Kennedy, the son of Joe David and Patricia Ann Harper Kennedy, grew up in Houma, Louisiana and graduated from Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux in 1976. He worked as a general assignments reporter for the Houma Daily Courier beginning in 1974. After graduating, he spent a year as sports and news director for sister stations KJIN-AM and KCIL-FM in the Houma area before coming to Alabama in 1977 to work as a reporter for The Cullman Times.
In 1978 he was hired as news editor for the St Clair News-Aegis in Pell City and also served as press secretary for Guy Hunt, who ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Fob James in the 1978 gubernatorial election. From 1978 to 1980 Kennedy worked as a sports reporter and assistant editor for The Anniston Star and attended classes at Jacksonville State University. He came to the Birmingham News as a sports copy editor in 1981.
Kennedy was promoted through several positions at the News, including assistant "Lifestyle" editor, photo editor, Sunday editor, "Punch" editor and book review editor before joining the editorial board in 1989. He completed a bachelor of arts at UAB in 1988 and reviewed books for WVTM-TV.
Kennedy, Ron Casey and Harold Jackson were jointly awarded a 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for their series, "What They Won’t Tell You About Your Taxes," which analyzed inequities in Alabama's tax system and proposed reforms.
Over the next two decades, Kennedy's editorial voice stood out in opposition to Alabama's overwhelmingly conservative Republican political culture. At a time of shrinking readership, some felt that the paper's editorial stance, especially Kennedy's, was too out of touch. Nevertheless, he was honored as "Best Opinion Columnist" by the Alabama Press Association four times, in 1992, 2000, 2004, and 2008. During that time he completed a Master of Arts in English at UAB, graduating with honors in 2003.
In September 2012 Kennedy was reassigned as a "community engagement specialist" for the Alabama Media Group, the entity responsible for content-creation for the printed paper and al.com. His writing after that focused primarily on animal rights issues, and his editorials were critical of efforts by the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to force the closure of the non-profit Alabama Spay Neuter Clinic in Irondale, and of BJC Animal Control's loss of Jefferson County's contract for animal control services. Kennedy's contract with the Alabama Media Group was terminated on February 19, 2015.
Kennedy teaches writing and literature at UAB, and has also contributed columns to Redbook magazine and several literary journals. He and his wife, Veronica, are both known for their community activism.
- Brennen, Elizabeth A. & Elizabeth C. Clarage (1999) Who's who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Greenwood Publishing Group ISBN 1573561118
- Sims, Cliff (September 23, 2012) "Joey Kennedy & the Death Spiral of American Journalism." Yellowhammer News
- Overdeep, Meghan (March 23, 2021) "Former Students Organize GoFundMe for Popular Birmingham Professors Who Lost Home in Deadly Fire." Southern Living