Column: Line Drives — Seminar was a chance to learn

[This is my column in the Dec. 11 issue of The Commercial Review.]

There is always room for improvement.

Whether it is on the court, on the balance beam, in the water or on the field, athletes of all shapes and sizes can get better.

Professionals, even, strive for greatness and perfection.

Sports writers and photographers are no different.

Which is why at the Hoosier State Press Association Newsroom Seminar and Better Newspaper Contest Saturday in Indianapolis, learning from the best in the state was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up — even if it was on only four hours of sleep and nearly enough caffeine to stop someone’s heart.

I had entered a few photos, a story on the Jay County High School girls’ soccer team’s sectional title in 2013 and a select few of my Line Drives columns.

While it would have been neat to come away with an award from my first year here at The Commercial Review, I knew I was going against some stiff competition.

One of them is my boss and coworker.

Our own Ray Cooney took home the honors for best sports photo, best sports news or feature coverage and best sports commentary.

But Saturday was more about being there to support my fellow staffers as they collected their awards — 20 in all. It was about getting the chance to meet with Mike Fender, the lead visual journalist at the Indianapolis Star, Bob Zaltzberg, editor of The Herald-Times in Bloomington, and a handful of other professionals.

I had met with Fender the previous year at the HSPA seminar, and he had immediately acknowledged the difference in quality from then until now.

In addition to critiquing a few of my photos, Fender shared some insight with me and helped me develop a new strategy when it comes to shooting photos at a sporting event. I used that approach almost immediately, as I covered the JCHS girls basketball game later that night against Leo.

The results? Not great, but better.

Last year, I was learning the ins and outs of sports with which I was not very familiar — basketball, swimming, gymnastics and track, to name a few. At that time, I was more focused on capturing the action and less on the surroundings.

That is not the case anymore, as I have become akin to shooting reaction shots rather than action. That tactic produced some quality photos from the Jay County girls and boys soccer teams’ runs to sectional titles and the Patriot volleyball team’s upset of a few state-ranked teams.

However, there are still ways to get better.

Later Saturday morning, I met with Zaltzberg about my writing. I had provided him with a few samples — my column on my father’s diagnosis with cancer, a sports feature story on South Adams High School sophomore Morgan Alberson’s recovery from a neck injury and my stories from the two soccer sectional titles. The last of the three I feel came from my best weekend of work in my short career.

Although I may have thought the stories I had given to Zaltzberg were among my best, as with most things, there are ways in which they could have been done differently. Fewer quotes, more back story and maybe one or two more sources.

A few of those suggestions were just reiterating areas in which I knew I struggled.

The HSPA seminars and coaching sessions are great for someone like me. It’s always nice to get a different perspective on the photos I take and stories I write, especially from those outside the county with no attachment to the schools or athletes.

Also, seeing the best work from around the state helps me critique myself on both the good and the bad.

How could I have captured a photo differently? What potentially great photo did I miss while my head was in my notes? Could I have written a story another way?

While most people would like to add “award-winning” to the front of their title, not everyone is blessed with the honor.

It’s a goal I am hoping to achieve.

With every football game, swim meet or tennis match, I am coming up with ways to further develop my skills as a writer and photographer.

So one day — hopefully this time next year — I can fill this space with what it’s like to win my first award.

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