Kenneth Irby

Kenny founded Poynter's photojournalism program in 1995. He teaches in seminars and consults in areas of photojournalism, leadership, ethics and diversity.


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Hysteria or proper precaution — a conversation with Michel du Cille

Michel Du Cille

Michel du Cille (Photo by: Julia Ewan/TWP)


Kenny Irby interviewed Washington Post photographer Michel du Cille about his work in Liberia covering the Ebola virus, but before we get into his work, we will address Syracuse University’s decision to disinvite the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner from its S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications Fall Workshop.

Each side stands firm that they were considering what would be best for the students on the campus of Syracuse University.

Last Thursday, du Cille had “cleared the 21-day monitoring window for Ebola and was symptom free,” when Syracuse officials told him not to come to the journalism workshop.

It is “pandering to the hysteria of ignorance,” said du Cille. “The most disappointing part of this bad decision is the disservice to the fine journalism students at Syracuse’s Newhouse School. What a missed opportunity to teach future media professionals how to seek out accurate hard facts; backed up with full details about the Ebola crisis,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

RELATED: “Covering Ebola: A Poynter Conversation”

Lorraine Branham, Dean of S.I. Newhouse, told Poynter via email that what du Cille “has not made clear in his criticism of us is that he was not coming to Syracuse to show his work from Liberia or discuss the Ebola crisis. If he were, I might acknowledge that my students missed something — that would have indeed have been a missed opportunity. But this workshop had nothing to do with Liberia or Ebola. He would have critiqued portfolios and reviewed student work.”

For Branham, the decision was more about the general greater good of the university then her personal position. Branham told local media on Friday that if it were just about her she would welcome him into her home for dinner and not fear for her safety.

“This was a tough call but I still believe it was the right one for us,” said Branham. “We did not make this decision lightly. We did so after talking with health officials and local medical doctors who suggested we exercise ‘an abundance of caution.’  A primary concern for us was the issue of the incubation period. While du Cille had not shown any signs of infection by the 21st day — the same day he was schedule to visit Syracuse — we knew that some people have a longer incubation period.”

The issue of how long the incubation period lasts is an open question, said Branham, who sent articles to back up her claim, including one from The Washington Post.

Poynter: How and when were you informed that you were being disinvited to the Syracuse workshop?

Du Cille:  I flew in from Atlanta and headed up to Cap Hill to photograph Centers for Disease Control director Dr. Thomas Frieden at a noon hearing. Got a text from home to call Bruce Strong.

Poynter: Was Nikki, your wife, disinvited as well? (Nikki Kahn is also a photographer with the Washington Post)

Du Cille: By the time I received a phone call from Bruce Strong the SU University leadership had already been in direct meetings before directly discussing with me…It seemed they did not want hear debate from me. Both Nikki and I were disinvited.

Poynter: Why do you think that the hysteria around potential Ebola contamination is so high?

Du Cille: It is a number of things. The mistakes centered around early control of the virus; the mounting deaths in West Africa; the misinformation by some of our own media colleagues; an irrational hysterical public; And I’ll have to say there is a great deal of xenophobia especially, from political leaders.

Poynter:  What alternatives might you have offered if given a voice in the process?

Du Cille: I would have offered to speak publicly about what I saw; offered personal detailed accounts on how the disease spreads. I simply would have offered the University an option to present an informational public forum. There had to be better ways to deal with their fears.

Girl with Ebola

Pearlina stands at the screen door while others talk outside on Sunday, September 21, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. Pearlina’s mother died in an ambulance on the way to Redemption Hospital two weeks ago; the child was rescued by Katie Meyler and is being care for by the NGO called More than Me. Pearlina is under observation for signs of Ebola.
Photo by Michel duCille / TWP

Poynter:  How did you draw the Ebola assignment in Liberia?

Du Cille:   I volunteered. I love working in West Africa and thought the Ebola story was historic. I didn’t want to miss it.

Poynter: Tell me about your research and preparation for this assignment.

Du Cille: This was my fourth trip to Liberia. I had great familiarity with the people and region. I also read everything I could find about Ebola.

Poynter: What precautions were you able to take in advance of your journey?

Michel du Cille in his Tyvek suit.

Michel du Cille preps in Tyvek suit; Liberia Sept 29, 2014.
while on assignment covering the Ebola crisis in Liberia. (Photo By: Katie Meyler)


Du Cille: Beside the normal medical prevention vaccines and meds, I consulted with photojournalists who had recently been there: John Moore and David Gilkey, both had just finished rotations. They advised me to get Tyvek suits, good gloves and masks, rubber boots.  They warned that vigilance on washing hands and spraying was critical.  But I also read everything I could find on how to get out of the suits to prevent contamination.

