For me, June has always been a conference month — and this year was no exception. On my way to the annual MIT-Knight Civic Media meet-up in Cambridge, Mass., I made an essential stop in Aarhus, Denmark. Aarhus University, which is based in the Danish city, organized a major soccer conference in partnership with a European organization called Play the Game.

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Aarhus has amazing scenery — it’s a historic city with colorful, dainty houses. And while the buildings’ walls speak of that history, also in the air during my visit there were innovation and a passion for technology. The conference, called “Challenges for Football,” featured expected topics such as financing sports clubs and maintaining players’ health, but it also included a significant section on innovation and technology.

I was invited to give an opening speech and share my experiences with operating SochiReporter.Ru, a website that covers, among other news, preparations for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the second Olympics hosted by Russia.

The excitement surrounding the conference was enhanced because it was organized parallel to the UEFA U21 soccer championship, which Denmark was hosting this year; conference guests and speakers got to attend the match between the U.K. and Czech Republic in the town of Viborg.

Experimenting in citizen journalism

After my presentation on SochiReporter, I had the pleasure of meeting with Danish School of Media and Journalism professors Kristian Strobech and Nils Mulvad, and their partner Rasmus Johnsen from the Active Institute, who were engaged in an exciting experiment for U21. They built up a team of 20 students who were asked to be mobile phone reporters.

Then they tapped some local citizens — or 150 volunteer reporters — to cover the championship in real time. The experiment was carried out in collaboration with Danish national TV2 and local newspaper Aarhus Stiftstidende.

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From left to right) Kristian Strobech, Nils Mulvad and Rasmus Johnsen.

They worked out certain rules for every participant, introducing various levels of engagement and trying to systematize the flexible sphere of citizen journalism. The students went out each day into the field, using Twitter for their reporting (#U21aarhus) and a specially designed iPhone application created by the team with the help of Widgetbox, a site that enables anyone to build mobile apps in minutes.

They also used Storify, a social media curation service, to shape and weave their stories out of the social networks’ status updates and multimedia. Strobech, Mulvad and Johnsen gave deep insight into the project during the conference’s Innovation section, which was moderated by David McGillivray, a U.K.-based professor and new media researcher. McGillivray is participating in a number of projects covering culture and creativity surrounding the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Andy Miah, a professor in emerging technologies at the University of the West of Scotland, organized a conference on Olympics and social media back in October 2010 at the Abandon Normal Devices festival in Manchester, which I covered back then. Both Miah and McGillivray are doing great research on how preparations for the Games are changing the cultural climate in the U.K.

The U21 experiment was an exciting test of how citizen journalism can enhance the coverage of a large sports event. It will be interesting to see how social media and citizen journalism will play a role first in the London Summer Olympics and then in the Sochi Winter Olympics. These big events are an opportunity for citizen and alternative journalism to converge and take center stage.

Image of Aarhus courtesy of flickr user Greg_e.