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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-10-04

Fly On The Wall BLOG Gives Insight into the Working Photographer
By Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by
During one of our photo staff meetings several months ago, the online editor at my newspaper let slip that they were starting up blogs for reporters. Staff writers like the movie critic, the television critic, and some sports writers would be the first wave of bloggers on The Salt Lake Tribune's website. My initial reaction was, can there be such a thing as a corporate blog? Or one that's edited (as these would be)?

A few hours after he made his pitch I sent him an e-mail that read, as I remember, "I'll volunteer to do a blog for the website. But get me started quick before I come to my senses." They took me up on it and so began my blog, Fly On The Wall, a behind-the-scenes look at life as a newspaper photographer.

Once I was committed, I had to figure out where I was going with this. It needed to be more than a photoblog. More than a place to post photos that didn't make the paper. This blog would be on the Tribune's website, which draws tons of visitors daily. And these people need to learn about photojournalism. They need to understand how and why we do what we do, especially today when media in general is under the microscope. People need to know how we shoot and how we edit. They need to understand ethical concerns, set-up photographs, photo illustrations, etc.

Over the years I have found that the public is very interested in photojournalism. But photojournalism often seems uninterested in the public. Sometimes it seems we are a closed circle of photographers who show our favorite work to each other, but not to anyone else.

These ideas ran around in my head for the first few months as I started to post. It was a shaky start. I was getting advice from everyone on what sort of things needed to be said. I wrote posts explaining what we did, and pointing out the different types of photographs we take and the thinking behind them. I wrote a little bit about ethics, I explained what a photo illustration is, stuff like that. It was Photojournalism 101.

But things didn't really flow until I relaxed and started writing about my experiences in the field. The educational stuff, the how's and why's of newspaper photography were still important, but I began to mix them in with stuff that was fun, different, and behind-the-scenes.

Photo by Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune

After Senator Bramble sat down, Trent tried to zoom in on his ID badge.
Now, knowing that I have to feed the blog keeps me on my toes, looking and listening for interesting details that I can write about. You have to be more alert than when your only responsibility is to file a picture or two from an assignment. And there is now a bigger audience for the photos I take, especially those that aren't published and weren't meant to be. One of my favorite posts was a collection of these, photographs I took during a boring, though important press conference. As I wrote:

An assignment yesterday took me to the Utah State Capitol to photograph Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. signing a new tax bill into law. Never mind what the bill does tax-wise. That's certainly not important. Not here in the blog, anyway. What is important is that you are about to see some photos that are never seen. The fun ones. These are the shots that normally end up in a drawer and are certainly not published.

From the same post, spilling secrets of technique. Not how to use the camera, but how to get a name, the lazy way:

After Senator Bramble sits down, I try to zoom in on his ID badge. At this point I don't know his name. It's a simple face-saving measure; I'm trying to get his name without having to ask. I can't come back to the paper without knowing his name, and there is nothing worse than having to go up to some of the most powerful men in the state to ask them what their name is. I'm supposed to know this stuff. But really, who does? People might recognize the Gov, but no one on the street would recognize any of these other guys. Sorry, but it's true. After my failure to photograph his nametag clearly, I start thinking about how I'll ask his name. I figure I'll start with, "Pardon my ignorance, sir, but could I ask your name?"

My blog could best be compared to the extras and commentary on a DVD. After recently completing a project of several months and around 9,000 images covering a Navajo high school girls basketball team, I've been putting up posts from each trip I made to the Navajo Nation. These posts have been filled with outtakes, photos that didn't make the final edit, and even photos with their original crops (as opposed to how they were published in print). I'm able to talk about how I shot these photographs and the story I was trying to tell, as well as offering details and moments that would otherwise remain in my notebook.

Now that I've been writing for several months, I'm starting to see a community of readers forming. It's nothing too big at this point, but I'm getting encouraging comments from readers. Even a job offer from someone named "Anonymous." Does life get any better than that?

Here are some tips if you decide to blog (especially for a company):

Photo by Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune

Whitehorse High School's star player, Derica Dickson, prowls alone in the locker room focusing on the upcoming game at home vs. San Juan High School. All season long, Dickson felt the pressure to perform in order to secure a college scholarship.
Be honest. People are drawn to candor and openness. Don't be afraid to admit your mistakes. My first post told how I forgot the name of Utah's Lieutenant Governor, a man I had met and photographed multiple times.

Be careful about what you post. People will read your words, especially the very people you write about. You can't easily take those words back.

Be patient. Building readership online takes time. You add readers one by one. Your numbers will grow, but unless you're blogging about cute pets and/or why you hate celebrities, it's going to take some time. Don't focus on your stats, and don't worry that you're getting fewer hits than the Fantasy Footblog (which was the case last time I checked my stats). As long as you keep the quality level high, people will stick around when they find you.

If your blog is going to be edited (like mine), find a good editor. Find someone who will allow you to be yourself while at the same time protecting you from yourself. If you are able to, pick someone who will understand what you're trying to do. Tribune Assistant Managing Editor Peg McEntee graciously edits my blog and her thoughtful oversight has saved me from getting myself into trouble.

Lastly, write when you're on the clock. Try not to put hours of personal time into your work blog. This is the hardest one because when ideas come you want to get them down and online. From personal experience, everything suffers when you lose track of whose clock you're on. Be careful.

Oh yeah, the blog is at http://blogs.sltrib.com/trent


(Trent Nelson is a regular contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. He is the chief photographer of The Salt Lake Tribune.)

Related Links:
Trent's member page

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