Poynter: Tell me about your biggest challenge will covering this story. Was it physical or mental?

Du Cille:  It was mental … I believe that the world must see how horrible and dehumanizing are the effects of Ebola. After eight trips to the African continent, I never tire or complain about the harshness of life. To me each journey there is an almost spiritual experience. I guess partly because I relate so well to the West African way. Growing up in Jamaica was very much the same; the cadence, body language of the people are pretty very similar.

Poynter: Was there a similar story that prepared you for such a risk?

Du Cille: No, nothing in my 40 years as a photojournalist was ever like this.

Poynter: Were there other international journalists covering this story?

Du Cille: Yes, but not the usual hordes. It is expensive and dangerous.

Poynter: How did you care for yourself and your gear during this assignment?

Du Cille: Vigilant cleaning and spraying with chlorine solution. The new Liberian handshake is elbow-to- elbow bump and no touching of any kind.

Poynter: Tell me about the frame of mind of the people that you met at the church on that Sunday morning?.

Du Cille: Strangely they were upbeat and almost normal. I expected sadness and emotion. I think after years of war and struggle, Liberians just focus on survival.

Poynter: What’s your most vivid memory now that you are back in the U.S.?

Du Cille: Sadly, I photographed a very ill woman who I presumed was too far gone. She was bleeding from the mouth. That situation really touched me. Her family arrived with their arms, feet and torso wrapped in plastic. They seemed so desperate. (Du Cille wrote a piece about the photograph for News Photographer, which will appear in its next edition. )

Poynter: How did you prepare for the multimedia requirement and what gear did you use most?

Du Cille: I did Instagram as much as I could and a small amount of video with my Nikon gear.

Poynter: Do you have any advice based on your lessons learned for visual reporters as the coverage continues?

Du Cille: Yes. Don’t go if you are not prepared to take the risks. It is different from bullets and guns. A simple dab to wipe your eye could get you infected.

Correction: Previous versions of this story spelled du Cille’s last name inconsistently. Read more

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Keith Jenkins answers questions about his meteoric ascension at National Geographic

In just about one year’s time National Geographic’s Keith Jenkins has gone from director of photography to executive editor for digital content to general manager, National Geographic Digital.

Jenkins will be charged with restructuring, reimagining and elevating the venerable organization in the digital space.

In a recent telephone interview with Poynter’s Kenny Irby, Keith shared plans and hopes for the future of NatGeo digital.

Keith Jenkins, to General Manager, National Geographic Digital and Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, Visual Journalism and Diversity and Director of Community Relations, The Poynter Institute, June 2014. (Photo by Karen Irby)

Keith Jenkins, to General Manager, National Geographic Digital and Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, Visual Journalism and Diversity and Director of Community Relations, The Poynter Institute, June 2014. (Photo by Karen Irby)

Poynter.org: Tell me about the new role and your goal?

Jenkins: Well we are restructuring around our digital agenda for the organization and my role specifically is to make that happen and to set some priorities for (NatGeo) around digital media, but also more importantly transitioning parts of the organization from traditional print and or TV based programming to things that work online and over the internet and on mobile.

Poynter.org:  This is your third assignment in a about a year, what was your previous role at NatGeo?

Jenkins: I was executive editor, a role that I took in May, where I was really helping to restructuring the news operation and web operation here from an editorial content point of view.

Jenkins joined the company from NPR as the Director of Digital Photography a year ago.

How were you able to get so many promotions so quickly in the ranks at NatGeo? Any tips for moving up?

Jenkins:  No magic formula; I think it’s really just a result of NatGeo attempting to find its digital footing and my being in a position to help because of my experience.

Poynter.org:  How is this different from your photojournalism role and what’s the new challenge?

Jenkins: The main challenge is really being in charge of everything. (Laughter) So, really having to focus on both technology as well as content and really thinking about budget and how we make money.  It’s much more holistic in some ways, I get to look at the big picture and move all of the pieces around. And it is one step more removed from actually creating visual content.

Poynter.org: So what is your short-term, 30-day priority list?

Jenkins: Really getting the new, reconstituted digital business unit organized and staffed correctly. We need to hire a creative director, I am bringing in someone to help run digital content then to set priorities for the next six months to a year — and working on a new website for National Geographic.

Poynter.org: Moving forward, what is the role of photojournalism when you already have this tremendous history of great work?

Jenkins: Well, that is its history and legacy, and it is a huge part of its future. One of the things that we are really going to try and do is to elevate that visual storytelling even more than it currently is. We have done an “OK” job getting that material out to people, but there is way more that we can and should be doing. A part of trying to refine what we are offering across digital platforms is going to be about how do we do that better. Audiovisual storytelling is about video as well. Keeping that quality visual storytelling at the forefront of what we do no matter where we are distributing it or how.

