A photographer needs more than a good eye to do the job.
On Friday night, Los Angeles-based photographer Mark J. Terrill landed the AP a scoop with sharp hearing.
In the eighth inning of the Angels’ game against the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles’ CJ Cron made a diving stop of Matt Joyce’s hard-hit line drive, which elicited loud cheers from the crowd in Anaheim. Positioned in the photographers’ well next to the A’s dugout with other photogs, Terrill was transmitting pictures from his computer when he overheard some shouting as Joyce ran back to the dugout. As Joyce got closer and the exchange became more heated, Terrill heard Joyce curse at the fan, using a gay slur. Terrill said Joyce and the fan further yelled at each other in between innings, with Joyce challenging the fan to a fight before running off to take his position.
"I think ... I have never heard an athlete yell a gay slur ... at a fan. That, to me, is the definition of what news is. It is something out of the ordinary" – Mark J. Terrill
Terrill says he hears all sorts of exchanges between players and fans. But this one was different, and he had to weigh whether he should get involved.
“I think that in my 32 years of photojournalism I have never heard an athlete yell a gay slur ... at a fan. That was my line of demarcation and that, to me, is the definition of what news is. It is something out of the ordinary,” Terrill said. “I also took into consideration that hundreds of adults and children could hear him.”
Continuing to take pictures during a close game, Terrill made time to call the stringer writing for Sports and describe what just transpired. The stringer did not mention the incident in the breaking story but he was able to ask Joyce quietly after the game about the argument with the fan. Joyce was vague:
"It's just one of those things that fans kind of get into the game. Obviously, we're pretty frustrated on our side and I had just hit a ball hard and had Cron make a good play," Joyce said. "I was walking back to the dugout and just had a fan yell some vulgar and obscene words. For me it just wasn't the right time to say some stuff like that. I fired back and obviously as soon as you fire back, you regret saying anything, because it's just not worth it."
By omitting the news from the breaking, the stringer inadvertently gave the AP a competitive advantage because at the late hour – after 10:30 p.m. PDT – writers only have one chance to talk to players until the following day.
While the stringer relegated the incident to a bullet point in the New Approach, Baseball Writer Ron Blum, recognizing the importance of the incident, asked that it be broken out into a separate story. Once the barebones story was in Blum’s hand, he pursued it further, interviewing Terrill twice to flesh out the incident and get the details it demanded.
The story that moved was unmatched through the night. From news reports to tweets to ESPN, all media formats cited Terrill or used the AP story outright. The story remained an AP exclusive until the A’s and Joyce addressed the accusation the next morning. Even then most media outlets continued to cite the AP story throughout. One organization even blamed Terrill for Joyce’s suspension: “Oakland A’s Outfielder Suspended for Saying Something Offensive After AP Photographer Narks on Him.”
For their enterprising efforts, Terrill and Blum split this week’s $300 Best of the States award.