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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2009-07-27

Ask Sports Shooter: 'Why should newspapers cover local events?'
David Eulitt says that staff photographers provide papers unique content.

By David Eulitt, Kansas City Star

Photo by David Eulitt / Kansas City Star

Photo by David Eulitt / Kansas City Star

Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters, center, walked off the field in dejection after the Chiefs' 4th down pass fell incomplete in the Chiefs 17-10 loss to the New England Patriots on September 7, 2008.
A recent topic on the SportsShooter.com message board posed the not-so hypothetical question:

"Why are newspapers, in an era of slashing budgets and layoffs, even sending local photographers to sporting events the newswires cover? Isn't that a waste of resources?"

As a staff photographer for the Kansas City Star who covers the Kansas City Chiefs as my sports beat from July to January, I have heard these questions before.

In our newsroom.

It is the sad reality of modern journalism that expenses are as important to whether we cover a story as the story itself. I don't see that changing anytime soon, in fact, until online clicks turns into payments, decisions about coverage will have to take into account frugality and content.

In fact, due to the advertising downturn and the Chiefs 2-14 season last year, our paper reluctantly decided to skip sending me on the road to the final two road games of the 2008 season, marking the first time in over 20 years the Star had not covered a Chiefs road game. Combining the often blowout, non-competitive games with the reality of needing to save as many jobs in our department as possible made that an easy decision. (I'm back on the road with the Chiefs this season.)

So is that it? Do we fold up our collective tents and go home and fire up our iPhone browsers? Obviously, I say there is great value in what local photographers bring to college and pro sports coverage. I've read an unending number of stories about the demise of newspapers and believe me, I recognize the reality of the economy. My argument for content is a passionate one, but one that has an equally loud voice on the side of solvency. I do think that unique content is a smart business decision.

In Kansas City, we have two pro sports teams (well, actually one, on most days the Royals don't meet the minimum standards of MLB baseball). Since the Royals have been so dismal for nearly 20 years, it's a Chiefs town, like it or not. Television ratings in Kansas City for Chiefs games are always the very top of television share ratings, and it's not even close.

Kansas City has not one, but two, sports talk radio stations which fill hours a day of football matchups and breakdowns. Blogs, websites, fantasy football, employees cruising sports news at work…all of it, the insatiable appetite for NFL football is there. It's the same in Green Bay, Boston, Dallas, Chicago…everywhere.

So how does our paper find content that makes us stand out from the pack? We have two excellent beat reporters and a photographer there with the team, at practices and games, both home and away. We spend money to stay at the training camp in Wisconsin for nearly three weeks. Even being thrifty, it's still a big chunk out of our photo department's budget for me to be there. Why do it?

The NFL doesn't credential bloggers and access means content. Content means people come to our paper and website for their Chiefs news. The days of getting news from a handful of sources has vanished. WE are competing now, and that's a positive thing.

The amount of content we provide hasn't changed, just the number of pages in our paper has. The remainder finds a home on the web, where our photo galleries generate a very large number of viewers.

The news wires services provide a critical need for newspapers and do a fine job at what they are…generalized news. With rare exceptions, wire stories are the bread and butter...scores, stats, stars, standings. Our paper offers player profiles, matchups, in-depth game previews and breakdowns in addition to all the numbers. Since I'm with the team all the time, I know that the Chiefs kick returner is in danger of losing his roster spot, he's not just number 84 to me. I know the team runs a lot on first down. I know the kickers are shaky. All those little things add up to making pictures rather than missing them.

One of the biggest challenges at the Star is getting the play or plays of the game. The sports editors aren't interested in the pretty incomplete pass photo, they won't even glance at that. Every game, they expect images from the plays that turned the game into a win or a loss.

When the Chiefs are on the road, wire services usually give much lighter attention to the road team in their photo report. I'm there only to shoot the Chiefs, so I see a lot of stuff on the road that other photographers aren't seeing. That doesn't make me better, I'm just looking to tell the story for a Kansas City audience.

Because I'm looking from the perspective of a Kansas City Chiefs fan, I find those photos I call the "in-between" moments, ones that often tell more about the player than the action photo.

Last season, the Chiefs lost on the final play of the game in Foxboro to the Patriots. I made a dejection photo of Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters walking off the field. While that didn't make the paper the next day (the paper wanted the dropped pass in the end zone), it was perfect for the off-season drama about Waters not wanting to play for the team after being snubbed by the new general manager.

The buzz about whether Waters would return played out for weeks. It's not some portfolio photo for me, but it does gain our photo department more credibility of the value of what we offer up to our sports section.

Our newspaper has become more like a magazine in its approach and the photography needed to adjust to that as well. Those kinds of photos, I hope, make my fellow staffer John Sleezer, who covers the Royals and Chiefs, and I more valuable to the paper.

In the section of the newspaper where readers have a constant hunger for information, I think we should feed them as much as we can in an experience that readers return for more, rather than point out the fast food down the street.


(David Eulitt is a staff photographer with the Kansas City Star. You can view his work on his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/eulitt and at his personal website: http://www.davideulitt.com.)

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