Poynter.org: How will you and National Geographic define multimedia moving forward?

Jenkins:  It means a lot of different things to different people. It can mean different types of media, it can also mean the different types of presentation style, for each organization it is a little different. For us we are wrestling with how does it translate for us, where so much of what is done here has been photography based and now how we integrate multi media, design into presenting photography, how do we integrate video when we present photography… those types of question are the ones that we are asking and how does this stuff work on mobile.

Poynter.org  What does the future hold for young photojournalists and what advice to you have to give?

Jenkins:  Be versatile! There will always be a place for stellar photographers and photography, but the more that you can bring the gap between photography and video and audio and storytelling, the more likely you will be able to make a career because all of those individual things are changing.  The concept of only presenting a photograph is morphing.

Poynter.org  What can we expect or look forward to under your leadership?

Jenkins:  Give us some time and we will hopefully surprise you.

Jenkins joined National Geographic after working at NPR, where he was the supervising senior producer for multimedia. Prior to joining NPR, Jenkins spent 13 years at The Washington Post, where he was a staff photographer, photography editor of Washingtonpost.com, photography editor of The Washington Post Magazine and deputy assistant managing editor of photography. Jenkins was AOL’s first director of photography. He began his photography career working for the graphic designer Dietmar R. Winkler, and spent five years as a staff photographer forThe Boston Globe. Jenkins is an award-winning photographer and has a law degree from Boston University. Read more

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Veteran photojournalist talks about going into hotspots

Photojournalist Ron Haviv

Photojournalist Ron Haviv

“The entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL,” President Barack Obama said on Wednesday. “He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away.”

Around the time of the speech, I was discussing the impact of honest photographic reporting on an Associated Press Photo Managers’ online panel. One the many takeaways from the panel: The role of the photojournalist is often misunderstood. These women and men see themselves as the eyes and ears of the community. One just needs to ponder the disconcerting experience of seeing this focused group of individuals who rush to the epicenter of drama and trauma while others flee for safety.

Take Ron Haviv, co-owner of VII Photo, whom I spoke with this week. He has been taken hostage three times.

He said contrary to popular opinions, all photographers covering conflict zones are not adrenaline junkies solely out to make a name for themselves.

“I say this out of experience,” Haviv said. “To some degree, going back to the war in Yugoslavia, more magazines and agencies are hesitant to put you on full assignment because the responsibility for your safety is become so great.”

“In the case of Syria it is all across the board. Some places are refusing to take work from freelancers in order to discourage them from taking such risks, some places will not look at your work until you are safely out of that region and then there are places like the GlobalPost, they will take your work and do what they can to support you, like they did for James,” referring to Foley.

No doubt the risk appears to be greater than the reward for the photojournalist, which is why Haviv and others now strongly encourage journalists be required to complete some sort of hostile environment training course or preparation.

“Seeing amazing things, and witnessing historical times and seeing the impact on different human situations is why I did what I did” for the first five years of covering conflict areas, said Haviv, who said he has documented three genocides.

Now, he said, it is about “raising awareness, moving people to action” and creating a “body of evidence” to hold people accountable.

“Through the work of credible journalists, the world is witnessing this live,” he said, “not allowing the excuse, ‘we did not know.’” Read more

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How the Post-Dispatch’s photo staff is covering Ferguson

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers broke up a group of bystanders on Chambers Road near W. Florissant Avenue on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A demonstrator throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers broke up a group of bystanders on Chambers Road near W. Florissant Avenue on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

After three days of very loud and very angry protests, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Director of Photography Lynden Steele followed his staffers’ Twitter feeds, text messages and listened to scanner chatter for perspective.

By 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, as the end of the traditional news cycle drew near, he searched for an appropriate photograph that reflected a day of calm.

The Rev. Al Sharpton visited the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in response to the police shooting of unarmed Michael Brown. Two peaceful services were held where followers raised their hands in the air and shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and then walked into the street.

On assignment for the fourth day was veteran photographer Robert Cohen, who earlier in the day told Poynter, “This was the most violent coverage that I have been a part of my 27 or so years in the profession.”

“Race has not been in the news every day” Cohen said about his 15-year tenure at the Post-Dispatch, “but it has been simmering in this town.” It was different during 10 years he spent in Memphis.

“In Memphis it was a constant discussion. In St. Louis, I found that was not the case,” Cohen said. “People simmer and stare here. And when they do talk, whether in person or online, it’s much more vitriolic. That’s not a blanket statement, but I see this quite a bit.”

