NPPA honors Jodi Cobb, Rich Beckman and other outstanding visual journalists, educators and First Amendment advocates
*Join us virtually at the Northern Short Course on March 31 - April 2. Register here. Watch the NPPA Honors and NSC Awards on March 30 at 7pm EDT, which is free of charge and open to the public.
Athens, Ga. — Since the first Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award was given by the National Press Photographers Association in 1949, the organization has continued to recognize individuals for their special contributions to the NPPA and the wider field of visual journalism.
These awards represent NPPA’s efforts to honor those who make our profession stronger, build our communities and expand the reach of NPPA in its mission to promote visual journalism and journalists. They recognize individuals who contribute to the profession in myriad ways. They honor people who elevate photojournalism, photojournalists who have made outstanding accomplishments, leaders who advance NPPA’s goals, people who fight for First Amendment freedoms, and educators who inspire.
The NPPA has awarded its highest honor, the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, to Jodi Cobb and Rich Beckman for their commitment to the craft of visual journalism and to education that advances the profession. The Sprague awards, along with NPPA’s other top honors and the Northern Short Course Contest awards, will be presented during a virtual ceremony Wednesday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. EDT, kicking off NPPA’s Northern Short Course, which will be held virtually March 31-April 2.
Jodi Cobb’s trailblazing career spans over four decades as a National Geographic staff field photographer, breaking gender and cultural barriers to document cultures in some of the world’s most impenetrable environments.
Cobb was one of the first Western photographers to cross China when it reopened to the outside world after decades of isolation, traveling 7,000 miles from Beijing to the borders of Burma, now known as Myanmar, and Vietnam. She was the first given permission by the king to photograph the women of Saudi Arabia, and the first to be welcomed inside the secret world of Japan’s geisha, published in her book “Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art.” In a landmark National Geographic story, “21st Century Slaves,” she exposed the brutal reality of global human trafficking, spending a year photographing the victims, traffickers and rescuers in 12 countries. She has traveled through 100 countries, logging over 2,000 airline flights and 6,000 nights on the road.
Cobb was the first woman named White House Photographer of the Year and has won many World Press and Pictures of the Year awards. She received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the American Society of Media Photographers and National Geographic’s Photo Society; an honorary doctorate from the Corcoran College of Art and Design; and one of journalism’s most prestigious honors, the University of Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. A popular speaker, her photographs have been widely exhibited worldwide — and one is on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts, out in the universe forever.
“I have followed the Sprague award winners since I was a student at the University of Missouri, working in Cliff Edom’s office,” Cobb said. “They came to the campus, and we photojournalism students eagerly met them, showed them around and probably secretly wanted to be them — or be hired by them. They were the heroes of our profession. Now, they are still heroes but also friends and colleagues. Their photographs are the icons of photojournalism. I never once imagined I’d be among them. I cannot thank you enough for this honor.”
Rich Beckman worked as a photographer, administrator, educator and documentary producer on five continents and was a Fulbright Senior Scholar on three. He won multiple teaching awards, dozens of industry awards and directed undergraduate and graduate visual journalism programs at two major universities. A major focus of his teaching for more than four decades was producing international documentary projects for social change with teams of journalists and students.
In addition to his work within academia, he also worked extensively with a variety of national and international partner organizations to train employees and help direct their digital initiatives. In his role as a documentary consultant with the International Special Olympics, he and his students produced local and international projects on intellectual disability and socialization in more than two dozen countries as well as throughout the United States. During that time, he involved more than 500 students in Special Olympics projects.
In the initial 10 years that student categories were judged in the Online News Association’s competition, his students were finalists 16 times and won top awards six times. That was more than twice as many as any other university. Their work has also been honored with more than a dozen other national and international awards, including the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award and Bronze Medallion for documentary video, one of the only student entries to ever be honored.
“Teaching visual journalism was just one part of my class syllabi,” Beckman said. “I taught my students that they needed to feel and then to care, and only after that could they really see and tell meaningful stories. They needed to learn to balance their passion with compassion. We built partnerships and worked on projects together in more than 30 countries, and they quickly learned how incredibly fortunate they were and how journalists build bridges across borders, cultures, races and religions. When they asked me to critique their stories, I reminded them that they were not their stories, that they belonged to their subjects and that they were privileged to be allowed to document and share them. I am most proud that so many of my former students are friends and take such good care of each other.”
