Maiden or Eagles shirt at the game...
November 16, 2008 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Journalistic ethics as it pertains to a student/school newspaper.

I'm the sports photographer for my university newspaper. At home games I wear shirts with my team on it. Nobody has said anything, and I doubt they would because we're not in a major conference (on the lower end of mid-major if even that) and there usually aren't a lot of other people there.

Over the course of the next week or so (including today if that matters), we will traveling to schools in the ACC, SEC, and Southern Conference for men's basketball games.

I know that working for a newspaper normally I would need to stay away from affiliating myself with a team in any way. But does this change in any way in my situation considering that I am going as a staff member of the school newspaper?
posted by theichibun to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're the paid staff photographer for your school's newspaper.

I don't think any level of objectivity is assumed by anyone in regards to what you wear and how you snap your photos. You're focus will be on your own team, for what is essentially your team's paper...

That said, if you're being granted special access (via a press pass) to restricted areas, you should dress neutrally. Not only does it make you look more professional, but it also will keep security hassles to a minimum. (Speaking as a former dress-shirt-and-tie-wearing reporter who has gotten into places while my shabbily dressed editor was turned away.)
posted by wfrgms at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2008

If you're going as staff, you'll get better other team interviews/poses if you dress in a non-threatening manner. However I've yet to see a student newspaper who focuses on the other team, even if their team is soundly trounced. So this being sports and the fact that your articles will be "We Trounce Other Team" or "Despite Valiant Efforts, Other Team Defeated Us.", try not to sweat it?
posted by Phalene at 9:24 AM on November 16, 2008

In college I worked for an independent student newspaper at a very large public school, and as a photographer would have never worn a shirt that was even in our school colors to a game. Granted, the paper I worked for took itself pretty seriously, but all the reporters and photographers felt like they were more likely to be treated as professional postgraduate journalists if they did their best to act like them.
posted by mjcon at 9:34 AM on November 16, 2008

From the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics:
Journalists should:

— Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
I guess it depends on whether you see yourself as a photojournalist who happens to be working for a student newspaper, or just some guy who's taking photos for the student rag.

Good student papers always try to attain the highest level of ethics, standards, and quality possible, sometimes exceeding "professional" news media in this regard. Crappy student papers phone it in. What kind of paper do you work for?
posted by grouse at 9:43 AM on November 16, 2008

Grouse has it exactly. You never know when a story is going to land under your nose. Do you want to be the guy trying to get access to the opposition team if something big has happened there, while wearing your team's colours?
posted by bonaldi at 10:00 AM on November 16, 2008

John Harrington has mentioned this in his blog.

Sure, it's not The White House, but I recommend erring on the side of dressier. People will take you more seriously.
posted by Magnakai at 10:11 AM on November 16, 2008

I agree with the previous posters. Even if you don't think it's a big deal, when other people see you they might think, "See, I knew all journalists were biased." It's a bad precedent to set. Remember, you're not just representing yourself or your school--like it or not, you're representing an entire profession.
posted by girlmightlive at 11:07 AM on November 16, 2008

If there's any question in your mind, why would you even consider wearing the school T-shirt?

The ethics are the same whether its for the school paper or for the New York Times. It would be different if you were taking photos for the athletic department's handouts, but you don't work for the athletic department. You work for the paper.

I work on the news side (by which I mean, not sports or features) of journalism, and some sports journalists look to me like fans first and journalists second. (Maybe this is unfair, but I'm just trying to be honest about how you may look to other people at your own paper and what biases you may need to overcome. I see some Washington reporters in the same light, though, and there are many sports reporters, photographers and editors whom I consider are among journalism's finest.)

I've had sports reporters tell me, "Oh, we can just use any old anonymous source because sports is different." It's not. A city reporter is allowed to vote but shouldn't wear a T-shirt supporting a candidate for mayor at a rally.

As for the college paper focusing on their own team, that's just taking the local angle. Metro papers do that, too.
posted by Airhen at 11:43 AM on November 16, 2008

What's the worst possible thing that could conceivably happen if you just wear a nondescript t-shirt? (answer: whatever psychic agony you endure from wearing other than your favored clothing, which can be summarized as "fuck-all" unless you are clinically insane)

What's the worst possible thing that could happen if you wear your school t-shirt? Some jerk thinks you're not a real journalist and won't let you in somewhere you want to go and you miss a shot?

Righty then.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:43 AM on November 16, 2008

I think you put yourself in the shoes of a professional. If you were a professional sports photographer covering hoops, would you wear a team shirt?

The only people who do are those being paid by the team.

Although you are being paid by the school newspaper, you have a responsibility to cover the story as a professional. And grouse is right about avoiding perceived conflicts. You never know what will happen. If a riot breaks out, do you really want to be wearing a team shirt?

I worked for a large news agency for many years. Most sports photographers I know wear a photo vest because of all the doo-dads they carry.

Sure, ROU_Xenophobe, nothing would probably happen. What if you run into someone who could offer you a job? He or she will size you up in one look and yes, nothing would happen.

Not a good thing.
posted by up in the old hotel at 12:46 PM on November 16, 2008

I've been a staff writer for my school's paper for about a year and a half, though I generally do entertainment/living, not sports.

When out on assignment I often wear one of my nicer school polo shirts or something similar to help corroborate my affiliation to venue gatekeepers or other staff on location. It helps grease the wheels if there's any question about my credentials to be somewhere, though, really, most of it is just looking presentable and confident when you talk to people.

However, I can see how this question might pop up if you're covering any sort of event involving a school competition. All of our staff photographers that I have spotted wear neutral colors when covering sports events. I personally would think twice about showing my school affiliation if I were covering any sort of event where there might be tension between schools, even if it were something as innocuous as a concert that I knew a lot of students from a rival school might attend.

I think the best rule of thumb is to do what you think will draw the least attention to yourself and make it as easy as possible for you to cover the story. If wearing school colors could potentially encumber access, wear something else.

Of course, school colors can also be ambiguous. Andre Benjamin of Outkast fame once walked in for a round table interview with me and a few other college journalists. I rose to shake his hand when I noticed his bumblebee-colored tie. "Oh," I said, "I can see you're wearing Georgia Tech colors!"

"Actually," he said, with a smirk on his face and noticing my GT polo shirt, "it's Notre Dame."
posted by anifinder at 1:34 PM on November 16, 2008

Don't wear either team's colors unless you're attending the game as a spectator or PR photographer. If you're playing at being a journalist in public, obey the general rules of ethics and avoid any appearance of bias. This also means no cheering when your team scores. None. At all.

I've shot NCAA sports for my college newspaper and several real newspapers. I always wore black. Everyone looks good in black.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 3:44 PM on November 16, 2008

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