After midnight, that quieter evening calm quickly changed.

“This was a quiet night and I was unsure about which picture to send until 12:28 a.m.,” Steele said in an email, “when the police started firing tear gas … and a protester decided to throw it back.”

“It happened too late for the paper,” he said, “but we’ve posted it online.”

“I really believed that we’d be cool last night,” Cohen added in an email. “Much smaller gathering of demonstrators … That group declared they were going to leave the police blockade with dignity, got in a line and walked away silently. We all said a collective ‘ahhhh.’ But then another gathering started a few blocks away, and that ended poorly.”

Covering Ferguson since Saturday, the Post-Dispatch team has shown “how fast you have to be,” as Steele put it, “and you cannot live on daily deadline.”

Related:#IfTheyGunnedMeDown challenges the media and how it portrays people of color

Ferguson is more than a hashtag

St. Louis photographer on scene at riots: ‘This is my job’ Read more

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Advice on publishing graphic photos from Iraq

It’s just a matter of time.

That’s what I told a Kalish Visual Editing workshop on the campus of Ball State University just last week. I told the group that it was a matter of time before they were forced to make a decision on a graphic photograph and they needed to be prepared to defend their decision. Read more

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33 young writers graduate from Poynter’s The Write Field program

Graduates of Poynter’s The Write Field program pose for a photo with their mentors, sponsors, instructors and supporters. (Boyzell Hosey, Tampa Bay Times)

The Mahaffey Theater was the scene of honored accomplishment on Friday night as 33 Write Field graduates shared a rite of passage before a packed house of family members, mentors, educators, sponsors and friends.

The middle school and high school students, all male minority graduates, donned tuxedos, marched in to an African drum line and were honored for their meritorious work following a nine-month academic enrichment and mentoring program.

Keynote speaker Jay Harris, ESPN’s SportsCenter anchor, challenged the group to consider the importance of their life choices both over the summer and throughout their young lives.

The graduates are the latest class to complete The Write Field, a program that has its beginnings in 2011. In that year, the nation turned its attention to St. Petersburg and the murders of three police officers, one of them by a 16-year-old boy. At about the same time, a report found Pinellas County, Florida, had one of the nation’s highest dropout rates among black male students.

Poynter and several community partners, including the Tampa Bay Rays Foundation, Wells Fargo and Blue Cross Blue Shield, responded with an innovative new program focusing on minority boys. Poynter launched the pilot program, bringing 27 African-American and Hispanic middle school boys to the institute on Saturdays to work on their writing, their character development and, in the end, their confidence and prospects for success.

For 10 Saturdays starting in September, the 33 boys, 7 junior mentors (graduates of the program) and 12 community mentors (police officers, teachers, local journalists, professionals and businessmen) gathered at Poynter for breakfast. It’s an integral start to the day since 90 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch at school. After the meal, I, as the senior mentor, and up to two Poynter faculty members launch a rigorous day of learning.

The writing lessons focus on research, language, writing and reading. Typically, Poynter prompts the students to write in this way: see something, hear something, do something, write about it. One week, the group listened to three National Public Radio stories. The boys then deconstructed the interviews, with a visitor from NPR explaining the interviewing process: who the characters were, the context and the conclusions. Then the students wrote about similar challenges they faced in their lives, and they interviewed each other.

The character lessons emphasize respect, responsibility, restraint and teamwork. Group leaders incorporate the lessons into each workshop through activities, one-on-one conversations and role-playing. One example: a group role-played how to conduct themselves when someone is trying to harm them – how to stay safe and show appropriate restraint. This is an important lesson for the young people whose culture so often emphasizes retaliation.

After the morning teaching, the group participates in a “Let’s Move” activity. The boys stretch, get some fresh air and learn about physical fitness. At one session, a trainer from the Tampa Bay Rays, a program sponsor, taught the boys stretching routines they could do at home, then talked about the importance of proper nutrition and sleep habits. The nutrition lessons are paying off. One week, a boy asked the mayor of St. Petersburg why there were so few vegan eating options in downtown St. Pete. “That’s a great question,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said, adding it was something he was working on.

The afternoon sessions feature another presentation and a personal essay exercise. The boys write about something they’ve treasured and lost. Then participants review and evaluate the lessons learned that day. Poynter dismisses the group at 2:45 p.m., giving each boy a $20 honorarium, if they earn it. This honorarium rewards the boys for their successful participation and often helps them pay transportation costs such as bus fare or gas expenses.

For information about the program, email me, Kenny Irby, at irby@poynter.org.

