Today my heart is filled with sadness. Our industry has lost a legend and I have lost a friend, mentor and a second father. I just heard of the passing of former Photo Editor of Newsweek magazine Jim Kenney.
Jim was my son Shane’s Godfather. But more than that he was like a father to me. As a scrapping young photo editor in 1977, Jim hired me away from the Associated Press to be an Associate Photo Editor at the magazine as they were just starting to use more color images in the magazine and I was AP’s Color Picture Editor. It was the beginning of a 17-year, two stint relationship that I have cherished as the highlight of my 40+ year career.
I’ve often described those years at the magazine as the glory years of photojournalism. In an analog world, the competition was fierce and making the weekly deadlines included logistics as complicated as hand carrying undeveloped film on the Concorde (which I did seven times!) It meant loading up a Lear Jet with 6 photographers and a correspondent from Washington DC and attempting to invade the island of Grenada and being threatened to be shot out of the sky by an Air Force F-16 fighter jet as we entered Grenadian Air Space.
There are hundreds of similar stories about how Newsweek, with half the budget of our competition, would put up the good fight and come home with the goods on a weekly basis. And at the helm, was the gentle giant Jim Kenney and his trusted Irish side-kick John (Willie) Whelan.
Jim had nicknames for all his staff. Joan (Angel) Engels, Dave (The Coach) Wyland, Tom (The Digger) Tarnowsky (Kenney thought he looked like an undertaker) and of course, Kevin (The Juvenile Delinquent) McVea…well...just because he was. Me? I was just “Colt,”….as in “Colt…you’re going to Grenada!”
Kenney was also famous for “Kenney-isms.” Examples: “All socks are white.” Or when someone inquired about a caption, “Where do you want it to be, and when do you want it to be?” And my personal favorite, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit!”
There wasn't a kinder man on the planet. Family always came first with Jim. And “Work hard, play hard,” was the credo we all lived by. There wasn't anything we wouldn't do for the patriarch of that department. Celebrations were as infamous as the Photo Department Christmas parties, to the annual gathering at John Whelan’s house in Marlboro, N.J. where the entire department and their families would get tanked and sing Christmas carols out of tune…but no one cared.
But know this about the man…He cared. Everyone in that department was like one of his own kids. And when personal matters needed to be taken care of, they were dealt with FIRST!
Everything I learned about ethics in our industry was fostered by Jim. We never doctored a photograph, never did anything underhanded just to beat the competition and we lived and died with production created by hard work, ingenuity, and our sweat and tears. We won some. We lost some. But it was always done on a level playing field.
My heart is heavy today. But I am a better journalist and a better man because of this gentle giant. Rest in Peace Jim Kenney. We will always love you and be forever thankful that you came in to our lives.