Nov 25, 2011

The ups and downs of sports journalism

Everybody has their favorite sport. Sometimes it's the sport that they played as a child. Sometimes it's the sport or the team that they grew up watching on TV. Whatever the situation, there is one in particular that people seem to gravitate to. Whether it's because that is a sport in which they are gifted, or just that the sport happens to fit their preferences, they enjoy it more than the others.

Journalists are the same way. Each sport has it's ins and outs. Some are strong photography pieces, while others are difficult to shoot and hardly anything turns out. For writers, certain sports are filled with action and statistics, but others are sparse and finding a story line can be difficult.

Most people would run away from this.
I ran toward it, and it ran toward me.
Men's Basketball: As far as storyline goes, basketball is simple to follow. It's easy to write down which team scored when and you are given a lot of stats to look at after the game is finished. Strengths and weakness for each team are easy to figure out by just looking at a sheet of paper. If you have the right equipment, this sport can be a lot of fun to shoot. Lots of players get into the action, and you get plenty of opportunities for good pictures. Sitting behind the basket is a good place, but if you're not careful you can get run over.

Women's Basketball: The women's game is the same as the men's, it just moves slower and has more outside shooting. The players are smaller and the game is less physical.

Wrestling: Covering wrestling can be a bit of a challenge. A lot happens, but it's difficult to figure out what to write about and what to gloss over. It's easy to say who won, how they won and by what score, but it's hard to describe how an individual match went. Oftentimes in this sport, you have to depend on the wrestlers themselves and their coaches to describe a specific happening, as they will most likely remember it/understand it much better than you will. Photos, as long as the lighting is decent, can be easy and fun. As long as you're attentive, you can capture the wrestlers in some fantastic poses. Crotch grabs are fairly common, and make for plenty of laughs in the newsroom.

Plus, sometimes you get fun faces like this.
Volleyball: Volleyball can leave an unprepared writer in the dust with some of it's newer terms, but it pauses a lot and gives a note taker time to catch up. It's broken up into smaller chunks, and you can compare stats for each set and put them together to tell the story of the whole match. Depending on the camera/lens you've got, this sport can be a challenge. If you want to get shots with the players facing you, you have to be on the far side of the court, putting you a long distance from the action. The best shots are usually of the right side hitters. That gets you close to the players and, since most players are right handed, a majority of the time their faces are turned towards you.

Cross Country: If it weren't for the fact that cross country normally loops around and crosses the same place several times, it would be nearly impossible to get photographs of. The trick to shooting cross country is to follow the coaches. They know the course better than you ever could, and are always at the right spot to watch their runners race past. Writing this sport is difficult, to say the least. The only statistic that you get to work with are times for each athlete. That's why it's best to focus on other things. Like the biker wiping out during the race.

Women's Soccer: The biggest issue with soccer is just that... the field is huge. For a photographer, you have to choose where you stand carefully to get as much of the action as possible before it moves to the other end of the pitch and makes shooting difficult. As a writer, a plotline can be difficult to find for soccer because much of the game is scoreless and is about strategy rather than offensive stats. Also, it can be difficult to figure out who to attribute shots on goal to as the game moves on quickly without pausing for you to catch up.

Just look at the gold you can capture when they don't know you're watching.
Baseball: America's pastime or not, baseball moves slowly for somebody that didn't grow up following it. "Highlight" performances can mean different things for each game, so you can't have a go-to stat that you look for in a recap. You have to watch everything, not just the offensive game. Players spend most of their time dawdling around the dugout and the bullpen, and are usually willing to talk during the game, making interviews easy to attain. Photos are great for this sport, as it is played outside and the sun/sky can be utilized.

Track and Field: This sport has plenty of things going on all at once, and even more athletes competing. There are a lot of stats to look at and a lot of highlights to pen, but little real plot to follow. You have to choose a few big performances and focus on them, telling their story. Photography for this sport can turn out well, but everything is happening all at the same time, and it can be difficult to capture all of the action.
Sometimes the best shots are AFTER the race.

Could I pick a favorite? Probably. Will I? Probably not. Each sport has it's challenges and each sport has parts that I enjoy. You can find a story anywhere, as long as you look hard enough. Sometimes the most interesting thing just isn't what you initially showed up to watch.

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