Correction: An earlier version of this story credited Poynter for the photo above. It was taken by Boyzell Hosey of Tampa Bay Times. Read more

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USA vs. CHN Curling

Sochi photo coverage takes ‘patience, planning, logistics’

Harry Walker, photo director at McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, has a unique vantage point overseeing MCT’s visual coverage of the Olympic Games.

Raised in Savannah, Ga., Walker graduated from Morehouse College in 1980. He started his photojournalism career at The Columbus Dispatch, where he worked from 1988 until 1992. Before joining MCT, he worked as features and weekend photo editor at the Kansas City Star. He has served numerous organizations, with stints as a member of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Visual Task Force and as chairperson of the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism contest.

What follows is an edited version of our conversation about MCT’s ongoing Olympics photo coverage:

Me: So, Harry, you are nine hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. How is that an advantage or disadvantage for your MCT photographic reports?

Walker: Having the nine-hour time advantage allows you to cover more events than in the past. For example, a hockey game that starts at 9 p.m. in Sochi can be covered and you can still deliver photos to clients in plenty of time for publication. Each of our photographers covers three events daily, or two events that consume a lot of time.

On the other hand, communication with people at the Washington office and with loved ones has been a challenge. When you are nine hours ahead, it is never a good time to communicate. When I have a free moment before event coverage in Sochi starts, everyone is asleep or the office is closed. When they are functioning on the East Coast, I am on deadline and then ending my day. My average day here at the Olympic Games starts around 10 a.m. and ends around 2:30 a.m.

MCT Director of Photography Harry Walker is overseeing photo coverage at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What has been your highlight so far?

Walker: As a veteran of many Olympics, I am not easily impressed. I did find the Olympic Park on Sochi/Adler to be well-planned. This is the first Winter Olympics I have covered where you can actually walk to all of the venues. There is a transportation system, but when you’re on deadline moving from one event to another, sometimes you can walk to the next venue faster than waiting for a bus. This has proven to be very useful.

Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford perform during the team pairs figure skating short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

I have enjoyed shooting ice dancing and figure skating. Many of the photo positions are very good thanks to a wise system of allocating the coveted floor photo positions in the field of play. Tickets are distributed to all of the National Olympic Committees, which ensures each country gets a share of the available photo positions. This eliminated the situation we faced in Vancouver, where the floor positions were available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some people would literally spend the night in line to secure one of the 50 floor photo positions. If you wanted one of them, you had to spend hours waiting in line before the event started, which would also reduce the number of other events you could cover.

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform during the team pairs ice dance short dance program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What has it been like in Sochi? Are the criticisms about Russia’s lack of preparedness accurate? Are the concerns about the hotels and the venue on point, or overblown?

Walker: It depends whom you speak with. I thought I had problems until I heard first-hand about some of the other issues. I myself have a good room, but I do not have any television or reliable Internet. The television I quickly learned to live without, but the Internet is a major problem. For the first few days, I could not see a Wi-Fi signal, and even now it is not dependable. It works for a while, then goes down — sometimes for hours or all night. This forces me to stay at event venues or the Main Press Center later each night to use the Internet. Most of my communications, planning and report reviews require the Internet — and the same goes for any entertainment or news. Try living without television or Internet for a week — it will make you realize how connected you really are and what an important role the Web plays in your life. All of my calls to the U.S. are done via Skype — I need the Web for that to happen.

Austria defenseman Andre Lakos (64) and Canada forward Jonathan Toews (16) crash into the glass while battling for the puck during the second period in a men’s hockey game at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. Canada defeated Austria 6-0. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

One additional issue is that my cellphone does not work at my housing complex, though it seems to work everywhere else. This makes me even more cut off without the Internet.

I did speak with other photographers who had no light bulbs, doorknobs or in some cases, working electrical outlets. Keep in mind you need electrical outlets to charge batteries for cameras, use laptops, charge phones, etc.

Me: What is working at the Olympics in terms of photographic coverage?

Walker: It has been a very pleasant experience. I have worked mostly in Olympic Park in the city and allowed my two colleagues — Chuck Myers of MCT and Brian Cassella of the Chicago Tribune — to handle the photo events in the mountains.

USA’s Erika Brown, center, delivers a stone as Debbie McCormick, left, and Jessica Schultz prepare to guide the stone during women’s curling competition against China at the Ice Cube Curling Centre during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Only a few photo assignments have been ticketed due to high demand. The remainder have been open to everyone. Most of the time, it is easy to move around the venue for various photo positions. During a photo meeting of all photographers one day before the games started, it was stated that 750 photographers had been credentialed. I challenge this due to the number of empty lockers and the amount of desk space. Two days ago, a member of my staff misplaced his photo credential and needed to get a temporary one. The replacement credential was No. 377 — these credentials are normally issued in sequential order for security and management purposes.

