Tuesday 17 April 2018

This photojournalist won a Pulitzer for an image he made on his last day in the newsroom

Photojournalist Ryan Kelly won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for an image he made at The (Charlottesville, Virginia) Daily Progress on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

It was the day of a white supremacist rally. It was the day a man plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. And it was Kelly’s last day in the newsroom.

Kelly left to run social media for a Richmond brewery and still works as a freelancer. In August, he told Poynter about his last day of work. From that story:

Wesley Hester picked Ryan Kelly up on Saturday as a crowd marched from the park to downtown. The editor of Charlottesville, Virginia's Daily Progress dropped the photographer off downtown and found a spot to park.

Hester caught up with Kelly. Together, they walked toward Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. It was hot already. Both men were sweating. When they passed a CVS, Hester headed inside to grab a couple Gatorades.

"He said, 'OK, I'll keep walking,'" Hester said. "'Catch up with me.'"

As he paid for the orange and grape Gatorades, Hester learned that the "Unite the Right" rally and counter-protests had turned deadly. Someone plowed the crowd with a car. Hester ran outside and found Kelly staring at his camera. They weren't thinking, then, about the image that so much of the world now knows from Charlottesville.

They got back to work.

A little later, the two stopped in a quiet spot to check what Kelly had captured.

"We discussed whether or not we'd even use it, to be honest, but we thought it was important that we do something with it," Hester said.

Kelly was in the air on a flight home from Amsterdam and the World Press Photo awards when news broke on Monday. When the plane touched down in Washington, D.C., he checked the Pulitzer's Twitter feed and saw his name.

"I think this is a super valuable reminder for people of the power of local journalism," he said.

Photo by Ryan Kelly/Daily Progress
But that doesn't mean he's ready to come back.

The state of the industry, the stress and the schedule were the reasons he left last year, and they're still the right reasons for him. Plus, now he gets free beer at the end of the day.

Kelly said that while it's his name on the award, he shares it with his former colleagues, who did great journalism not just on that day, but in the year leading up to it.

"We were there all the time, and I think our constant work reflects that."

In the last several years, a few Pulitzer winners have left their newsrooms, and the industry, for jobs in public relations. Hester, then the Daily Progress' editor, has since left for a position as a university spokesperson, according to editor Aaron Richardson.

The Daily Progress did replace Kelly when he left, Richardson said, and it still has two photojournalists. The recognition is an honor, he said, but it's work that any journalists would do in the same situation.

"We do awesome work every day. We are blessed with a talent pool that exceeds our size and geographic location," he said. "Ryan certainly is emblematic of that."

His image also won second place in the spot news single category at the World Press Photo contest. On Twitter, Kelly shared his remarks in accepting that award:

“As always, I wish that weekend in Charlottesville never had to happen,” he said, “and my heart breaks for Heather Heyer’s family and everybody who was impacted by that horrific violence. As Heather herself reminded all of us: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

(Source: Poynter)

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