Keith Jenkins

Keith W. Jenkins came to NPR in July 2008 as the Supervising Senior Producer for Multimedia. In this role he oversees the multimedia unit of NPR.org, responsible for the photography and videography throughout the site. Jenkins and his staff work with NPR shows, reporters and editors on reporting projects providing compelling visuals to match the rich audio story-telling of NPR. Among the daily photography and editing duties, Jenkins and his team work to create the visual components for NPR special series, such as: One Hundred Days: On the Road in Troubled Times, 'America's Battalion' in Afghanistan, The York Project: Race & The '08 Vote, Traveling Down the Amazon Road and Along the Grand Trunk Road: Coming of Age in India and Pakistan. In 2011 he received an Emmy as Senior Producer on NPR Music's Project Song: Moby. Jenkins spent 13 years at The Washington Post working in a variety of capacities. He served as a staff photographer and photography director of washingtonpost.com, photography editor of The Washington Post Magazine and deputy assistant managing editor for photography at the newspaper. From 1997 to 1999, Jenkins worked as AOL's first director of photography. Jenkins began his photography career working for the graphic designer Dietmar R. Winkler and then spent five years as a staff photographer for The Boston Globe. Acclaim for Jenkins' work as a photographer and editor has come from the National Press Photographer's Association; White House News Photographers Association; Radio and Television Correspondent's Association; University of Missouri; Society of News Design; the Society of Publication Designers; and the Art Director's Clubs of New York, Boston, and Washington. In 2007, Jenkins was the photo editor on The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize winning series on Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Throughout his career, Jenkins has given lectures and presentations on photography and multimedia at schools and organizations including the New England School of Photography, Rhode Island School of Design, The Poynter Institute, University of Miami and American Press Institute. He currently teaches multimedia as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. Jenkins is a graduate of Brandeis University and the Boston University School of Law.


The benefits, drawbacks of using camera phones as a photojournalist

The mind can sometimes play tricks on you.

After returning from a trip to Europe several months ago, I viewed some of the photos I had taken and was disappointed by how they turned out. I resolved (no pun intended) that it was time to get a new camera.

Some of the pictures were just not as sharp as I had hoped; others, taken in the evening, didn’t record enough information in the after sun-down darkness. Giving up something that I had happily used for several years at home and on vacation was difficult, but it was time.

So off I went and replaced my iPhone 3Gs with a new iPhone 4s. Yes, my camera is my phone. It wasn’t until I was heading to AT&T and not a camera store that this thought crossed my mind. With a snazzy new lens, 8 megapixels and HD video, the camera is most impressive.

I know I am not the first to have had this type of revelatory moment; one where you transfer the characteristics of something known into something new and different. But having spent more than 20 years as a photojournalist, as well as personally reporting on the rise of cellphone cameras, I was still shocked at how easily my brain exchanged the image of a professional SLR for one of a cellphone. Welcome to the 21st century!

So what’s a photographer to do? I could hold onto the past and resurrect my metal, film-fed companions, or their newer, digital counterparts and repeat the mantra that a phone is not a camera. But what’s the point when the vast majority of the active picture taking world has already made that shift? (The iPhone 4 is the most popular camera among Flickr users.)

“Steve Jobs saw this coming” says J. Sybylla Smith, curator of the recent show, “iSee: The Eyes of VII in the Hands of Hipstamatic.” Held at the Griffin Museum of Photography gallery in Boston’s South End, the show featured iPhone photography by 19 photojournalists from the VII Photo Agency. All but one of them used the Hipstamatic iPhone app to record their images.

“The iPhone will have an impact on our visual culture,” Smith said in a phone interview. “We’ll need to make rules and be in discourse for a while about this.”

According to Smith, and several of the photographers featured in the show, the camera phones’ “lack of an interface” broadens photojournalists’ ability to capture images. “It allows for an intimacy and immediacy that the Canon (professional SLR) does not,” she said.