Ben Worsley is awarded the Joseph Costa Award. The Costa Award is named after NPPA’s founder and given for outstanding initiative, leadership and service in advancing the goals of NPPA in Costa’s tradition. Worsley is a national photographer with EW Scripps’ National Team. He was previously in Baltimore for 12 years at WBFF, where he was chief photojournalist for three.
From the nomination: “Worsley has demonstrated selflessness in promoting photojournalism around him. Not only has he encouraged others to think toward a storytelling culture, but he has also motivated, mentored and guided new photojournalists entering the industry to become some of the best in the field. Worsley has furthered the knowledge of NPPA photojournalism and inspired others to get involved in judging, keeping in mind the NPPA Code of Ethics and technical integrity when it comes to storytelling.”
“I’ve always been very dedicated to the NPPA, and I took pride in taking on a leadership role at WBFF and passing on that tradition to others,” Worsley said. “So I’m very honored, and I hope to continue to pass it along, to keep that style alive in my own work and continue to tell strong powerful stories.”
Danese Kenon is awarded the Jim Gordon Editor of the Year Award, given to an editor who supports and promotes strong photojournalism, best use of photography, and whose individual dedication and efforts have moved photojournalism's standards forward while advancing the best interests of all photographers. This award celebrates the leadership, ethics and advocacy dimensions of editing.
Kenon, a past NPPA board member, is currently the managing editor of visuals at The Philadelphia Inquirer. She teaches multimedia journalism at The Kalish and Multimedia Immersion video storytelling workshops and NABJ student journalists.
“She is always telling us to dream big; life is short,” said Steven Falk, a staff photographer at the Inquirer. “I feel that I have grown as a photographer in the past three years after being at the paper for 26 years.”
“I am so grateful,” Kenon said. “The only reason this could happen is because I have a great staff and a newsroom that values visual journalism. It’s unbelievable how much photographers and videographers in this industry have been through in the last few years: the physical assaults, the mental strain and the trauma. I am in awe of your ambition and your will to go on. Keep fighting the good fight and shining a light in the darkness. Go forward and be brilliant!”
Curt Chandler is posthumously awarded the Clifton Edom Award. The Edom Award recognizes an individual in the tradition of University of Missouri photojournalism professor Cliff Edom to inspire and motivate members of the photojournalism community to reach new heights.
Chandler, a professor at Penn State’s College of Communications, dedicated decades to improving visual journalists and storytelling in the field. Along with teaching college classes, Chandler was part of workshop presentations for the NPPA along with other organizations and spent days teaching at photojournalism workshops for the Northern Short Course and at various universities. Chandler died in Pittsburgh on Jan. 31, 2022, of pancreatic cancer. A tribute to his life was published in News Photographer.
Martin Smith-Rodden is awarded the Robin F. Garland Educator Award, which recognizes outstanding educators who shape a new generation of visual communicators and photojournalists through their lessons. Smith-Rodden is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication at Ball State University, where he coordinates the Photographic Storytelling sequence. He was a professional visual journalist for over 36 years in three markets, including his regionally and nationally recognized work at The Virginian-Pilot. His focus as a researcher is that of a media psychologist, exploring the practice and scholarship of visual journalism with a scientifically informed and research-based approach. Much of his research focuses on how human behavior interacts with media content and technology, including media effects.
“I mean, I’d be lucky enough to have one dream job — like for the 3½ decades I had as a working photojournalist,” Smith-Rodden said. “But I’m beyond blessed to get a second dream job right after the first, as a photojournalism instructor. It’s such an incredible privilege to teach and coach emerging student photojournalists. It gives me life. So this recognition made my year. Thanks, NPPA!”
Ben Brody is awarded the John Durniak Mentor Award for serving as an outstanding photojournalism mentor. From his nomination: “Brody is the director of photography for GroundTruth and Report for America, providing training and mentorship for corps members and editing for visual fellowships. He’s directly responsible for assisting many young and early entry photographers into the profession on a national scale.”
“Photojournalism has a long tradition of mentorship, and that tradition has always made me feel like I had a home in the industry,” Brody said. “I'm greatly indebted to my own mentor Gary Knight as well as many other photographers who have been so generous to me — from when I was starting out and every day since. It’s a wonderful community we have. Paying that mentorship and friendship forward, while helping move our visual conversation forward, is an important part of my practice, and through Report for America I’m privileged to play that role for our extremely hardworking and talented early-career photographers."
