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News outlets should be wary of photo restrictions at sporting events

July 5, 2010

By Marlon Scott

The basic building blocks of any newspaper are well crafted stories and dynamic photos. With these blocks, both online and printed newspapers can be constructed into edifices ranging from as simple as a sturdy, functional log cabin, to an expansive, extravagant palace.

Larry Coyne, photo editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is one of many journalists who are warning his peers of a flaw in this fundamental tool for newspapers.

As part of the workshop “Covering Sports in a 24/7 World,” presented by MPI at the Millennium/Four Points Sheraton Hotel in St. Louis, Mo., Coyne led a discussion about the limitations newspapers are facing on the utilization and re-selling of photos.

Specifically, Coyne addressed how organizations ranging from the high school level to the pros, are trying to limit the number of photos news organizations can post on their websites or re-sell.

He said these limitations can include how long photos are posted as well as how many of them can be displayed online. For example, in 2008 MLB implemented new online media restrictions which included a limit of seven photos posted during a game and a 72-hour time limit.

Organizations like MLB advocate these restrictions as an effective means to defend their property. Conversely, members of online journalism contend such restrictions interfere with a journalist’s ability to do their job.

Coyne said these limitations are often unknowingly consented to when photographers sign for credentials at restricted sports events. He said these restrictions are an issue that newspapers cannot afford to ignore.

The best defense against these limitations is to “work together and be informed,” Coyne said.

He said it is important for newspaper staff members to research the appropriate media regulations ahead of time and to completely read the information on issued credentials before signing to accept them.

If confronted with unreasonable limitations, Coyne said, “Remain professional,” and “don’t sign.”

Another alternative offered in the discussion was for the photographer to mark out the restrictions they do not agree to on the credentials before signing.

Coyne said guidelines should be set up by every newspaper. Every staff member should know what is the acceptable standard of their paper and the appropriate policy of their newspaper in that situation.

In addition, he stressed the importance of journalists to work together to oppose these restrictions legally.

“Don’t be afraid to get help,” Coyne said.

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