. We’ve been zipping all over the U.S. interviewing Olympic athletes and it’s just been a joy.
What’s the format going to be like for your show in Rio?
My show, which is “Face to Face,” is an interview-based show and so it’s definitely conducive to going to the Olympics because it’s not a highlight-driven show. I’ve already put in the can five swimmers, four Dream Team interviews, a golfer, two of the biggest female soccer stars — all done. So as they roll out and they are competing next week, I have these great interviews and one-on-one access with all of these athletes. We really carefully plotted out in advanced. Plus we have analysts on the ground who will be able to grab athletes live and via satellite. But we’re also in the middle of NFL training camp so I will be talking from Rio doing NFL. If there’s anything breaking or important in the States, I’ll be covering that from Rio. In a sense, it’s an experiment because we’ve never done it like this.
What kind of preparation did you guys gets from ESPN in terms of Zika and safety at Rio?
My husband works for NBC and he does all the Olympic swimming and they have had very parallel preparation to us in terms of videos, a lot of information, what to do, what not to do, where to go, where to avoid, all the practical things you need to do to guard against Zika — just like all the fans and athletes that are going. What to wear, what not to wear, and those sort of things. There is a certain protocol that they give you to guard against it. We’ve had extensive preparation in that regard. It’s interesting because safety is a concern every Olympics, but there are multiple concerns in Brazil. It’s a combination — Zika, water, and security. All of those things have really been front and center. I can’t give specific text, but it’s been very comprehensive. I’m not going to go to Rio and sit in my hotel room in fear, if I’m going to the Olympics, I want to be part of the experience. I’ve never been to an Olympic event outside of the opening ceremonies as a fan, so this is the first time I’m doing that.
How is Rio going to be different than previous years for you?
My four Olympics were Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, and Salt Lake City. Back in the day I would have about nine to 10 binders that were three inches thick and I took all of them. That’s the level of preparation that we did, where we drilled down to each individual athlete in each sport. Massive amounts of preparation about the city that it was in. That was a different age in terms of computers and how we disseminate information. Everything now is on computer and a lot of my focus has been deep-dive interview preparation so that’s been different for me. It’s extensive, but it’s like, “Let’s really get to know and drill down Carli Lloyd and Carmelo Anthony.” It’s almost a more personal preparation. Olympic stories are really special. I’ve spent a lot more time this year with individual athletes, as opposed to when I went with NBC where I would see them after they won gold, but right now I’ve spoken to them before they even go out and compete.
How do you guys tackle current Olympic issues, like the Russian doping controversy?
I did a big segment on that last week. To be at a place like Rio or any Olympics you can definitely dive into the news arena of the Olympics. I was on the set during the Atlanta bombing so my co-anchor and I anchored the networks coverage of the Atlanta bombing. We knew so little of what was happening. There was no Twitter or anything. The only information we had was people getting on a payphone trying to call in. Whether it’s the Russian athletes that are tilting the competition or anything else, we’re ready to cover it.
Do you think that social media is a place where you can tell sports stories?
I think sometimes they can be standalone, especially if they’re newsy. Also, there are stories that people will watch like short features. Branded content stands alone on social media. There are things that we are able to push out that people will watch on social media. There is an attention span and time limit. Maybe they wouldn’t watch a short film in the middle of the day but definitely a snippet of a conversation. Does everyone want to see a story of Notre Dame? No, but the people that are interested in it will.
You have to cast a wide net because people are used to cherry-picking what they want to see on social media. The fans are the boss on social media. They either click on it or they don’t, you just have to provide them enough content to make a choice. We don’t drive the conversation as much as the audience does. We’re trying to change with the times and trying to provide people with something that is interesting, not obvious and next level. The Player’s Tribune takes out the interviewer and the athletes push out their own content.
Given that players can push out their own content, do you think the role of a reporter will become obsolete?
No! There’s so much content and so many different platforms. There’s so much room for traditional reporters, writers, bloggers. The next frontier is that fans become talent and I think they should! The possibilities are endless. If you’re a person who wants to disseminate content related to sports there are so many venues that you’ll never be taken out of that conversation. But what I love is that athletes are content conscious now where they have the option to have their voice completely unfiltered. I really respect athletes who want to take charge of their content and who aren’t afraid to sit down with somebody. There’s a lot of ways to slice it. I think the key, in my opinion, is to make sure it’s authentic, it has to come from the heart, well researched, and be original. If you are those things, I think you’re going to be successful.
The sports industry has always been very male-dominated, what changes have you seen in past couple of years?
A real positive aspect has been the different kinds of voices that have emerged. I think there were so many conversations that were taboo in the sports field, but because of the news cycle we’ve been forced to talk about them, and put them front and center. Conversations that bring up racial issues pertaining to sports, for example. We used to be afraid to talk about controversial things in sports, we just talked about what happened on the field. We weren’t addressing them to the extent that we do now. Issues pertaining to sexuality, domestic violence — these were things that were never in the sports conversation. When they became in the conversation a whole host of different voices became more important.
It’s almost as if the news cycle called for diversity of voice, female voices that weren’t only sideline reporters or studio anchors, but were real opinion makers and voices of debate and heft. We needed the female perspective and we’ve seen female sportscasters go to another level. Now, what we’ve seen as a recent result is a female-oriented format for a sports talk, whether on TV or radio, and at a number of networks. We’ve seen different voices crop up that are really powerful. Women have been able to expand their role in the networks and in different formats. It’s really changed the game and I hope it continues. You need to take that and keep those voices for sports commentary, too. You can’t just have women speaking solely on women issues. You need that diversity all the time, not just for specific issues. They are important for the texture and fabric of broadcasting. Sports has become a lot more socially conscious.