Photographer Ryan M. Kelly boarded a plane in Amsterdam after receiving 2nd place in the Breaking News category for World Press Photo for his image of a car plowing into a crowd in Charlottesville. When he landed in the U.S., he learned that he had won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography. He recently took a job as social media manager for Ardent Craft Ales, a Virginia-based brewery.
Ken Lyons, The Denver Post’s Senior Editor for Photography and Multimedia, wrote on Facebook:
When I see great people leaving photojournalism, either through their own choice or forced out, I always wonder about the visual stories that will go untold. What if this moment had happened after Ryan’s last day on the job? I’m not sure there is a more relevant example of the current state of journalism than the story behind this powerful image. Ryan made the image his final day on the job as a photographer for the Daily Progress.
Kelly told Poytner, “I think this is a super valuable reminder for people of the power of local journalism.” But he expressed no regrets about leaving the paper due to the dismal state of the news and newspaper industry combined with the stress and schedule of the job.
Lyons told me that he wrote the post partially out of frustration with the issues at The Denver Post where the hedge-fund owners, Alden Global Capital, have gutted the newspaper – most recently laying off 30 employees including photographer John Leyba, who spent his entire 34-year career at the paper. Ironically, the Post has been awarded nine Pulitzers (five since 2000) including two for Feature Photography by Craig F. Walker. Excellence in journalism apparently is not reason enough to preserve an institution that serves millions of people and dates back to 1892.
It’s worth noting that in a sea of people carrying smartphones, Kelly was the only person that got an image with such clarity timed with such devastating perfection. He was one of two staff photographers at the Charlottesville-based Daily Progress, and his photo defies a written description. It is, in the words of Lyons, a visual story that would have gone untold without an experienced photographer there to capture it. Images of tiki torch-wielding white supremacists are disgusting, but they lack the ineffable quality of the death and destruction in Kelly’s image. His is the iconic image from Charlottesville.
Although the resurgence of the Washington Post and the hope of new ownership at The Los Angeles Times have provided a brief respite, the status for the local news business is still dismal. At a national level, there will always be enough money and coverage, but what stories of graft, corruption, racism, and more will go untold because all the talent from local newsrooms is drained through budget cuts and attrition? Or as we’ve seen with Sinclair Broadcast Group, how will local reporting suffer at the hands of a political agenda?
I applaud Ryan Kelly’s awards and his career change, but I hope he doesn’t start a trend of Pulitzer winners succumbing to an industry besieged by hedge funds and private equity firms that believe the mission of journalism is the bottom line.