Pay to Play? No Way

The following story appeared on our sports page July 1st, 2008. As of yet the web site for the GI does not have the story listed (we do not publish the whole paper on-line, only a few selected stories).

After several years of providing free coverage and free publicity for the Wrangler Jr. High School Finals Rodeo, this year the organizers decided that news media are not allowed into the arena for "safety reasons", and for not wanting to have too many photographers on the arena floor. Yeah. Last year aside from our paper and the weekly paper in town, the only photographers in the arena were the ones that Wrangler contracted. We shared images with the Associated Press and gave national coverage to this event as a result.

The thing that gets me, is if we were pay them and be sponsors this would not be an issue and we would have arena access. My guess is the real reason behind this policy is the contract photographers felt we were costing them sales of prints.

Anyway, here is what the sports editor wrote:

Photographer ban means no coverage
By Alan Arthur
Sports Editor
Sports coverage in the summer for many newspapers includes the basics like baseball, summer camps and all the outdoor activities that come with warm weather. At the Independent, one of our main sports is rodeo — lots and lots of rodeo.

With that coverage comes some of the best rodeo photos you can find in any newspaper. Be it the Lions Club Rodeo, the Navajo Nation PRCA Rodeo, the Ceremonial Rodeo or any of the other rodeos around the area, you can depend on excellent photography.

But not this week.

I am sorry to say that the Independent is unable to provide its usually strong coverage of the Wrangler Junior High School Finals Rodeo that will take place at Red Rock Park through the week. It was a difficult decision to make but the Independent feels that this is the only course that can be taken. This is unfortunate for all the rodeo fans in town for this event, but it is even sadder for the young competitors who have fought so hard to reach this event that they would not be able to read their names or see their photos in the Independent.

And the reason is simple — censorship.

The National High School Rodeo Association has decided that only their official NHSRA contractors and sponsors will be issued photo passes for the Wrangler and the National High School Rodeo Finals in Farmington. The 2008 WJHFR Media Personnel Rules and Regulations states in bold capital letters that ‘NO UNAUTHORIZED PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE ARENA WILL BE ALLOWED.’

It further states that “All media wishing to obtain photographs of the rodeo performances may do so in the ‘Media Office.’”

This is censorship, pure and simple. The Independent has been restricted to only using the photos that the WJHFR provides to the media. While the association may find this acceptable, the Independent and other respectable media outlets do not.

Reporters and photographers are allowed access to the rodeo where the association permits them to be. But our photographers would be severely hampered in being able to provide the excellent photography rodeo fans in this area have come to expect by trying to take photos from the grandstand. And it must be emphasized that this is a city-owned park that we are talking about.

The NHSRA’s media coordinator Mike Hausman said that the restrictions are for safety reasons. Yet, in all the time our photographers have covered rodeos, including this past week at the Lions Club Rodeo, there has yet to be an injury to a competitor, rodeo official or our own photographer due to their negligence. Independent photographers know how to cover rodeo safely.

It’s true that we would still be able to run stories on the rodeo without the photos, but complete coverage of this event requires good writing and good photography. Restricting one area of the journalism process attacks the entire process. What comes next? Will the association feel that it has to read all stories regarding the rodeo before they can run in the newspaper?

Last year, the Independent ran numerous photos and stories on the rodeo, not only on local athletes but on out-of-town athletes as well. That also included running the schedule and complete results every day.

That won’t happen this year, unless the WJHFR changes its censorship policies.
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