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Smiling for the camera

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, November 24, 2012

It’s not every day you see a seventh grader dunk a basketball.

I’m sure that was part of the thought process for the people who took the kid’s picture and emailed it to the newspaper where I used to work.

(Sorry, coaches. This did not happen around here.)

Bob Buckel

They were excited to have this athletic prodigy in their midst, so they sent the photo to our sports editor. But it was not a great photo. It was too far away, low-resolution, and the kid’s face was not visible. On top of that, the information they gave us just said a seventh grader at that particular school recently dunked a basketball. It didn’t tell us his name.

Being a good sports editor, and sports having slowed down since football season, he called and suggested he come out, take a better photo and do a little story.

“Out of the question,” the school replied.

“Why?” we asked.

“We can’t give you his name,” they said.

Again, “Why?”

They couldn’t, wouldn’t tell us. We assumed the kid’s family was having some sort of custody battle, or was in the witness protection program, or dad was in jail, or mom was a secret agent, or he was really an experimental government robot kid. All we could do was assume, since no one could/would tell us anything.

So we tossed the photo. If you’re going to tell your readers a seventh grader can dunk a basketball, the least you can do is tell them the kid’s name.

It was all moot by spring, when he won virtually every event at the junior high track meet. Each time the public address announcer gave the results, he loudly proclaimed the kid’s name for all to hear.

Sadly, he moved away before he could star for the high school team.

But it raises a point about how much the world has changed.

I know that sounds like something an old geezer would say (and I qualify) but even the 30-somethings in the office shake their heads at how different it is, nowadays, going to schools to shoot pictures.

Some districts are still fairly relaxed, waving our photographers onto the campus for field days, Christmas programs or the multitude of award-presentations we’re invited to cover. At the big districts, those days are gone. We enter a campus only if accompanied by an administrator or a PR staff member.

But even the most laid-back school districts now want to know whose photo you’re going to print – because they all have a “not-to-be-photographed” list. Sometimes, the way the form is worded at the start of school, parents have the option to have absolutely no information released about their child.

Most likely think about unwanted mail, phone calls or emails, or even worse, identity theft, without realizing that if they check that box, their kid can’t get his picture in the paper when he drops a Mento into a two-liter jug of diet cola for science class.

Our photographers are keenly aware that no matter how great a photo they might get, we might not be able to use it if one of the “do-not-photograph” kids happens to be in it, grinning at the camera. (For some reason, those are usually the little Forrest Gumps whose faces are in every frame.)

It’s also ironic that some of the parents who check that box and keep their kids’ faces out of the Messenger also post all kinds of photos and personal information on social websites. Those sites, by the way, are a much richer source of information for predators than the newspaper.

It’s a sign of the times, but a sad one.

One of the best compliments I ever got was from a mom whose son was graduating from high school. She told me they had a thick scrapbook on him, starting with his birth announcement, pictures from Little League, the school play, honor roll clippings, community service projects, all the way through high school basketball and the graduation section.

“I know that if we lived in the big city, none of that would have been in the paper,” she said. “I’m just so thankful we live in a small town. We have the story of our son’s life, all clipped from the newspaper.”

He was a fiesty little point guard who played good defense. As far as I know, he never dunked.

But we knew his name.

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