Why is the number of photographers at the Winter Games nowhere near the number that was stated at the meeting? I believe distance and the cost of travel were major influences. Security issues may have deterred many as well.

But overall, it’s been a very positive experience covering the games.

Russia’s Victor An (250), right, and teammate Vladimir Grigorev (252), left, cross the finish for a first and second place finish during the men’s 1,000-meter finals race at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: How many people are working on your team and contributing to your report? How many editors do you have, and how many photographic reporters?

Walker: MCT has a very small team covering the games. This is a result of the economic realities of the newspaper industry. MCT has three photographers and four writers, with no office space in the Main Press Center. This is the third Olympic Games where we have used this model, and it seems to work well for us. Communication is done via planning emails nightly and throughout the day, and text messaging also proves very valuable. MCT photographers are moving in excess of 200 photos daily, and we also have access to coverage from our image partners — the San Jose Mercury News, Colorado Springs Gazette and Minneapolis Star-Tribune. These image partners file images to our Washington, D.C., photo desk for posting to the wire. The three MCT photographers on site, shoot, edit and move photos live on the wire from each venue, ensuring fast and timely delivery of content to subscribers.

Russia’s Yulia Lipnitskaya performs during the team women’s figure skating short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: Is there anything new in terms of photographic technology that has impressed you?

Walker: Not that I am aware of. Many are using a VLAN — a virtual local area network — to transmit photos from cameras for editing at venues or the Main Press Center. But this is common for many high-profile events. The large agencies are using robotic cameras, but not as much as during the Summer Games in London.

 

Me: Has there been any interference from Russian officials or the International Olympic Committee regarding what you can or cannot document?

Walker: I am not aware of the local media situation and cannot comment on it, but I have not had any situations where Russian officials have limited access to what I have available to photograph. I have assigned photos in the towns of Sochi and Adler and heard no reports of access being limited. Working in and around Olympic venues and sites has been as the same as in past Olympics. Security is very high as compared to past games, however.

Me: Given the heavy security restrictions and the threat of terrorism, are you subject to photographic limitations?

Walker: Security personnel record all entry into and out of buses and venues electronically. Thus all movement is tracked. You also have your normal airport-style security checkpoints when you enter the Olympic parks in both the mountain and Sochi Olympic parks.

Security is definitely very tight. There are lots of undercover security personnel about — you can spot them easily at times, though I am sure there are others we don’t notice. For the first time since I have been covering the Olympics, I needed a passport to secure my accreditation. In the past, the Olympic accreditation you received before traveling to the games served as your visa and passport. Going into Russia, you needed your passport every step of the way. You needed it to get your photo armband for floor positions, your hotel room and many other items that seemed surprising since you were already in the Olympic credentialing system.

Me: Have you made any special preparations to cover a terrorist event, should one occur? If so, what are they?

USA’s Emily Scott (155), leads Lithuania’s Agne Sereikaite (140) into a turn during the ladies 500-meter short track race at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Walker: MCT has a plan in the event of an attack. Without going into too much detail, we all have phones that work world-wide, have a designated place to meet and have a request with the State Department for overseas travel should the U.S. put an evacuation plan into effect.

Me: How does this compare to the 2002 Winter Games when you were the assistant photo chief in Salt Lake City?

Walker: Many of the same systems are in place. The ticketing process seems smoother. Individuals and smaller organizations have a better opportunity to get coveted floor photographer positions than in the past. There are many volunteers at each venue to assist with everything from information to tours of the buildings.

With hockey, a high-demand sport, a system of assigned seating around the glass and in elevated photo positions has been implemented. The photo managers have done a great job negotiating photo positions. There are 60 photo positions for photographers along the glass on the ice, in addition to dozens more overhead.

Me: Have weather challenges made your photographic coverage problematic? If so, how have you overcome these challenges?

Walker: The weather in Sochi is the news of the day. It was warm at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but Sochi is much warmer — it has routinely been in the upper 50s or low 60s since my arrival. Naturally it’s colder in the mountains, but it’s like a spring heat wave in the city at the Olympic Park.

All the weather challenges have been in the mountains, where there is a lack of snow due to the warm weather. Not only is it not snowing, but the snow on the ground is melting. I personally am fighting off a cold. It is warm outside but very chilly inside. I wear moderate winter clothing because the temperatures inside a venue like the Alder Long Track Speed Racing facility can be as much as 20 degrees lower than outside.

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform during the team ice dance free figure skating dance short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Sunday, Feb, 9, 2014. USA’s team won the bronze medal in the event. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What have been your most valuable lessons learned so far?

