Monday, June 9, 2008

Action shots show strain of the race

Q. That picture you ran of my daughter was the worst photo I have ever seen in a newspaper. She ran a great race, but from the photo you would think she ran poorly. This was her final high school track meet, so why did you pick such a bad photo to end her career on? You owe us an apology.
-- Alan Williams, father of San Luis Obispo High School track star Tonie Williams

A. The photo in question was published on Page 8 of our Sunday sports section June 1. It shows Mr. Williams’ daughter, Tonie, just after she crossed the finish line in sixth place in the 400-meter event at the state meet. This particular race is one of the most difficult in track, pitting the best runners from throughout California.
Our photo shows Mr. Williams’ talented daughter in the heat of competition. Our managing editor, Tad Weber, notes that “pictures of athletes in the midst of their sport might not be any subject’s preferred pose, but we certainly aren’t trying to make anybody look bad. We're sorry this photo upset Mr. Williams.”
A quick review of other athletes’ photos that we published the same day – and that we published other days from other competitions – reminds me of what my 13-year-old daughter tells me of the pictures taken of her playing soccer: She hates most of them.
So why do we publish action pictures?
Because the intensity and emotion they convey make them compelling – plus the photos typically reflect the athletes’ determination and athleticism. Showing athletes during their events – just as we portray other people during news or feature events – also captures history in action.
In the case of Tonie, a freelance photographer who took pictures for us at the state meet sent us two pictures, says Sports Editor Ashley Conklin. Her eyes were closed in one image, so he used the other one.
To be sure, we photograph athletes in feature settings when we’re writing stories about their achievements. We did such a story on Tonie Williams in 2007 (see photo from then).
The question raised by Mr. Williams reminds me of a question posed by a Morro Bay High School football fan last fall: “Why do you publish photos of football players with their helmets on? You can’t see their faces.’’
Our answer to this fan was similar: We want to document the event, and at the same time, put our readers on the sidelines to help them experience it.

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