Kenneth Irby

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


APTOPIX Japan Earthquake

10 powerful images of Japan earthquake aftermath

Images of Japan captured after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami last week tell a compelling story of devastation and resilience. Below is a selection of images, courtesy of The Associated Press, Getty Images and Reuters, that dramatically illustrate events there.

The towering waves capture the raw power and fury of nature when juxtaposed against the inadequate ingenuity of human beings:

Waves of tsunami hit residences after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011. The largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history slammed the eastern coast Friday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

The eerily placid placement of the airplanes amidst the vehicles and debris offer a striking sense of calm after the tsunami:

Light planes and vehicles sit among the debris after they were swept by a tsumani that struck Sendai airport in northern Japan on Friday March 11, 2022. A magnitude 8.9 earthquake slammed Japan’s eastern coast Friday, unleashing a 13-foot (4-meter) tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

The graphic pattern and vivid colors of the cargo containers represent a striking state of order in the aftermath of one of the world’s most chaotic natural disasters:

Cargo containers are strewn about in Sendai, northern Japan, Saturday, March 12, 2011.
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How the Chronicle Herald’s ‘Nova Scotia Burning’ project showed impact of race-related crimes

A year ago, the horror of a cross-burning in Nova Scotia provided The Chronicle Herald with a tremendous opportunity.

Confronted by two enduring journalistic questions — what do I know and what do I need to know? — the newsroom set out to create a multimedia project that looked at how racial prejudice has played out in Canada throughout the years.

To find out what they learned and the challenges they faced, I talked with Web producer Jayson Taylor and writer Patricia Brooks Arenburg, two of the four journalists who worked on the project. You can read our edited e-mail exchange below.

Kenny Irby: Tell us about the video vignettes and how you reached the decision on a four-part narrative structure.

Jayson Taylor: We found that we needed four parts to explain all sides of the story. Each five-minute video walks the viewer through the cross-burning in Hants County, Nova Scotia. [The four parts highlight what happened, the motive for the crime, the people who committed the crime and the event's lasting effects.]

How did you approach the multimedia reporting? And why was the approach important?

Taylor: While we could have simply written traditional stories in the paper, we felt that a multimedia project would be longer lasting, existing permanently on our website for people to see and discuss with others.… Read more

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How shopping, prayer led to Columbus Dispatch’s viral Ted Williams video

Before Ted Williams entered rehab for drug and alcohol issues, he was a homeless man Doral Chenoweth saw on his way to the store.

Chenoweth, a Web producer for The Columbus Dispatch, told me by e-mail how he discovered Williams and what happened next as “the ‘golden voice’ video went viral.”

Columbus Dispatch Web Producer Doral Chenoweth first saw Ted Williams while out shopping with his wife.

Kenny Irby: Tell me how you and Ted Williams first connected. Was this an assignment or enterprise work on your part?

Doral Chenoweth: I actually first met Ted Williams when I wasn’t working. I was going shopping with my wife, Robin, at a store at that freeway exit. The light was red, I stopped and read his sign.

I rolled down the window, asked him to say something with his voice, and that golden, velvety old-school radio voice came out. We were so surprised that my wife and I exclaimed out loud, “Wow!” The light turned green, I handed him a dollar and moved on.

A week later I needed a fresh video for Dispatch.com and I thought about the homeless guy with the great voice. I drove to that part of town, saw Ted, and pulled out my FlipCam and sort of duplicated the experience I had a week earlier.… Read more

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How photographer James Palka captured Giffords shooting aftermath with images that defined the event

In photography, timing is key.

On January 8, 2011, 63-year-old native Chicagoan James F. Palka’s timing saved his life. It also allowed him to document the tragic aftermath of an attempt on the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of her supporters.

Photographer James Palka has worn an eye patch since the age of 16 due to a condition called Myasthenia Gravis.

Palka arrived late to the “Congress on your Corner” event and by the time he did, his choices were not about shutter speed settings, frames per second rates or tripod selection.

Overcoming physical disability, outside of his normal comfort zone, and experiencing the mental shock of human tragedy, Palka captured a compelling and exclusive photographic sequence that the Associated Press shared with the world.

In a first-person account, Palka describes his experiences on the day of the shooting, when time seemed to stand still and then accelerate forward. In the interview that follows, he explains how the photos came to the AP and why no cell phones captured the shooting.

In his own words, here is Palka’s account (edited for length and style).

I had received a pre-recorded phone call from Gabrielle Giffords on Friday the 7th, alerting me to her “Congress On Your Corner” event the following day — which was only a few miles from my NW Side home.

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What Byron Pitts Learned in Haiti: ‘We Are Tough and Delicate Creatures’

After seven days of reporting in Haiti amid unthinkable misery, Byron Pitts, chief national correspondent for CBS News, boarded a chopper last week, homeward bound via the Dominican Republic. Looking down at the landscape, he saw some of the toughest creatures on the planet and noted in an e-mail, “Just passed a few crocodiles.”

“What a blessing to be a journalist,” Pitts continued. “Having worked with people who trusted me with their truth, their country. I trusted them with my life and they trusted me. They felt like family. Most likely I will never see them again.”

Pitts arrived at the Haitian border at 5 p.m. the day after the earthquake and filed a report for the CBS Evening News 90 minutes later.

What Pitts and all the other journalists did in Haiti took guts — something Hemingway called “grace under pressure.”

Like Pitts, journalists have to be tough on the outside to endure, absorb and overcome some incredibly challenging odds. Tragedy on the scale of the Haitian earthquake evokes the indomitable tenacity of the human spirit — by those in the stories as well as the authentic storytellers, better known as reporters.