Walker: Patience, planning and logistics. Working with venue photo managers has been pleasant. They are eager to assist you in getting a good photo position. Convey your needs and they try to accommodate you, and they seem to remember who you are the next time you come back to the venue. I wonder if it is because of the reduced number of photographers at the games or because I am the only African-American photographing the games. Read more

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Martin Luther King Jr. under shepherd’s watch: debunking urban legend

St. Petersburg Times photographer Bob Moreland took this photo in June 1964 after Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested during a St. Augustine, Fla., sit-in and was being transported to Duval County jail. The caption read: “Dr. King Sits in Patrol Car with Police Dog.”

As the country marks the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s day of celebration, I recall one photograph I have most often heard described as “eerie.”

It is one of those iconic images that, in almost every instance I have heard it described, the explanation provided is almost always wrong.

Most recently, during the MLK Heritage Lecture series at Poynter, two attendees asked me what I knew about the photograph. That conversation reminded me of a very similar one I had this summer with actor Forest Steven Whitaker at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Orlando, during the Visual Task Force Scholarship Auction.

When Whitaker asked, “what’s going on in this picture?” someone quickly quipped: “Dr. King is being protected by the German shepherd in a friend’s vehicle.”

This is like one of many legendary photographs in which people remember the image but not the headline or the authentic context.

On June 13, 1964, The St. Petersburg Times presented a front page news story above the fold under the headline “St. Augustine Negros, Klan March Peacefully” written by staff writer Martin Waldron. The article was accompanied by a two-column, black-and-white photograph taken by staff photographer Bob Moreland.

Dr. King had been arrested in St. Augustine two days earlier during a sit-in at the Monson motel restaurant. The article reports that, under the cover of night, King was transported from St. Augustine’s St. Johns County Jail to Duval County jail following death threats, and that he arrived in Jacksonville in a car with six police officers and a police dog.

Twice in the story the author used the word eerie. In the first sentence, and on the jump page with the headline “St. Augustine Demonstrations Peaceful But Eerie.”

The story actually quotes KKK leader J. B. Stoner of Atlanta, who the paper describes as a “cripple,” urging the crowd not to retaliate against “the niggers.”

The article is a fitting affirmation of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. And sometimes a picture is worth a thousand pictures.

David Shedden, head of the Eugene Patterson Library at Poynter, contributed research for this article.

Related: Four lessons for media leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. and Gene Patterson | Flashback: Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter to southern editor Gene Patterson Read more

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Why the Knoxville News Sentinel ran photos from a deadly bus crash

On Oct. 2, a bus heading to Statesville, N.C., collided with an SUV and a tractor-trailer on Interstate 40 in Tennessee, killing eight people. The Knoxville News Sentinel ran photos from the accident on its Oct. 3 front page and on its website. News Sentinel visuals editor Kevin Martin spoke with Poynter’s Kenny Irby about the paper’s decision to run the photos of the accident’s grisly aftermath.

How did you and the newsroom learn about the accident? What were your first response steps?
We heard about the accident on the police scanner. It occurred about 30 minutes east of Knoxville where we normally don’t hear scanner traffic. However, emergency response units from Knoxville were needed, so that’s how we found out.

Our first step was to listen more. But once we heard it was a bus we sent a photographer and reporter to the scene and assigned other reporters to work various emergency contacts. Shortly after that we decided to rent a helicopter from a nearby town for additional aerial coverage.

When did you begin to feel that you had an ethical decision-making dilemma and what was it?
We started getting reports via social media that several people were dead. Then I saw a tweeted photo of an aerial from a television helicopter. That’s when I knew there would be difficult decisions regarding fatalities.

The News Sentinel’s Oct. 3 front page (image courtesy the News Sentinel)

What were two or three of your major concerns about publishing the disturbing photographs that showed bodies?
For the most part the bodies were covered with blue tarps. That was good and bad. Though they were covered, you could immediately pick out where and how many bodies were strewn across a major interstate. How much carnage do you show readers to illustrate a very significant and tragic news event? In some aerial photographs you can plainly see body parts. In other aerials, farther away, they were much more difficult to discern.

In a situation like this, you’re always concerned about how readers will react. You have to weigh the responsibility to inform and educate versus the responsibility to be tasteful and respectful.

Has the paper grappled with situations like this recently?
We did publish a photo during the summer of a man receiving life support from a first responder after a drug-related shooting.

How did you arrive a the decision to publish the lead image on your website first and then subsequently on your front page?
Like most news outlets, our news coverage philosophy is Web-first approach. Once we knew we were going to run a version of the aerial photographs in print, publishing to the Web was the next step.

