Michele McNally, who elevated Times photography, dies at 66

Michele McNally, who elevated photojournalism at The New York Times as director of photography and later as newsroom chief during a 14-year tenure that won the paper six Pulitzer Prizes for newsreel and feature film photography, died Feb. 18 at a hospital in Yonkers, NY. She was 66.

The cause was complications from pneumonia, her daughter Caitlin McNally said.

Ms McNally was appointed as the Times’ photography director in 2004 by Bill Keller, the editor at the time. The following year, she was promoted to deputy editor, becoming the first female photo editor to join the highest echelon of newsroom management known as the masthead.

“She was a transformative figure in photojournalism,” said Dean Baquet, the current editor of The Times. “She walked into newsrooms where photography had too long been relegated to the background and forced it to come to the fore.”

When Ms. McNally retired in 2018, Mr. Baquet and Joseph Kahn, the editor, said in a memo that during her tenure, The Times had won more Pulitzer Prizes, George M. Polk Prizes, Overseas Press Club honors, Emmys and other citations. for photography “which most news outlets won for all of their reporting.”

Among the Pulitzer Prize winners on his watch were Damon Winter in 2009 for his coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign; Josh Hanner in 2014 for his photo report on a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing who had lost most of his two legs; and Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev, Tyler Hicks and Daniel Etter in 2016 for capturing the struggles of international refugees.

In 2008, Ms. McNally herself won the Jim Gordon Editor of the Year Award for photojournalism from the National Press Photographers Association, and in 2015 and 2017 she received the Angus McDougall Visual Editing Award from the Pictures of the Year International in Missouri. Journalism school.

Talented photographers and photo editors had preceded Ms McNally at the Times, but the paper was best known for showcasing its writers and reporters. From the outset, Ms. McNally made her position clear. “Michele was candid in saying that the newspaper photograph did not live up to his words,” as Mr. Baquet said.

She demonstrated how newspaper articles could be visually enhanced to attract more readers and even how stories could be told through photographs alone. The advent of nytimes.com online has also greatly expanded the possibilities for supplementing articles with images and presenting stories visually.

“She pushed a reluctant newsroom, hired a star crew, and made The Times the best visual reporting in the country,” Mr. Baquet and Mr. Kahn said in 2018. tremendous humanity when the Times photographers discovered themselves in danger.

Michele Angela Fiordelisi was born on June 25, 1955, in Brooklyn to Rose Francis (Martire) Fiordelisi, an administrative assistant and seamstress, and Michael Leo Fiordelisi, who worked for the post office.

After graduating from South Shore High School in the Canarsie section, she studied mass communications at Queens College from 1973 to 1975 and then took film courses at Brooklyn College. She worked briefly in the audio and video division of the Brooklyn Public Library and was hired as a sales representative by the Sygma Photo News agency in 1977.

Eliane Laffont, her first boss at Sygma, remembered Ms McNally as “a giant in a tiny body – very brutal, very fast, very street smart, a bundle of energy”.

Standing around 5ft, Ms McNally was reportedly embarrassed by his height but never discouraged by it. As she explained to her colleagues during a retirement toast: “Once, during a disagreement, my former boss said to me, ‘You are small, but you just don’t know it. ‘

Other former colleagues recalled his unwavering support for field photographers and his candor in evaluating their work.

“You never had to wonder where you or your work stood in his eyes,” said Pancho Bernasconi, vice president of global news at Getty Images. “She loved great photography with the brave and dedicated photographers who made these images.”

Her marriage to Joe McNally ended in divorce. Besides her daughter Caitlin, she is survived by another daughter, Claire McNally, three grandchildren and a sister, Jody Porrazzo. Mrs. McNally lived in Dobbs Ferry, NY

She was photo editor for Time Life’s Magazine Development Group in the early 1980s, then photo editor for Fortune magazine from 1986 until she joined the Times in 2004.

Meaghan Loram, whom Ms McNally hired at Fortune and who succeeded her as director of photography at The Times, said: “She taught me everything I know about visual editing, about the art of making an inspired match between photographer and story, about supporting photographers and editors in discovering their own excellence, and about managing people with empathy and compassion.

Ms McNally had never been a photographer herself – ‘I knew I couldn’t capture how I felt on film or pixels,’ she told readers in an online Q&A feature . But, she added, “I am a visual person. I can’t just tell you stuff, I have to show you.

When asked what advice she would give to beginning photojournalists, she replied, “Be certain of your mission, but be prepared to constantly grow. Work hard, very hard. Always be curious, persistent and graceful. When people let you into their lives, realize it’s a gift.

Stewart C. Hartline