By Suzi Nelson The Ashland Gazette
ASHLAND – Jeff Carney’s journalism career began in Ashland.
As a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Carney was recruited by his father, Zean Carney, to work at The Ashland Gazette when he bought the paper in 1988.
During this time, Carney also worked as a freelance photographer for the Associated Press. After graduating from UNL with a degree in journalism in 1990, he took a job at the Associated Press’ Kansas City office. Though he hated leaving Ashland, it was too tempting to give up a job that would allow him to photograph Chiefs and Royals games and breaking news throughout the Midwest and beyond.
A few years later, Carney took a job at the Des Moines Register, a newspaper where he had been an intern while in college. He was a staff photojournalist for the award-winning newspaper for five years before being hired by the Omaha World-Herald in late 1995. Upon returning to his home state, his first assignment was to cover the Fiesta Bowl on January 2nd. 1996. Through his lens he saw Tommie Frazier lead the Huskers to a national championship by beating Florida 62-24.
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Carney made a name for himself as a photojournalist. His photographs have been published in newspapers across the country and in magazines such as Life and National Geographic.
“My work has appeared in many publications,” he said.
As Carney’s star continued to rise in the industry, he was persuaded to take a senior role as deputy editor at the World-Herald. Over the years he has moved through the management ranks as the company has seen several ownership changes. The newspaper was bought by Warren Buffet in 2004 and became part of the BH Media Group. In 2020, Lee Enterprises bought BH Media and Carney’s role in the company expanded even further.
Over the years, Carney began working in the digital realm of journalism. He was Corporate Senior Director at TownNews, a digital media and online publishing company also owned by Lee Enterprises.
He started a drone photography program for BH Media Group, but hadn’t gotten very far before Lee Enterprises bought the company.
Under Lee Enterprises, Carney renewed his interest in drones and launched the media company’s first drone program. It had to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, which involves extensive training and testing.
After earning his certification, Carney led a group of willing photographers from Lee’s 77 markets spread across 26 states.
But just as the program began, the COVID-19 pandemic began. One of the areas Lee planned to use drone photography for was sporting events, but the pandemic has shut them down.
Drone photography brought Carney back to his roots.
“It reconnected me with the photography part of the business and reaffirmed what I wanted to do,” he said.
When Carney was offered a buyout earlier this year and he decided to retire, he took the opportunity to bring photography back to the fore.
“I’ve always looked back fondly on doing that creative part of the business,” he said.
And he used his expertise in drone photography to lead the way.
“I said to myself, this is what I really wanted to do, to build on the movement with drone work,” he said.
He has started his own business, Carney Photography, which includes drone, video and standard photography. He has contracts with AP, USA Today, the Washington Post and Reuters for editorial drone photography.
“So if there’s any news, I’ll get a call to take action,” he said.
Drones can also be used in commercial photography in fields like business, agribusiness or mapping, Carney said.
When he packs away the drone, Carney grabs his Sony digital camera and gets to work on commercial photography jobs like headshots for corporations, houses for real estate agents, or pictures of high school seniors.
Carney also plans to pursue editorial photography as he did in the early days of his journalism career. His name may appear in photographs published in local newspapers or magazines as he travels to capture events in the area.
“Back to what I enjoyed most,” he said.
His company is headquartered at his home in a lakeside community near Ashland. Years after working at the Gazette, Carney returned to Ashland to purchase a home in Thomas Lakes, a lakeside community just north of Ashland. He and his wife, Wendy Boyer, recently relocated to Sandy Pointe, another gated community anchored on a body of water.
Although he lived in the Ashland area for many years, Carney felt distant from the community because his job involved a lot of travel, which kept him from getting to know the people of the area.
Now that he’s retired, Carney plans to put things right. He has joined the Ashland Region Chamber of Commerce and is excited for the opportunity to reconnect with Ashland.
“There couldn’t be a better time to come back and reintroduce myself,” he said.
Carney has watched Ashland grow and develop over the past 16 years that he has lived in the area. He is fascinated by the presence of the arts scene and the recent designation of Ashland as a creative district by the Nebraska Arts Council.
While commercial and editorial jobs foot the bills, Carney also plans to get creative with his camera and drone. A few weeks ago, he took a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and, camera in hand, made his way through the sandhills of Nebraska.
The photographer is also drawn to the Platte River where he enjoys photographing the scenery and wildlife.
Those are the kinds of trips Carney makes between paid photo gigs.
“I pack the quiet days with things that are important to me,” he said.
Shooting without deadlines is something every photographer longs for. Carney has found this ideal spot, with only a few exceptions, when it comes to photographing a scene like Chimney Rock at sunset.
“The only limit is the light,” he said.
Suzi Nelson is Editor-in-Chief of the Ashland Gazette. You can reach her by email at [email protected]