At community newspapers, often the editor-publisher is the principal newsperson, the main ad salesman and, usually by default, the photographer.
In that role, all too often, you see things you’d really rather not see. One particularly disturbing result of witnessing these acts of blood and gore and, all too often, the absolutely horrible side of humankind, is that you are force fed death in its most grisly forms. At one point in time, car wreck photos were a staple of community newspaper front pages. When you’re all things at the paper, including chief cook and bottle washer, you take the path of least resistance to putting something that “sells” on page one.
Unfortunately, blood and gore “sells.” If you don’t believe it, the next time you’re driving down the highway and there’s an accident scene, look at the slowed traffic on the opposite side from the accident. The rubberneckers will be craning to see if there’s anything gruesome and sensational to view. Back in the day, as we old newsmen-storytellers say, I shot lots of wreck photos and, more often than not, the investigating officers would ask me for prints of the wreck, shot from every angle. State troopers weren’t issued cameras in those days. I understand that most now are equipped with cameras with which to augment accident investigation.
In all probability, I’ve told the story of the time I witnessed a shooting looking over the shoulder of the shooter.
I was into a habit I knew “big city news photogs” had and that was to hang out with the police because, sooner or later, you were going to get a crime scene shot that you thought was worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
In Rosenberg one Saturday night, I was coffeeing up with the cops at the station when a call came in that there’d been a shooting death at a cantina. I accompanied an officer to the club “to secure the scene” for the crime lab guys who would be just moments behind.
The killer, who’d stabbed the victim with a pocketknife, was holding several bar patrons at bay against one wall, when the officer and I arrived through the front door. Quickly, the killer turned toward us and began to advance. Despite several warnings to drop the knife, he kept advancing menacingly. As I looked over the officer’s shoulder, he promptly put three bullets in a triangle in the shooter’s chest. Omigawd!!
Perhaps two years later, I was covering a sports banquet at Dulles High School in Stafford.
The speaker was a hero of mine, Bill Yeoman, who was then the coach at the college where I attained my degree, the University of Houston. He’d revolutionized college football by instituting the Veer offense and his Cougars were chewing up giant chunks of yardage with a running game that disguised the ultimate handoff to the point of completely fooling the defense.
Yeoman was hailed as a genius. I loved it.
So, came the night of the Dulles banquet and I took my trusty Yashica D camera to the dinner to get photos, especially of the famed coach. I secured a seat at a table close to the head table, but off to one side, so I could get up and shoot photos without disturbing too many people.
Yeoman was introduced and got a rousing welcome. After all, Stafford, Missouri City and Sugar Land (which comprised the Dulles school district) were back fence neighbors to Houston.
After he got comfortably into the speech, I got up and eased up to one side of the speaker’s podium and I saw Yeoman’s head turn in my direction as he said, “That’s my bad side.” Of course, that produced uproarious laughter from the audience and a red face for me.
Undeterred, however, I took about five steps toward the other side of Yeoman, which evoked even more uproarious hoo-hawing from the audience and a red face from Yeoman. To which the good-natured coach said, “Touche’.”
I’d done a rare one-up on the great coach.
Humor shots are much better than blood and gore, no matter what you think your readers want.
WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.