Wednesday, December 6, 2006

not enough people on the field?

A colleague of mine, Andrew Dolph, at the Medina Gazette recently published a piece online that highlighting a OHSAA Division Regional Semifinal football game between the Brunswick Blue Devils and the Canton McKinley Bulldogs on November 11, 2006 at Kent State University’s Dix Stadium. Andrew has graciously allowed me to bring this up as a topic for conversation, and for this situation to be 'Monday morning quarterbacked.' I should also note that they have an extensive multimedia page that is worth a visit.

The photos in the package are solid moments, but what caught my attention was the music in the background. It turns out that the soundtrack is the BHS Marching Blue Devils performing at the Bands of America National Championships at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. First of the bat, Andrew has not 'hidden' or disguised this information, it is clearly labeled as such in the piece and below the flash package in the HTML.

Andrew and I talked briefly on the phone today about this piece and it raises a number of questions: How much can one person do at a game like this i.e., find images, get correct caption information, capture sound, get peak action, find emotional moments, capture the turning point play. How much should we expect of our photojournalists/journalists in these situations (should there have been a team?); Is it misleading to use sound from a different event, even if it is the same school? And the reality of this situation is that we often think about what we could have done differently or better after, even days after an event is over.

That being said, I wonder if the band had played at half time of this game, could Andrew have recorded that? I really want to hear the clash of helmets, coaches yelling, the crowd cheering, all the audio that 'sets the scene for me.' Should he have just done a slide show without the audio? Could the reporter have helped out with getting audio? How many times should Andrew change 'hats' as he shoots and records? Is there enough audio equipment at his paper for every photographer to have a recorder with them?

Hopefully Andrew will be telling his side of the story on this forum. First and foremost, I am not castigating him. I think these are all things to think about in multimedia journalism, and how we represent ourselves and our work to the public, his piece merely was the catalyst for raising a number of these questions.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Thanks again, to Mike for originating this particular post. It's an important issue that's been eating away at me for weeks, if not longer.

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Through a brief discussion between photo and sports, it was decided that we would hold off on full coverage of the semifinal game for two reasons, one of which I protested: 1) It was expected that Brunswick would lose (protests), and 2) No one else was available from photo to cover the game.

If Brunswick were to have won, the general consensus was that we would send a team out to cover the finals, and go from there. When I think of team coverage of this type of event, I envision two photographers to cover game action and proximity features, one photographer with audio equipment for "color", and generally two reporters. Of course, this begs the question of: Just when is it important to send a full team of journalists to adequately cover an event in order to produce a multimedia presentation? How does an editor, or any staff for that matter, decide upon an adequate level of coverage?

In the case of this particular game, I knew that a stringer would be covering the game from another angle, but the managing editor explicitly stated that she only wanted to see staff photos appearing in the pages the next day. Moreover, that particular stringer has no interest in multimedia production. My hands were tied.

On my best day, I still don't feel comfortable being charged with the duty of covering a playoff football game from start to finish, capturing audio, and gathering caption information in a manner that would be accurate and where the end product quality would be of a high enough quality. The possibility of setting a sound recording device in a key location crossed my mind. However, our only unit — a Marantz PMD660 — is owned by our photo editor and free to use by all on staff. I just didn't feel comfortable doing that, especially with a light drizzle all night long. Many other photojournalists I spoke to about this dilemma mentioned hanging a microphone from a pocket and letting the "tape" run. This is a tactic that I have trouble with as well. When I work a high school football game, I tend to run — a lot. And, our microphone is sensitive enough to pick up shutter actuations.

Fast forward to game time.

Upon arriving, I realized that Brunswick's band was not in attendance. Turns out they were in Indiana, competing at "the national's". So, with no band, and no sound recording device on my person, I thought that it might be possible to request a recording of something that the band had done in the past. My request was honored a few days later, after the band returned to Ohio. (Note: The picture of the director that appears in the show is Canton McKinley's band director; And yes, he lost his glove conducting the National Anthem! As far as the potential of audio being misleading, I don't think it's an issue in this particular case. The Marching Blue Devils played "The Wall" at every single game. So, to have it set as the sound track wasn't much of a departure from the norm.

The true challenge came many days after the game, perhaps a week later. I sat down to edit for the web, cut the audio, and produce a show. I listened to the sound track provided, on which there were three different songs to choose from, and "The Wall" was most appropriate. I felt that running the pictures straight through the audio wouldn't be all that interesting, so I decided to arrange the images to match the audio accordingly.

Many weeks have passed now since that game, and all the different ways of telling the story of Brunswick's loss have come and gone. At this point, I wish that as a photo staff we could have sat down and brainstormed all the possibilities. Instead, I received continual pressure to simply get the story published and up on the web. In hindsight, I learned many crucial things about the dynamics of our staff, and newsroom in particular.

I do recognize that one way of effectively telling the Brunswick football team's story, would to have gone back and done follow-up interviews with some of the key players, the head coach, and perhaps the community. Then, I could mix in the audio beneath the interview track, and crossfade the two when appropriate. I suppose the internet does allow me the luxury of being able to conduct those interviews, and re-produce a show that is far more effective. Do I owe it to the players. Yes. Do I owe it to the school. Yup. Do I owe it to the community? Indeed. Do I owe it to myself. Absolutely. Therefore, it is my responsibility to tell the best and most effective story possible with all available technologies and tools at my disposal, even if the news is stale.

Would anyone from the community gain any further insight into the specifics of that playoff game? Probably.

Does this mean I should feel obligated to re-produce a fresh show based upon interviews? Probably not. It is just a game, after all.

Could I have done all of this on deadline and still produced a meaningful and accurate presentation? No.

If you would like to contact me, please do so using the following email address:

andrew_dolph@yahoo.com