By: Joe Strupp
As NFL teams head to training camps later this month, the newspapers that cover them are facing some of the most restrictive and controversial policy changes ever regarding coverage, from limited online video use to advertising on mandatory sideline photographer vests.
The rule changes, which will take effect when the pre-season kicks off in August, have already sparked complaints and talk of protests by photo editors who contend the moves are another effort to promote television coverage and diminish competitive print.
“The networks are trying to control,” said Rich Gigli, assistant managing editor/photo for The Record in Hackensack, N.J., which covers both the Giants and Jets. “I think they have gotten to the point where they can take us or leave us.”
Specifically, the rule changes under protest are:
1. New online video limitations that allow only 45 seconds of any game-related video clip to be used online; require such clips to be removed after 24 hours; and bar archiving of such footage.
2. A 20% reduction in sideline access credentials, which at least one newspaper has said cut its media credential allotment by one.
3. New requirements that all sideline still photographers wear red vests to distinguish them from other credentialed media.
Just this week, it was revealed that the sideline vests would include advertising logos for Canon and Reebok, according to the National Press Photographers Association. That move has sparked the largest outrage and launched an almost unified opposition.
“We object to the advertising on the vests, we are there as unbiased observers,” said Brad Smith, sports photo editor for The New York Times, which usually sends two photographers to each local home game. “You wouldn’t want a writer walking around with something that says ‘Kodak.'”
Hai Do, director of photography for the Philadelphia Inquirer, agreed. “I don’t think we should be a walking billboards for any commercial interest,” he said. “Fundamentally, as news organizations, we should not be advertising. I have a problem with that.”
NFL officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Mike Fender, director of photography for the Indianapolis Star — which often sends up to five photographers to Indianapolis Colts games — said some photographers have already discussed protesting the order with tape over the logos. “It is just being told we have to wear something,” he said. “There is a big objection.”
But Fender also opposed the online video limitations, saying the Web has become such a strong part of the paper’s coverage it is unfair to restrict it. “We are trying to cover the news and get it out to people who read the Star,” he said. “A great number of people read it online.”
Robert Hamilton, assistant managing editor/photo at The Sun of Baltimore, said the credential limitation has already cost him one of the four sideline spots he used to get for Baltimore Ravens games. “They carry the clout on this,” he said of the NFL and the networks.
Do of the Inquirer said he had not been told how many sideline credentials he could have for Philadelphia Eagles games this fall, but said he usually needs up to six for proper coverage, with four of those for photographers. “If it is cut back, it will severely hamper our efforts. You need to have at least four people to cover every conceivable angle,” he said. “I don’t think it is unreasonable for a newspaper to have that many, maybe more.”