These citations are given for making significant contributions that advance the interests of photojournalism. This year, the awards committee chose two groups that made meaningful impacts on their local communities.
Photographer Doug Parker, right, copies photos as volunteers with Family Photo Rescue copy photos, damaged by Hurricane Ida, in September 2021, at the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House in LaPlace, Louisiana. Digital copies of the photos are being retouched by volunteers with the nonprofit Operation Photo Rescue, with the finished copies sent back to their owners. Sony donated the use of Sony mirrorless cameras and copying equipment for the effort. For more information and tips to preserve damaged photos, visit Family Photo Rescue's Facebook page. Photo by Scott Threlkeld
Family Photo Rescue for its work in restoring photographs for members of the community following flooding in LaPlace, Louisiana, after Hurricane Ida. The team, organized by Gerald Herbert, a staff photographer for The Associated Press, along with Kathy Anderson, Doug Parker, Matthew Hinton, Edmund Fountain, John McCusker, Rusty Costanza, Derrick Hingle, Ted Jackson, Andrew Boyd, Jackson Hill, and Misty McElroy, worked with the backing of Operation Photo Rescue, a national nonprofit, in the effort.
Scott Ball and Shannon Gowen for their focus on community. They co-founded the 4x5 Festival, which provides talks and workshops with a draw of national speakers. Continuing that vein, they recently opened the Photo Center of San Antonio. While the building will offer some studio space for rent and photo classes for fees, it also has a photo book library with hours open to the public and will be a gathering place for free photo exhibits and talks.
Leita Walker, left, and Emmy Parsons of Ballard Spahr are awarded the Alicia Calzada First Amendment Award. This award recognizes those who have worked to promote and advance the First Amendment, especially as it relates to visual journalists. It is named after NPPA past President Alicia Wagner Calzada, the founder and longtime chair of NPPA’s Advocacy Committee who is now an attorney specializing in media law.
From the nomination: They “have tirelessly worked to promote and advance the First Amendment by protecting and defending journalists — particularly visual journalists — in Minnesota covering the racial justice protests and granting access to audiovisual coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial.”
“It has been our honor to advocate on behalf of the dedicated and brave visual journalists who have worked tirelessly to report on the murder of George Floyd and the impact his death has had on the Minneapolis community and the national conversations about race and police brutality,” they said in a joint statement. “Thanks to their efforts, the world was able to bear witness to a monumental criminal trial and civil uprising at a moment of critical importance in our country’s history, and we were humbled to play a small part in their efforts.”
Tiffany Liou is awarded the Morris Berman Citation, given to individuals or organizations for special contributions that have advanced the interests of photojournalism. Liou is a multiskilled journalist at WFAA in Dallas. She has worked on the NPPA Advanced Storytelling Workshop and is part of the small team of volunteers who run the Women in Visual Journalism Conference.
From the nomination: “Tiffany is an award-winning MMJ that so many young women in the industry look up to. She mentors many people — often when I reach out to a potential recruit, they tell me they’ve been working with Tiffany on their writing and shooting. She’s also passionate about telling the stories in underrepresented communities. She knows the importance of telling everyone’s stories, and she often presents on this topic at various workshops. Her stories on Asian hate and the murders in Atlanta were compelling and heartfelt.”
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be a journalist, and to be trusted to tell stories,” Liou said. “My mentors and organizations like NPPA, AAJA and my station, WFAA, are the reasons for this award. They continue to give me opportunities to learn and grow in my dream career. I feel so motivated and humbled.”
Paul Lester is awarded the John Long Ethics Award, given to an individual who has upheld, shaped and promoted ethical behavior in all forms of visual journalism.
From the nomination: “Lester has a second edition of his book “Visual Ethics” being published this spring. This is only one of a large number of books on visual ethics he has published for over 30 years. He has been a frequent columnist for News Photographer Magazine’s “Ethics Matters.” His book “Photojournalism, An Ethical Approach” was a primary source for me in the early 1990s when I was just beginning my 30 years as NPPA ethics chair. His work as an ethicist was deeply informed by his years as a photojournalist at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.”
