Old Friends in High Places
“When it is a beautiful day, and you are waiting to do a live shot, sitting in a chair in the shade, it’s the best job in the world,” say Chris Kettlewell about his job at the Associated Press, Washington Bureau. He has worked for the Associated Press for over 15 years after many years in local television news. He is a news junkie like the rest of us and takes pride in his work. He will tell you that the urgency of his work comes from the political climate. He has worked in the White House Press Room, the Oval Office and the United Nations. He regrets not being around for the heyday of the Monica Lewinsky scandal because it seems to be the demarcation story of his peers. The Lewinsky scandal had the Washington press working extraordinary hours that required a large number of freelance staff, and incurred a lot of overtime. However, he has no regrets. He's enjoyed the stories he has covered over his career.
Chris is one of the few staff members at AP, most other photographers are freelance. It is easy to spot his cubicle because it overflows with memorabilia and current projects. The rest of the bureau looks empty, with bare cubicles, because the reporters are freelancers and at the moment, things are quiet.
Most of the stories that Chris covers are related to the Middle East. He has a pile of mic flags from Arab news services that sit on his desk waiting to be slipped on a microphone. He has cameras at the ready and he says, “August is supposed to be slow,” but that’s not what is happening this summer." He says a Trump tweet about Iran or oil, will initiate producers to send Chris out to get the impact of the tweet. He will cover formal events and visits involving Arab dignitaries. He talks about his annual pilgrimage to the United Nations as routine and that the technical side of things are “locked down”, in other words they can do it without much trouble.
The Associated Press is not just a print based news organization. There is a large control room that feeds many places in the world. France 24, Telesur, n-tv from Germany and Israeli TV are all in the building. The AP Global Media Services is a mini-UN. A quick tour, does not do justice to the news outlets that have taken up offices in the bureau. It seems like each office is associated with another network. Chris has two edit bays and an engineering staff that maintains the equipment. There are also two mini-studios for live shots for any of the news outlets. In the background behind guests or reporters, there is a live feed of the White House.
Chris worked in Kalamazoo, Michigan during the 1990s and was a dependable photographer and colleague. I had the pleasure of his sense of humor and his offbeat sci-fi fanaticism. Ironically, I worked in a bureau and he worked at the main station. Now he's in a bureau and understands the complexities of bureau life. Bureau life is isolating at times, but it can also be liberating because you are independent from the main newsroom. On his wall, there are pictures of the old gang at WWMT-TV. He will tell you that his time at Kalamazoo were good years. He recently went back to the station and noticed the building hasn’t changed much and some of his old friends are still there, but many of the old gang of photographers are gone and out of the TV business. He appreciates the friendships and looks fondly upon those years.
There is a silent confidence in Chris that comes from years of experience. You get the sense that nothing rattles him and if there are surprises you know he can deal with it. He will explain to you how to act in high stakes and sensitive places of government or how not to get your camera confiscated by Pentagon guards. Surprisingly, he says the park police are the most likely to give him trouble.
Washington is a small town to Chris because this is his home town. He says that most of the people he meets covering stories are friendly and helpful. They support each other and are not ultra competitive, making Washington DC a great place to work.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure to meet up with old friends. It is a nice feeling to get a hug from an old friend and share stories of life without each other. It makes me feel good to know that Chris is doing well and in such a great place. He’s made it to where he should be, a place that respects him and a place he respects. Someday, we’ll have to get together again so I can hear his tales about traveling on the road and covering international news.
I’m sure with all the political turmoil in the next couple of years he will have some real whoppers to tell and I know he will “lock it down.”