In this statement, I find echoes of conversations had in an earlier time when photographers were first contemplating the move from Speed Graphics and Rolleiflex cameras; with their large film formats (4×5 and 2 ¼, respectively), to the smaller, more nimble and intimate 35mm Leica. Today we are at another inflection point in photography; one where the technology makes a sudden turn and takes the art form with it.

“These camera phones allow the photographer on assignment to quickly enter into a dialogue with the public because of how quickly we can take and transmit images,” Smith says. “Photojournalists are pleased to have another tool in their toolbox.”

Many photojournalists, however, are involved in the other conversation Smith mentioned; what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to the easy digital manipulations that many camera apps make possible.

This “discourse” ignited when The New York Times photographer Damon Winter won a major photo award for his Hipstamatic images from the frontlines in Afghanistan. (Winter’s use of the app created controversy and raised some interesting questions about Read more

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5 types of photos that make for strong photo essays, audio slideshows

In photography’s equivalent of the after-life, “no one can hear you scream.”

At least let’s hope that’s the case because, if not, W. Eugene Smith – the 20th century’s master of the photo story — would be creating a deafening noise. Why? He’d undoubtedly be lamenting having missed the arrival of the Web and its almost unlimited storytelling possibilities.

Imagine his seminal work — “Nurse Midwife Delivering Baby,” “Pittsburgh,” “Minamata” — all with a narrative audio backend. This would not be storytelling squared; but storytelling raised to infinity and beyond.

But, alas, Smith is gone and some of today’s modern photographers struggle in the master’s wake. Smith was the king of the cumulative effect of the photo essay — a variety of image types that add up to a greater whole. Today’s attempts too often rely on unconnected “moments” shot over and over again.

The tools that are now at our disposal make depth and breath of sound and image possible. While many photojournalists are learning audio storytelling or teaming up with those who do, however, still more have jumped straight to video. In doing so, they’re bypassing the need for careful image selection matched with a compelling narrative that’s told with care and emotion.

While working as the photo editor of The Washington Post, my boss — Assistant Managing Editor for Photography Joe Elbert — also identified this as a problem in need of a solution. Elbert, never one to do things the conventional way, used film to teach how images and sound can work well together. (Watching a Clint Eastwood gun fight unfold in a remote graveyard in “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” can tell you a lot about photography.)

Elbert’s interest was not into creating more “garage Kubricks” — newly minted cinematographers making masterpieces on their laptops — but rather to help photographers learn to create a series of pictures that tell stories. When combined with audio, these stories would have a depth, grace and fluidity only made possible by our multiplatform world.

Photo essays are a great way of marrying photos with narrative, and so are audio slideshows. Below, I’ve listed five types of photos that make for strong photo stories. I’ve also included related examples from an NPR project about the impact of the stimulus bill on a rural health clinic.

Shot one: The scene setter

Where is your story taking place, and what does it look like? Is it a building, a town, an old southwestern graveyard? Place your audience in the action by taking a photo that shows it all.

This image sets the scene for a story about a health clinic in a rural town. John Poole/NPR

Shot two: The medium shot

Let’s start to hone in on the spot of your action; the area of the building or town or graveyard where your subjects are. This shot narrows your story’s field of view and should bring you closer in.

This photo shows us where the story’s source is. John Poole/NPR

Shot three: The portrait

If things go south and you can only come back with one photo, this should be it. Who is your main subject and what does he or she look like? This can be a traditional head and shoulders shot or a wider shot that shows the person’s surroundings.

It’s always best to take a variety of portrait shots, as photos of your subject will probably be used more than once in a good audio/visual presentation. Also, if your subject is a thing and not a person, capture it. A great series of electron microscope portraits might be just what you need.

From this portrait, we can see what the source — & his furry companion — look like. John Poole/NPR

Shot four: Capturing detail

This is the shot that is often forgotten. Detail shots work especially well for transitions, but can have great storytelling potential all their own. What are the pictures on someone’s desk? What books are they reading? What’s that post card they have tacked to the wall? All of these things tell us a little bit about our subject and are great elements to have in a photo essay or multimedia presentation.

