The Daily Herald’s Jeff Knox talks about the life as a photo editor
By: Dena Lorenson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jeff Knox is a busy man. As the senior director of photography at The Daily Herald in Chicago, he oversees a staff of 20 photojournalists and photo editors.
In a phone interview, he talked about a typical day, the highs and lows of being an editor and tough decisions that have to be made.
His day usually consists of two meetings to go over the news of the day, the centerpiece stories for the next day and the content that will be published online throughout the day.
After the morning meeting, he talks to the photographers about their assignments. “We are always looking at multimedia possibilities, whether it’s a gallery or video,” Knox said.
Knox has a degree in communications from Illinois State University, where he majored in journalism and minored in photography. He started taking photos in high school and always wanted to work for a newspaper.
After college, Knox worked at a few small newspapers as a sports photographer. In 1990, Knox was hired at The Daily Herald as an editor and photographer. He has been the director of photography since 2007.
He also is the secretary of the Associated Press Photo Managers and he is a member of the Illinois Press Photographers Association and the National Photographers Association.
Knox has been recognized by these organizations several times for his photographic work.
“I shoot a little bit and when I do it, I really enjoy it,” he said. “I miss shooting, but I also like editing.”
Knox likes the planning aspect of editing the most. He makes sure the staff has what it needs to be successful and come back with a great video or pictures.
And he likes to see what the photographers come back with. “I like it when they come back and they’re happy and successful; my bosses are happy,” Knox said. “They could come back and tell the story in pictures or video or other types of multimedia that really serves our viewers and readers.”
One of the biggest challenges of editing is managing limited resources. “We are stretched thinner and thinner these days and we are doing more and more,” Knox said. “There’s a lot of not just print, it’s not just online anymore, there’s a lot of alternative registries that all involves our staff producing a lot of things.”
Changes in the industry have led to smaller staffs and budgets for things like updating aging photo equipment.
Beyond dealing with tough budgets, Knox said, the hardest editing decision is deciding not to publish something. The Daily Herald has a pretty conservative audience and many factors go into what it publishes.
“We’ve had to shelve pictures before just because the subject matter wasn’t right or it could be perceived as inflammatory or stereotyping a certain group of people,” Knox said.
Knox said the hardest assignment he had to shoot was a 5-year-old boy who fell from a tree and got caught on the branches trying to catch himself. Knox drove up to the scene with his camera loaded, but he couldn’t shoot the picture.
“I personally couldn’t do it and there was no way we would have run that picture,” Knox said.
Knox said diversity in skill set is key to becoming an editor. Photographers write and the reporters also shoot pictures. Becoming knowledgeable in multimedia, writing and photography will help.
When Knox started 20 years ago, he could not have predicted the changes he’s seen. Those changes include: the move to online publication, the use of digital photography instead of film, the ability to transfer photos to a computer right away and publish a picture online five minutes after you shot it.
Online is where future of journalism is going. Knox doesn’t think The Daily Herald will disappear, but the print product may at some point.