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.

[caption id="attachment_271565" align="alignleft" width="460"]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)[/caption]

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 do 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 for The Boston Globe. Jenkins is an award-winning photographer and has a law degree from Boston University.

  • 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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