The detail in this photo helps illustrate the topic of the story. John Poole/NPR

Shot five: Capturing action

Action shots show your subject doing something — ideally the thing you are reporting on. This is the shot some photographers spend an entire shoot trying to perfect, often amounting to the same shot being taken 30 times. Photos of your subject in action are essential in audio/visual pieces, but they are not the only pictures you need. If you get the other four shots and not this one, you’ll still have a solid photo essay.

I advise getting the others in the can and then working on this shot. That way, you have a strong foundation to support your story, and your action shots will be the icing on the cake.

Action shots add movement to your story. John Poole/NPR

Four or five pictures might be enough for a photo essay gallery. For audio slideshows or video, however, you’ll want multiple options for each of these photo types.

With any luck, and a bit of talent, you’ll end up with a photo essay that would do Smith proud. Read more

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Why contests need to do a better job of recognizing changes in multimedia journalism

I recently had the privilege of serving as a juror for the World Press Photo’s multimedia contest in Amsterdam.

This was, by far, one of the most organized contests I’ve attended. (For eight years I oversaw judging for the National Press Photographers’ Best of Photojournalism on the Web contest, so that’s saying a lot).

More than 250 multimedia stories were submitted, with “Afrikaner Blood” by Elles van Gelder and Ilvy Njiokiktjien coming out on top. This strong piece about racism in the new South Africa was a clear choice for the jury. Less clear was the very definition of multimedia, a term that has almost as many meanings as there are contests honoring the best of its practitioners.

Why we need contests for multimedia journalism

I’m a big fan of designer Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” which lists 43 tips on how to have a successful life as a visual creator. Wanting to keep my work clearly focused on the audience, I, for years, followed #26 religiously: “Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t, it’s not good for you.”

Recently, however, I have found that there are some benefits to putting your work up against the best of the best and letting others judge it; often they see things, both good and bad, that you are too close to see.

Many of us who make our living working for news organizations often have a hard time breaking out of our institutional bubbles. We toil every day to make our stuff great, leaving very little time to enjoy the fruits of other journalists’ labor. When we see the winning entries of a contest, or serve as a judge for a contest, we expose ourselves to work we may not have otherwise seen and to the changes in multimedia journalism.

How contests are recognizing multimedia journalism

So what exactly is “multimedia journalism”? Text, photos, audio, video, interactive graphics? Or is it all of these elements combined? If one of the benefits of a contest like World Press’ is to help define the best practices of a medium, how do you get meaning out of results when the very thing you are judging is changing constantly in both substance and meaning?

Different contests acknowledge multimedia journalism in different ways.

The multimedia portion of World Press Photo’s contest is only in its second year, and its minimalist multimedia rules leaned heavily on linear storytelling that incorporated still photography as an element. That said, most of the entries consisted almost entirely of video. There was only one category and one top prize for the jurors to decide on. (The jury also selected a multimedia package that incorporated more elements — graphics, video, text and photos — for special recognition.)

In comparison, Pictures of the Year International (POYi) and Best of Photojournalism (BOP) have held multimedia contests for more than 10 years. Both contests have incorporated a multitude of categories in recent years; POYi honors seven different types of multimedia, while BOP honors eight. Somewhere in the middle is the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) which, like World Press, seeks to maintain a strong connection with traditional photojournalism. Two categories honor photography paired with audio; three honor multimedia packages.

How we could improve contests

In 1998, I served as a judge for the first “multimedia” contest held by POYi, the 55th annual Pictures of the Year contest. At that time it was called the “Electronic Division.” Most of our entries either consisted of photo galleries on Web pages or more ambitious undertakings produced and delivered on CD-ROMs. No interactive graphics, very little audio, and almost no video.

