Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a full shift photographing a story with Craig Craker about Waitsburg-Prescott quarterback Stirling Eastman. It's rare to have time to work on stories when the newsroom has been halved since I was an intern in 2007.
The few chances I've had here were mostly self-generated, like my stories about the Burgess brothers and the Kennewick girls bowling team. When writers work stories, the photo department is often a stop they make toward the end of the process. This time, Craig pitched the story and we covered it together, following Stirling through practice and back to the Jubilee Youth Ranch, where he lives.
You can read Craig's story here, but the quick summary is that Stirling is the first Jubilee kid to play starting quarterback for Waitsburg-Prescott. The team has players from schools in both towns in addition to students at Jubilee, which is a Christian boarding school for high school students with disciplinary problems. We didn't know any more than that going in, and digging up parts of the story was part of the thrill.
My rough plan was to get photos to show the contrast between Stirling's team persona and how he interacts with the other boys at Jubilee. It's always weird to insert yourself into a large group during their usual routine. The players were better at ignoring me than I expected, which was nice, and Stirling didn't seem too evasive, despite knowing the story was about him.
Practice was mixed. Since it was a defensive day, Stirling was working on some defensive back drills. It was nice to see a little more action than I probably would have during a normal practice, but normal is what I was after. Plus, he was removed from his presumed leadership role as quarterback.
Most of the interactions I saw were with other Jubilee kids and weren't anything special:
I liked shooting the players at the water fountains to show some of the diversity of the team:
I had some OK practice action, though,
and a little coach interaction:
What I think was the best photo from practice came as the team cheered at the end:
It fit especially after sitting in on Craig's interview with Stirling, who said he was a somewhat reluctant leader for the team. One comment that stuck out was how the outsider perceived Waitsburg's treatment toward him compared to last year's quarterback, homegrown star Zach Bartlow. Bartlow led Waitsburg-Prescott to a state title last season and Craig told me that he was probably the best quarterback he saw while covering state championship games at the Tacoma Dome last year.
Oh, and he's the coach's son too.
Stirling said he felt like he had to perform that much better to earn the approval of the local fans.
This shot was another consideration, as Stirling talked with assistant coach Troy Larsen as head coach Jeff Bartlow heads the other direction:
I didn't get the sense that there was a bad relationship between coach and quarterback, but I definitely noticed Stirling interacting a lot more with the assistant coaches. Again, that could have been a byproduct of the defensive-minded practice.
Back at Jubilee, Stirling jumped right into some hoops with the other boys at the ranch. He later told us that basketball was how he found a way to fit in at Jubilee. I saw a slightly more relaxed Stirling during this, but didn't capture anything of interest during the pick-up games:
Assistant coach Mark Hauck suggested to Stirling that he take us to meet his mentors Jamaal and Sarah Johnson, who also live at Jubilee. I was a little annoyed at first, since I hadn't shot anything that great at basketball and was hoping to photograph something to contrast his football persona.
It ended up working really well for Craig, however, and sitting in on the interview helped me understand the story a lot better. It was the first time I'd seen Stirling really loosen up during the day, too, and I snapped a interview shot after learning that Stirling saw Jamaal and Sarah as his parents at the ranch:
Everything looked like it was going to fall into place as Stirling planned on doing homework with friend and football teammate Keith "Biggy" Lake back at his dorm. I was excited to see a little of his non-sports interactions at the ranch, but Biggy was off in another dorm and Stirling fell into the usual subject mindset of doing whatever he could to satisfy the photojournalist's needs so he can get on with life.
After a little negotiation and repeating a couple times that I did not want him to set something up for a photo, I asked what he actually wanted to do. He said he just wanted to shower and relax. It was already later than we had planned on staying and it seemed we had hit a wall in access for the day.
The wall wasn't because Stirling was uncooperative. He just wasn’t used to being followed around all day. Every subject has a different level of comfort while being documented in their daily routine, and almost nobody ever gets what I'm looking for as a photojournalist after half a day. People assume photographers are looking for set-up photo opps and it takes a while for them to realize we just want to be there to document whatever happens.
It's strange to say, but the somewhat disappointing shoot was one of the more encouraging assignments I've had lately. It gave me a small taste of what I've been missing by not having another project to work on. It's sad that a six-hour assignment was the most substantial in recent memory, but I'm to blame for not digging up my own story to work on long-term.
Speaking of long-term...
Today we say farewell to reporter John Trumbo, a 40-year veteran of the news business. Sometimes, the perception by young people of grizzled old reporters is that they're dead weight, reluctant to get with the times. While John was certainly loathe to learn the new social media whizzbangs and mobile reporting tools available, he was always a lively journalist — even filing stories this week while on pre-retirement vacation.
I won't pretend to know all that went into his decision to retire, but he did tell me recently that he'd rather figure out how to live his life after newspapers than try to figure out Facebook. Though I'm excited about the possibilities of incorporating all the new tools available to the newsroom, it's sad to see such a dedicated reporter at least partially lose his drive due to the changing newspaper landscape.
I often try to get snaps of co-workers while on assignment. I used to post them regularly on my Facebook albums and we print up some funny ones to post on the wall in the newsroom. John, however, holds the distinction of being the subject of one of the few photographs I've made with an actual moment while he and I covered the Miss Tri-Cities Pageant last year:
With no disrespect meant to the Miss Tri-Cities organization, it captured his mindset at the event. The hard-news hound always seemed happiest with his finger in somebody's eye after raking up some muck. I'll miss his stories from years of adventuring in local news and his professionally curt phone call demeanor while interviewing evasive sources. I don't know what he'll be up to next, but I'm betting there will be no frills nor Facebook involved.
And while we're on the subject of career moves, Johann "Slang" Hattingh got the boot after tweeting about his newspaper's unethical doctoring of a front-page image. The Citizen newspaper found itself in journalism hot water after cloning out dead bodies from photo of a suicide bombing in Kabul. What's interesting to me is the statement is the paper's official statement is unclear about what happened to the digital offenders, only stating that "the company has dealt individually with all people who had a role in the serious error."
So the guy who commented about the serious error gets kicked to the curb, while the people who committed one of journalism's deadly sins apparently did not. It's sad that news organizations, which depend on the free flow of information and thrive when shining a light on the world's shady spots, so often turn into P.R. agencies when things smell bad in-house.