Gutting of Sports Illustrated

March 10, 2020

"Either Sports Illustrated Deserves Better Or None Of US Do" by Ray Ratto

Just like to share this article by Ray Ratto and the great response from my friend and great Sports Illustrated photographer Al Tielemans.

Hey, Ray Ratto....just my two cents here. One of the biggest problems at SI was that the hierarchy was all writers...at a place called Sports ILLUSTRATED! (Yeah, I know they "illustrated with words") I will NEVER downplay the work of our writers, whose week-long dives into the minutiae of the game and the players made game stories come alive like no place else. Our writers were brilliant...fucking brilliant. Steve Rushin, Austin Murphy, Tim Layden, Joe Posnanski, Scott Price, Michael Bamberger, to name just a few of my favorites (writers AND people) often made me realize my BA-in-English-transition-to-photography was the right move!!

But whoa, Ray, you forgot something. The pictures. Sure all the decision-making was made by the word geeks, but the photo geeks were vital too, and maybe, as the business morphed into the digital meme & gif society we live in now, if a little more attention had been given to the pictures we might (and I repeat, MIGHT) not be here now.

Two concrete examples: When the photo department went essentially fully digital in 2002, there were a lot of issues photographers had to deal with (way too wonky to get into here) so we asked for a meeting. "No," said the word geeks. So the photogs flew in, on their own nickel, invited the photo department and even the great poobah ME to come discuss our concerns and ideas. One of the biggest things to come out of the meetings, was that we were all willing to use the digital technology to get pictures up on the website, almost immediately after any event, especially the major ones. Forget about the debates and details...this was essentially shot down because photographers could not be "trusted" to write captions. Given the crass captions that were being written for the NFL cheerleader galleries, that was obviously a missed opportunity.

Second, the last 6 months of my time at SI, I essentially stopped dealing with the Photo Department, because honesty had gone the way of the E-6 process (photo joke). I started hanging with the tech heads, the publisher, the advertising guys. I wanted to know what was going on above us that was costing us all this money and jobs. I would bring camera executives in to meet these people, and they would leave laughing at their cluelessness. I kept digging. I learned that "in the past" ad agencies would just show up with a wheelbarrow full of money and say here's $XXX give me 6 months. I sat with the publisher and ad vp one day at lunch, and they explained how things had changed...they explained RFP's to me... "Request for Proposals." So apparently, now, ad agencies would come to several media outlets and bring them a concept, like, we want to "own sportsmanship" or we want to "own success" and the media organization would bid on these concepts with advertorial drivel like 'what a great businessman some former athlete became.' They suggested I come up with ideas, several of them, ten or more, that they could "put on the shelf" so that when one of these RFP's came through the door, they might be able to apply it and bid successfully.
As we talked, either the ad vp or the publisher said to the other, "Oh, we've never thought of putting together a visual package."
That night I went home and started preparing to get laid off. I was job eliminated three months later.

So here's a callout to the brilliant minds and people that I photographed the ILLUSTRATED part of "the" magazine with at one time or another...Walter Iooss (my first real inspiration, I called him at home in 1985, and he chatted with me for 10-15 minutes about how to get started in this field...I was 22. I always enjoyed that we shared a Belgian heritage, and when I got to work with him the first time at the '95 World T&F championships in Sweden, I figured I'd get to watch him throw his cameras around and have the pictures land in his lap...WRONG...Walter worked his ass off...), John Biever (a great photographer, and maybe ten times that greater a person...he was my SI 'dad' and 'big brother' and raised me in the SI world) Damian Strohmeyer (I learned a lot about how to parent my kids by listening to him), Chuck Solomon (my closest friend on the staff, even though I was not allowed to watch the Sopranos with him during Spring Training because I might say something at an inopportune time), the tireless Heinz Kluetmeier (gave me my first contract as DoP, but taught me more about real life and publishing life than I probably realized at the time....also drove me crazy at times) George Tiedemann (great chats about life...and a Great name!), Tony Tomsic (the Gentle Giant), John Iacono, Ron Modra, Peter Read Miller (met him as an overwhelmed 23 year old at the 1986 Olympic Festival SI Sports photography workshop and he was the first person to bring the SI mystique down to 'real people working hard, working smart'), Richard Mackson, Manny Rubio, David Klutho, Anthony Neste (shoulda gone to FL with Tony....sigh....), VJ Lovero (we had a business spat early on, but worked it out and became very close....many long conversations during his illness...first a medical report, and then an ongoing debate about all things baseball...V'J though we should all have numbers, like ballplayers did....he wanted to be 14, like Pete Rose), Dave Kyle, Robert Beck (probably the most talented, well rounded and funny photographer I ever worked with), Simon Bruty (the best political conversations and debates!), Bill Eppridge (Oh, the stories....), Manny Millan, Neil Leifer, Richard Clarkson, John McDonough, Brad Mangin (we met while working the 1990 World Series in Cincy for the National Sports Daily...fellow baseball junkie....the John Boccabella vs. Randy Hundley debate rages on!), Fred Vuich (Fred and I destroyed Beck and Kojo in wiffle ball at one of the golf majors, and we also toured England in a one week $3,000 Land Rover rental...Nina was not happy), Bob Martin, Kojo Kinno, Bill, Frakes, Greg Nelson, Jeffery Salter, Lynn Johnson, and all the people I missed (apologies) and that came before.....Cheers to all those people that encouraged everyone to flip open the magazine and look at the pictures first. 

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Either Sports Illustrated Deserves Better or None of Us Do by Ray Ratto


David Liam Kyle Thank you for visiting my blog page and I hope you enjoy my "Story Behind the Shot" series.

David Liam Kyle

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