Q & A with sports photojournalist Bettina Hansen (Spring 2009)

by J. Gabriel Ware/@JGabinator

Sports photojournalist and Seattle Times staff photographer Bettina Hansen/@bettinahansen participated in the Chips Quinn Scholars program in spring 2009, interning at The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La. I talked with Hansen about her career and time with the Chips Quinn program.

Q: What made you want to be a photojournalist?

Hansen: My mom worked full time, so my twin sister and I spent a lot of time with our grandparents, and my grandfather was an avid reader of the newspaper. When I was 11, he put a camera in my hands and taught me the functions of the camera, shutter speed, aperture, etc. He then put me in my first photography class. Years later, when I was in college at Arizona State University, I was majoring in pre-law. The Arizona Republic did a business story about how hard it was to find jobs when you move to a rural area, and they used my grandfather as a subject. I got to meet the photographer who came along, and I asked him what he did at work every day. He said, “I ride around and take pictures all day.” That sounded great to me, so I changed my major to journalism and graduated from Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

Bettina Hansen

What intrigued you about sports photography?

Hansen: I was never a sports fan growing up. I vaguely remember watching the Phoenix Suns when Charles Barkley played for them. My grandfather used to say, “If more Americans cared about politics the way they care about sports, this country would actually know something.” My editor in Baton Rouge told me that I was going to shoot sports and I was going to like it. I then realized that having the skills to shoot sports and being able to bring an empathetic and humanizing eye to the coverage of athletes, who at the end of the day are just humans, was a huge asset.

Because newsrooms are cutting staff and placing more responsibilities on reporters, do you fear that the market for photojournalists is diminishing?

No, I think it’s the opposite. Photojournalists are the most poised to be the jack-of-all-trades. I’m working on two stories now where I shot video and photos and am planning to be the lead writer. Having an expanded skill set as a photojournalist only makes you stronger.

How did being in the Chips Quinn Scholars Program help your career?

Before Chips Quinn, I didn’t know how I wanted to set myself apart as a journalist. Being in the program was a turning point for me because it gave me the perspective I needed to really focus my career. The program made me realize that I needed to be telling stories about diversity, balancing out our coverage and showing that people of different races aren’t tokens that are only to be covered in crimes or cultural festivals or fairs.

What was your main take-away from the training?

What I just mentioned about balancing out our news coverage was a big aspect of it. Here at The Seattle Times, I try to look at our coverage as a whole and think about how I can contribute in a way that adds to the narrative and to the way we portray our city. I always think about who are we covering and whose voices are we leaving out. Also, the multimedia workshops really showed me how powerful multimedia is in storytelling and journalism.

What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?

That’s a tough one. But I think all good journalists fear that they got the story or their subjects wrong because everyone has their biases, points of view and sometimes privilege. I have nightmares that I do a story and get my subjects all wrong. So anytime I get a message from a subject telling me that I got them right is a proud moment for me. Getting messages of gratitude from people in the community that I inspired or touched are all proud moments for me.

What advice would you give to aspiring photojournalists?

To find what you really want to focus on and start there. It helps to have a wide skill set, but it also helps to narrow your focus to what you care about. If you care about being in the mountains, then go be in the mountains. If you care about women’s issues, then focus on that. As we compete in an increasingly narrow market, it’s more important than ever to inject passion into your work. Even when you’re assigned to something you don’t necessarily like, find what you do care about in it and find the universal story. The universal story is the story that everyone can relate to. When you look for universal themes such as love, family, motivation, power, you will make something that is powerful not only to you but also to your reader

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