Feb. 15, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • Hartford • 12:15 PM EST
My neighbor's Sports Illustrated arrived yesterday with a picture of Super Bowl victor Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts on the cover.
I love the photography in SI. The high quality images always tell stories from interesting angles, especially the three-page spread in the front of the book.
But something struck me yesterday as I leafed through the magazine and spotted this double truck Canon ad of all 11 SI shooters at the Super Bowl: they are all white. Yet most of the people they photographed in that game were black.
Yet for the first time in NFL history, both coaches in the big game were black. Thus, it is apparently easier for an African-American person to win the Vince Lombardi trophy as a coach than it is to be an African-American and have your photos of that coach be published in the nation's leading weekly sports magazine.
The game SI showed us came through the eyes of a specific demographic, and I suppose, it was for a specific demographic - the prized 18-to-34 year old male market. And what better way to capture that than through the eyes of men who have been there before.
It's not beyond the grumbling racist pundit class to make the same argument about black photographers as they do black quarterbacks. But trust me - if you can catch a football leaping four feet off the ground while two other men are in your face, you probably have the fast twitch muscles to handle a 500-2.8 $15,000 megalens.
And if you can study composition of NFL defenses well enough to beat 27 other multi-million dollar mercenary armies, I'm pretty sure you could break down the composition of Picassos and Bressons and be able to apply that to your own work.
So why the segregated ranks of photojournalists? Could it be that the camera equipment is way too pricey for your average middle class kid to buy, forget the poor black kid in the slums of Hartford, and that media outlets don't recognize this as a problem and thus aren't doing their part to insure diversity in their newsrooms?
In a word, yes.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with journalism today. Look at virtually any major newspaper's photo desk, and the diversity of skin color and economic background will tell the same story as this photo in SI.
There are exceptions, but generally, Canon's self-congratulatory ad tells the story of the exclusive club that has become the world of professional photojournalism.
It is that same attitude that asked me if I had a press pass to photograph the governor's parade. Do I need one? Does having a laminated plastic card give me permission to use the First Amendment?
Journalists have a responsibility not just to tell the story, but to perpetuate their craft and open the field up to as many voices as possible - the old marketplace of ideas theory.
Journalism is not the province of people with the equipment, or the access. Unfortunately, due to the corporate conglomeration of media, and the billion-dollar stakes of pro sports, the opportunities for people to break into the ranks are slim.
Perhaps Canon should take the money it spent on that ad and invest it into a high school journalism education for urban youth so that by the time we get to Super Bowl L, we might have African-American photojournalists telling the story in images.