College job turned him from zoology to photography
By Kevin Kuehl
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Ted Kirk went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study zoology.
Because he owned a camera and liked taking pictures, a friend suggested he take a photography job at the Daily Nebraskan.
Little did he know that this $5-per-photo job would lead him into a career in photojournalism.
But that’s what happened. Kirk has been the photo editor of the Lincoln Journal Star since 2004.
In an interview, he talked about his career at the Journal Star and his experiences.
Through the change from film into digital photography, Kirk said he is still “having a blast.”
Q. How did you first get started in journalism?
A. I actually started as a major in zoology, but I had a friend who worked for the Daily Nebraskan who told me, “You know, since you have a camera and make pictures, you could shoot pictures for us and make $5 per photo,” which was ‘big money’, and that’s really how it started. Around then, I made a real hard left-hand turn into photography and became obsessed with photojournalism. It was serendipity.
Q. When did you first know you wanted to be an editor?
A. In photojournalism, you often become your own editor out of necessity. A few years ago the Journal Star hired someone who didn’t work out, so they asked me if I was interested, which the first time I wasn’t. Being a photographer is sometimes a selfish craft, because it’s basically all about you. You have a tremendous amount of freedom. Eventually it got to the point where I had done what I wanted to do, for a very long time. Also, part of it is just getting older. It can be a very physically demanding job. It was really just a combination of stuff, I guess.
Q. How long have you been a photo editor at the Journal Star?
A. Since 2004, I think. So eight years.
Q. What is the biggest way in which your job as an editor has changed since you started it?
A. The biggest change, are the demands of online. I mean online has changed everything. In print, we are only a state newspaper, but in terms of football, on online we are a national newspaper because of where the audience is. Online is an insatiable beast.
Q. How has photojournalism changed since you’ve been an editor?
A. To me, the biggest difference is it’s far easier to lie than it used to be because of the technology. I think it happens more than just the situations we actually catch. Advancements such as auto-focus, has made very average photographers into professional photographers. The problem is many photographers still don’t understand the quality and quantity of light; they let the camera figure it out for them.
Q. What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A. Since we essentially don’t close, we’re constantly planning on what we’re going to do today, what we’re going to do tomorrow, and the next day and so on. Working at a newspaper is running in front of a threshing machine. It’s constantly nipping at your heels. Filling the visual content and also online are the majority of what my time is spent on. That’s pretty much what my day involves. There also seem to be a lot of meetings.
Q. What is the worst decision you’ve made as an editor?
A. You probably need to ask my staff! I’ve guessed wrong on stuff and had the wrong judgment on things. Is there one in particular that stands out? I don’t think there’s one monstrous thing that stands out.
Q. What is your favorite part of working at The Journal Star?
A. Making pictures and the interaction. It’s a good environment, you know? You’re basically working in a room full of people who just want to find stuff out.
Q. Describe your job as a photo editor in two words.
A. Ring master. Because there is nothing linear that goes on here. It isn’t like we start the day with one task and follow suit; there’s stuff going every direction.
Q. So you would consider your job a fun one?
A. Oh yeah, it’s a blast! I grew up in a family that was in the restaurant business. My dad was a pretty practical man. And when I started in photojournalism, my dad said “wait a minute, they pay you to do what your mom does on vacation?” And I said “Yes! What’s not to like about that?”