I asked Pitts what he learned about people when he was in Haiti.… Read more

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Herald Photographer Brings Compassion, History to Haiti Earthquake Coverage

The little country of Haiti has become a place of such massive desolation. What the people of Haiti need, as much as media coverage and prayer, is compassion.

I was not surprised that one of the first U.S. journalists en route to the Caribbean island after Tuesday’s earthquake was Patrick Farrell, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photojournalism for “A People in Despair: Haiti’s Year Without Mercy.”

In the endless stream of digitally distributed camera phone snaps, Twitpics, wire feeds and Flickr posts, what distinguishes Farrell’s photographic images is, in a word, compassion.

For the last 20 or so years, some of the most compelling and disturbing photographs have been documented in Haiti. The striking reportage has spanned political unrest, tribal warfare, disease, migration, voodoo, hurricanes, and now, another natural disaster: the strongest earthquake to strike the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Farrell is no stranger when it comes to covering the Haiti of hurricanes. He has covered Cuba, Haiti and the Caribbean for The Miami Herald since 1987. He was a member of the Miami Herald team that won the 1993 Pulitzer for Public Service for their coverage of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.… Read more

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Poynter Hosts Sports Journalism Institute

For the fourth year, The Poynter Institute is hosting a week-long segment of the Sports Journalism Institute, a nine-week internship program for college students who want to pursue sports journalism careers.

Under the supervision of Kenny Irby, Poynter’s visual journalism group leader and diversity director, the program has emerged as one of Poynter’s key student and sports outreach initiatives in the area of diversity. The program has become an effective springboard for students of diverse backgrounds — particularly people of color and women — to enter the sports journalism arena.

Students attending the program produce a newspaper that will be distributed at the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) convention in Pittsburgh later in June. This week, they are chronicling their time at Poynter on a blog, which you can read here.

After the program is completed, they will move on to paid internships at The Buffalo (N.Y.) News, The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette, The Denver Post, ESPN, The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer, The Houston Chronicle, the Star Tribune, The Oklahoman and The Salt Lake Tribune.

Funders and supporters of SJI, which was founded in 1993, include APSE, Chicago Tribune Foundation, The Poynter Institute and St.Read more

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Archived Chat: Dallas Morning News Captures Award-Winning Photos from the ‘Edge of Life’

Dallas Morning News photographer Sonya Hebert and reporter Lee Hancock spent the past year documenting death — how we experience it and how it changes the way we live — for a five-part series called “At the Edge of Life.” In their exploration of end-of-life medical care, Hebert and Hancock worked with Baylor University Medical Center’s palliative-care team and gained unprecedented access to clinicians, patients and families.

Hebert’s photos and video capture the stories of those they met — the granddaughter who just lost her grandma, the woman who can’t bear to leave her dying husband’s bedside, the girl who struggles with an eating disorder as she wonders whether her ill mother will survive.

To find out more about these stories and what she learned from capturing them, I interviewed Hebert, who won the ASNE Community Service Photojournalism award for her work on the project and was nominated as a 2009 Pulitzer finalist. Here is our edited exchange.

Kenny Irby: How did the “At the Edge Of Life” project originate, and how long have you done this kind of work?

Hebert: The concept of the project was born before I started working at the Morning News. Our project began with personal loss.… Read more

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2009 NPPA Judges Hold High Standards in Turbulent Time

For one week, during a time of unprecedented change in the industry, 11 judges endured early mornings and late nights to evaluate excellence in photojournalism.

This year 3,700 journalists from 147 countries submitted more that 52,000 entries (still photographs, video and Web entries) for the Best of Photojournalism contest.

Fixing their eyes upon 11.5-foot-wide projection screens, they witnessed, vetted and honored new forms of photographic reporting as they set aside the turbulence in their news organizations and personal lives. At least six of the 11 judges faced uncertainty about their own jobs.

Their mission was, as Best of Photojournalism Committee Chair Harry Walker said, to “set new standards of photographic excellence.” In still photography, they looked for photographic reporting that showed the time-honored “decisive moment.” In online and multimedia presentations, they pushed new expectations for work that focused on the extended and interactive moments.

Web judges kept late nights to select winners in the audio slideshow, Web video and multimedia categories. They boldly withheld winners in a few categories rather than embracing the “good enough” attitude that has plagued online journalism.

Maurice Rivenbark of Poynter’s St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times observed as judges discussed and debated projects and told him what makes award-winning work.… Read more

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New Camera Angle on Obamas Focuses All Eyes on Inauguration

There were perhaps millions of photographs made as the lens of the world focused on Tuesday’s inauguration of America’s 44th president. And yet, one iconic photograph of the Obama family — topped off by the majestic, white capitol building dome — stands as a one in a million photographic moment.

It appeared almost immediately on Web sites and television screens around the world and will grace the pages of print publications for days to come.

While riding on the media shuttle bus to the second of his three inauguration coverage stops, 20-year Washington, D.C.-based veteran photojournalist Chuck Kennedy eagerly checked to confirm the fruit of his year-long labor via the McClatchy-Tribune Web site on his Apple iPhone.

The enthusiastic text message validation from his McClatchy-Tribune News services picture editor George Bridges indicating that the photos were “outstanding” did not quite satisfy his curiosity.

After all, this was the first time a camera had ever been allowed in that position.

For years, Kennedy pondered what a more intimate perspective of this historic event might reveal. This was his sixth inauguration assignment, not counting his first involvement during the second Ronald Reagan event when he recalls that, “I never actually saw the president that day.”

Kennedy actually began the process of petitioning for this new camera position at the foot of the podium after election day.… Read more

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