Two men near the site of the crash. (Photograph by Michael Patrick/News Sentinel)

Who was involved in the final decision? Can you offer some insight on your process?
There were many voices in the final decision. A handful of editors met to discuss our publication plans late in the afternoon. The first item of discussion was what photo runs on the front page. We knew that the carnage should be shown, just not to what extent. We also discussed whether to display as the dominant image the emotional impact of the accident as opposed to the accident scene.

How, if at all, did you disclose to your readers/viewer your justification for publishing what you had good reason to believe would cause some concern?
Because the photo was running on the front page, we didn’t write a disclaimer or justification. If we had run the photo inside, we talked about the idea of then running a front-page disclaimer. Ultimately we heard very little negative feedback around running the photo on the front page.

Why was it necessary to publish these photographs in the context of your coverage?
It was a horrific event that impacted many lives. Those who lost loved ones, those injured, the emergency responders, they all were affected. It was an event that stretched across two states because the majority of the deceased are from North Carolina. Multiple communities felt the effects.

A woman outside the church in Statesville, N.C., which lost six people in the crash. (Photograph by Saul Young/Knoxville News Sentinel)

What did you learn from this experience?
That no experience like this is ever the same. You should always give others a voice in the discussion when running such a graphic image. Read more

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John White on Sun-Times layoffs: ‘It was as if they pushed a button and deleted a whole culture’

John White’s 44-year career at The Chicago Sun-Times has been rooted in faith and professionalism. It’s a career he refers to as “an assignment from God.”

John White

Earlier this week, that career came to an end on what some photographers have called the darkest day in Sun-Times photojournalism history. The paper announced Thursday that it had laid off its entire photojournalism staff and would rely on freelance photographers and reporters instead.

White — who has seen the paper go through many owners and changes — says he never imagined that his and his colleagues’ careers would end so abruptly.

In a phone interview, the 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist and teacher recalled a day that he is still “trying to make sense of.”

“This is what I remember hearing: ‘As you know we are going forward into multimedia and video, and that is going to be our focus. So we are eliminating the photography department.’ Then they turned it over to HR,” recounted White, who had already been doing video at the paper.

White said it all began with an email alert on Wednesday evening directing the staff to attend a 9:30 am meeting on Thursday — which White said was “only the second meeting with the new managers.” He called the meeting “intimidating” and said “there was a toxic and unkind spirit in the office.”

White said the 28 full-time photography department staffers who received the news seemed shocked: “It was as if they pushed a button and deleted a whole culture of photojournalism.”

Those being laid off were asked to return company equipment, White said, and their access badges were demagnetized while they were receiving their layoff packages.

The changing photojournalism landscape

The Sun-Times plans to rely on reporters to take photos and videos and has begun mandatory “iPhone photography basics.” Its decision is just the latest example of a disconcerting trend in American media: professional photojournalism is being downsized and devalued, with news organizations increasingly turning to wire services, citizen-submitted content and independent/freelance contributions.

The elimination of an entire photography staff is fairly uncommon among daily larger newspapers, but it’s not unprecedented. In 2008, Newsday terminated its 20-person photography staff and then allowed them to reapply for new multimedia jobs. It comes as no coincidence that Tim Knight, who’s now the publisher of the Sun-Times, was the publisher at Newsday when that transition was implemented.

Former Sun-Times managing editor Gregory Favre was disturbed and perplexed by the news. Favre said by phone that he “can’t imagine not having a devoted staff that is focused on accurately portraying the city. … I cannot think of how you capture the culture and essence of such a vibrant city without a photographic staff. There is no substitute for professionalism in the craft.”

Favre added that “with freelancers and independent photographers, there is a loss of loyalty. … Most reporters will deliver point-and-shoot snapshots, not penetrating and revealing coverage. Skilled professionals bring a unique eye and feel to their craft.”

Favre compared the loss of a paper’s in-house staff to “cutting the eyes out of the body. … John White was the eye that was always looking for the soul of Chicago.”

Dealing with the shock

While several of the dismissed Sun-Times photographers gathered at the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue to console themselves, White hopped into his car and headed to the lake in dire need of meditation, recalling that he “just wanted to disappear and needed to be alone.”

John White on Chicago’s lakefront at sunrise on Easter Sunday, 2012.
Photo by Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

He and his Sun-Times colleagues are just the latest professional photographers to face a daunting revelation: Their employers know their work is at the highest level of excellence, but aren’t willing to pay for it.

White said he was most concerned about his colleagues — the former students, young families and folks who came in while on medical leave. He also worries about readers, who will no longer be able to experience “the most important ingredient of communication and understanding” in quite the same way.

“Humanity is being robbed,” he said, “by people with money on their minds.”

While by the lake, White turned to a reading from Psalm 20:4: “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”

He reiterated: “My assignment comes from God.” Read more

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