“During these difficult times, visual reporting has never been as critically important,” Lester said. “We should all promote ethical behavior within ourselves and through our practice because our profession deserves nothing less.”
Bill Luster is awarded the Burt Williams Award, which is given to a news photographer who has completed at least 40 years of service in the industry. A recipient of the Joseph Sprague Award in 2010 and president of the NPPA in 1993, Luster has covered nearly 50 Kentucky Derbys (pictured above left at his first Derby in 1965), four political conventions, four inaugurations, and was an official photographer for the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush. He retired in 2011 after 42 years at The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
From the nomination: “A consummate practical joker, Bill always had something up his sleeve with friends. I could write a book about Luster’s famed character, but I think the decades of dedication to this profession and to the NPPA speak for themselves.”
Diana Castillo is awarded the Kenneth P. McLaughlin Award of Merit, given to those who have rendered ongoing and outstanding service in the interests of news photography. Castillo is the news director at Siouxland News in the Sioux City, Iowa, market.
From the nomination: “She never hesitates to reach out to other journalists at our competitors when she sees them do something great. She lives to lift people up, not bring them down. Even those who leave her nest and continue flying, she makes sure they land on their feet wherever that may be, and keeps up with their latest stories and life happenings, even years after they leave her. Once you have Diana on your team, she will be your biggest fan forever.”
George Washington University’s Student NPPA Chapter, GWU NPPA, is the Outstanding Student Chapter Award. Founded in just 2020, the student chapter has worked to address the needs of its members with instruction outside the classroom. It holds a photo competition with an NPPA student membership as a prize, has established grants to provide resources to students and is working toward publishing its second zine that showcases member work.
Tara Pixley, Polly Irungu, Seth Gitner, Melissa Lyttle, Brett Akagi, Stingray Schuller and Oliver Janney are awarded President’s Awards, nominated by Katie Schoolov during her term as NPPA president for distinguished service in 2021.
- Pixley is recognized for outstanding dedication in taking the actions necessary to move our association forward, including her leadership of the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
- Irungu, who is co-chair of the DEI committee, is being recognized for taking the helm of the new initiative and providing expertise in moderating our new series of Twitter Spaces events in an effort to offer new, accessible programming for members.
- Seth Gitner is honored for pouring hundreds of volunteer hours into building a beautiful new website for the Best of Photojournalism contest. Seth’s extensive expertise, under short deadline, gifted NPPA with a high caliber site that we can be proud of for years to come, greatly improving the entry process and winning displays for all who love BOP.
- Lyttle is recognized for nearly two years of tireless service running the NPPA weekly newsletter, providing thousands of visual storytellers with resources, opportunities, important news and a weekly reason to smile.
- Akagi is recognized for his swift organization of the 2021 BOP Video Awards and his service in running the judging of those categories, ensuring the best video storytellers among us were properly honored and celebrated.
- Schuller is honored for giving countless hours to organizing and hosting our new NPPA Live: Master Your Gear webinar series. Without his leadership, it would have been impossible to teach photographers the deep workings of dozens of Sony and Canon cameras.
- Janney is recognized for his deep dedication to NPPA in his time as vice president, leading efforts like the 75th Anniversary commemorative sale and envisioning Master Your Gear and bringing it to reality.
Established in 1949, the Sprague Award is NPPA’s most prestigious honor. It recognizes individuals who advance and elevate photojournalism by their conduct, initiative, leadership and skill, or for unusual service or achievement beneficial to photojournalism and technological advances. It was named for Joseph A. Sprague, a press technical representative for the Graflex Corp. who is credited with equipment designs, and improvements and refinements to the original Speed Graphic 4x5 camera, which was once the press industry standard.
All members in good standing are able and strongly encouraged to submit nominations for these awards, and all student chapters are strongly encouraged to self-nominate for Student Chapter of the Year by providing supporting documentation about activities conducted over the past year.
Andrew Stanfill, an NPPA past president, served as the chair of the Honors & Recognition Committee, the group that puts out an annual call for nominations and determines each year’s honorees.
The 2022 committee is helmed by immediate past resident Katie Schoolov under their new award names. The nomination process is now open through December, enabling more immediate responses to deserving colleagues as events take place.
Join us virtually at the Northern Short Course on March 31 - April 2. Register here. Watch the NPPA Honors and NSC Awards on March 30 at 7pm EDT, which is free of charge and open to the public.