To say that things are different now would be an understatement of the highest order. Judging today, one routinely looks at 10-minute-long streaming videos while clicking around interactive maps revealing before and after satellite images accompanied by audio postcards from long-lost family members reunited thanks to Facebook. You get the point.

I think our current generation of contests could do a better job of accounting for the changes in multimedia journalism. I suggest creating an open contest (perhaps modeled after the Peabody Awards) with 15 winners. Anyone doing any form of “multimedia” can enter. The jury will pick the best journalism, regardless of format, and maybe pick a best of show.

This type of contest would allow impact and importance to trump form, and would be more encompassing of an ever-changing medium.

While this might create more chaos (and a potential entry sheet nightmare), in the long run we would have a contest as adaptive as the times we live and work in; a contest that would be truly “multimedia” and could help us embrace all elements of visual storytelling. Read more

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The Best of Multimedia Photojournalism: The Era of the Ear

This year the Best of Photojournalism’s Best of the Web contest saw more — and better — online journalism presentations from around the world than it ever has before.

It may have also provided us with our first clear look at the future of photographic storytelling in a digital world.

Photography and the Web have always fit together in a very awkward way. While the medium seemed to have so much potential for visual journalists, the reality of dial-up bandwidth initially constrained photo-size to that of a postage stamp. Even though HTML provided a visual layout foundation for photographs from day one, online photographic displays were really impractical.

Increased bandwidth allowed for larger photographs, which led to sites like MSNBC.com, one of the first to devote almost its entire home page to a single image. As editors and designers became more comfortable with putting large photographs on the Internet, online photo galleries evolved. For the past several years, this has been the dominant way of displaying visual journalism on the Web.

The problem with photo galleries, to put it bluntly, is that they are galleries. Even when filled with large, high-resolution photos, they are not very interactive. And as a storytelling tool, the photo gallery may not be any more effective than a thoughtfully designed print page. In print, the photos can relate more effectively to one another and to the text story, if there is one. Print also provides context — a level of “layering” that a sequential, but static, gallery cannot provide.

This year’s contest showcases the emergence of a new form, a form that enhances the visual storytelling process. The audio slideshow, popularized with the help of Joe Weiss’ wonderful program, Soundslides, has been widely adopted by news organizations’ Web sites. A revolution in photography may be at hand.

When coupled with photographs, audio adds context to a story. In the best instances, it does more than let you hear what you are seeing on screen. It gives you another layer of information.

Sound storytelling, especially when it features the voices of the subjects themselves, provides depth and dimension that a series of photographs simply cannot provide.

Audio slideshows enable a series of photographs to relate to a piece of information that is often more useful than another photograph, or a block of text. MediaStorm founder Brian Storm calls audio “captions on steroids.” But in the hands of the best, it can be way more than that.

Some of this year’s best entries brought the judges to the verge of tears, testimony to the emotional power of the audio-visual combination.

Photography has, throughout history, evolved in lockstep with technology. This may be the first time, however, that the tools driving the evolution aren’t guided by the eye. Rather, they are led by the ear.

The elements: a tiny digital audio recorder, and the software that facilitates the combination of audio and picture. The result is a synthesis, a contextual enhancement, a whole new way to tell stories.

Click on the link at right to hear the BOP Best of the Web contest judges and me discuss audio slideshows, the ethics of using certain kinds of audio and the future of online video.

I start off the discussion. Next you’ll hear from Josh Meltzer of The Roanoke (Va.) Times. Then Regina McCombs of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Then Richard Koci Hernandez of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. Then Andrew Devigal of The New York Times. And finally, Heather Powazek Champ of Flikr.

And be sure to check out these lists of entrants and, of course, winners. Read more

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Take a Blogger to Lunch (And Other Radical Ideas for Journos Struggling to Understand the Web)

Journalists, here’s some food for thought: What we do is going away because it has to. We can no longer claim the higher ground. There will be no “transition to the Web” — the Web exists and is as different from 20th-century journalism as apples are from hand grenades.

If we are to survive as news organizations, survival will have to be charted by people who live in the new world, rather than by people who view the Web as either a threat or a tool to gain temporary power in a mortally wounded industry. New Media, Web 2.0, or whatever you want to call it, is powered by the people for the people. Join them or be ignored. (If you have any doubts about this, just take a look at the latest controversy stirred up by the cell phone videos of the Saddam Hussein execution.)

What our newsrooms need is a mindset that values the Web for what it is, an extention of our human desire for community. The Web is a tool to talk to one anther.

We need to develop a culture in our newsrooms that lets us become part of the conversation that is
already taking place; not as a dominant voice but as one of many. By giving up our position on high we may gain an even higher level of respect in the communities we live in.

As news organizations, we inhabit a temporary existence while we wait for the full birth of this new medium. Traditional news organizations must not invest in transitioning people to this new world; we already live in it.

Instead, we should be inventing this new world with people who already populate it. Real bloggers, photobloggers and vloggers — embrace them and learn from them. Only then can we continue to be relevant.

Some examples of thinking outside the mainstream-media bubble:

Also, check out the Post‘s Don Graham mixing it up on the No One’s Listening podcast.

As visual journalists, we must remember that HTML, the backbone of the Web, is a ‘display’ format. It was created to make content look better online. We should take that and run with it — but instead, most of our Web sites overflow with row after row of text, with the visuals often confined to photo gallery and video pop-up ghettos. Again, we are taking old habits into the new world rather than embracing new ways of thinking about what we do and how we do it.

Embracing the Web means embracing visual communication. Hate MySpace and YouTube? Think instead of Egyptian hieroglyphics — think Tufte and visual displays of information. The challenge to visual journalists is huge; 10 years into the Web and we have yet to figure out the best way to use photography. Many of our video experiments feel like TV doppelgängers — cheap imitations of the real thing. Where is the innovation? Not in most of our newsrooms.

What our newsrooms do have are decision-makers who have never built a Web page by hand, watched Rocketboom, or listened to a podcast. They don’t ‘get’ YouTube and have never heard of Flickr or del.icio.us or Boing Boing. They think viewing a 30-inch story on a cell phone is cutting-edge and don’t understand that I would rather spend 10 minutes downloading littleloca videos or hanging out in Second Life, than reading their newspapers — even the online version. They are not innovators, they are caretakers.

What our newsrooms do have are decision-makers who have never built a Web page by hand, watched Rocketboom, or listened to a podcast.What we have become are journalists trying to keep things stable. We are trying to survive in the world we’ve known for another five, 10, 15 years. What you hear in conversations are: “I’m trying to hold out till the next buyout” or “I’m trying to make it to retirement.” These are not people facing challenges bravely, but rather people in hiding, hoping to be passed over, undiscovered, until they can make their way safely out of town.

In many of our mainstream-media Web sites, we still have people trying to prove that the print or TV or radio people don’t have a clue, rather than new-media journalists who are also Web citizens trying to find the best ways to share and communicate in the era of texting, blogging and MMORPG-ing. What these sites don’t get is that they are often as un-hip as the parent organizations that spawned them, visually challenged and risk adverse. Innovators need not apply here, either.

Embracing the Web means embracing visual communication.What result from these attitudes are vested-interest decisions to ‘transition’ our MSM and Web newsrooms into one; vested-interest decisions to teach our reporters to blog; vested-interest decisions to give everyone video cameras; vested-interest decisions to do whatever we can to preserve a version of the past that we are comfortable with so we can ignore the realities of this new media age. The idea of citizens making and sharing the things they want to read and watch and listen to scares the crap out of us.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are people in every newsroom who want to get off the boat and come ashore. Find them a guide and help them explore their new world. And take a 20-something blogger from your community to lunch — you just might learn to be unafraid.

Keith W. Jenkins is the Picture Editor at The Washington Post and has been a blogger since 1999. From 1996-1997 he was Photography Director at washingtonpost.com. He was Photography Director at AOL from 1997-1999. Read more

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