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WEWS cameramen combined to cover news 92 years

Posted: 8:56 PM, Sep 30, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-30 20:56:36-04

On Sept. 30, 2015, Jimmy Lentz and Bob Seeley retired from WEWS-TV NewsChannel 5. Leon Bibb shared a few words about their time in Cleveland and their impact on local news here.

Two Cleveland journalists are descendants of Louis Daguerre, who pioneered photography.

In 1838, Daguerre turned his camera to a street scene and captured images of two people, marking the first time pictures of humans were taken and saved through the revolutionary process called photography.  

The scene on a street in France shows several buildings. In the corner, where the morning sun lights the pavement is a man getting his boots shined by a young boy.

The two humans in the photograph probably never learned they were making history at a French sidewalk shoeshine stand. 

Daguerre later said he held the camera shutter open for several seconds to record the image.

In Cleveland, WEWS-TV news photographers Bob Seeley and Jim Lentz are linked to Daguerre, not through a bloodline, but through an ancestral professional line. 

As did Daguerre, they have trained their cameras on people — millions of them in total —  in their long and distinguished careers as two talented newsmen in Cleveland.  

The number of scenes Daguerre recorded in his lifetime were far less in number than those of Seeley and Lentz.  Combined, they have been news photographers for nearly 92 years, all at one Cleveland television station. 

"I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly."

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Lentz and Seeley will shut down their news video cameras and walk away from WEWS-TV. 

Each is retiring, having watched thousands of events unfold before their eyes. 

They are men who had ringside seats to events in Cleveland, Northeast Ohio, and the world. 

"I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly," said Lentz, commenting on his 43 straight years covering the news.

Lentz joined WEWS in 1972 following a few years in the U.S. Coast Guard where he was a still photographer. 

He possessed a keen eye for capturing images of events.

For 43 years, Jimmy Lentz has recorded interviews and proceedings in government. You need only to walk into the halls of local government to hear the mayor, councilmen, county officials, police officers, and others speak to him.
Jimmy Lentz

Lentz distinguished himself by an ability to watch an event unfold while at the same time thinking where the event might move next. 

He was always fast with staying in front of a news event.

Lentz is among the most well-known journalists in both Cleveland and Cuyahoga County government. For 43 years, he has recorded interviews and proceedings in government. 

You need only to walk into the halls of local government to hear the mayor, councilmen, county officials, police officers, and others speak to him.

"Hey, Jimmy!  How's it going?" is a familiar sound you hear as he carries his camera.

WEWS camera Tom Livingston tells the story of how respected Lentz is as a news photographer, even by people outside of the media.  

"One day when he lugged his camera and tripod into a county government proceeding, then-Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan asked Lentz if there was anything Hagan could do for him," recounted Livingston.  "Without missing a beat, Jimmy cracked, 'Yeah!  You can provide some parking for the guys who have to lug cameras around to record what you guys do in government.' "

Livingston laughed telling the story. 

"And a couple of days later, there was a sign outside the county government building marked 'Media Parking Only," said Livingston. "Every photographer and reporter in town can thank Jimmy for that."

Seeley also knows his way around the halls of government.  

For years, he has been one of the primary photographers to cover court proceedings. He has witnessed hundreds of arraignments and cases in Cleveland and County courts. 

"Bob could always be philosophical when using his camera to tell a story. He seemed to have an ability to capture the history of the event."

"Bob is one of my mentors," said WEWS photographer Mark Durdak. "Bob could always be philosophical when using his camera to tell a story. He seemed to have an ability to capture the history of the event."

Certainly, Seeley could come back to the newsroom with the video of a court case. When he worked without a reporter, he could tell the story to a newscast producer in a way that was always correct and concise. 

Bob Seeley

There were times when Seeley might be the only journalist from WEWS on the scene of an unfolding breaking news event. 

He could establish a live link back to the television station, focus his camera on an event taking place, and then explain to news anchors what was happening, including giving a special historical perspective to the event.

"He could be smooth as silk," said Durdak. "Not only in his telling of the story, but the voice he used to tell it."

Easily, Seeley could have stood in front of the camera and distinguished himself as a reporter of news had he chosen to follow that line of work in the television industry.

Seeley joined WEWS in 1967. He was right out of high school when he walked into the television station and was hired as part of the studio crew. 

In those days, there were many live broadcasts that included some commercials done live. He learned how to use a studio camera and he learned how to work in a studio setting. 

When the television station needed someone to travel to another location for an interview with a Hollywood movie or a Broadway theatrical star, Seeley often pulled the duty.

He saw the world of entertainment through his camera lens. As local television changed, Seeley transferred to the news department where his focus was primarily on the daily events covered on newscasts. 

Both Lentz and Seeley began their television careers when the profession was still finding its way. There was a lot of experimentation in television in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they entered WEWS. 

Television was still in its adolescence and was evolving day-to-day from film to various formats of videotape to the digital images of today. 

Both men saw their station's capabilities grow in reporting live from the scene.  

Whether their cameras recorded the images for later viewing on WEWS or their cameras were connected to a live as-it-happens broadcast, Seeley and Lentz always brought in good pictures and good sound qualities. They demanded much of themselves and inspired the reporters with whom they worked to be highly professional and reliable. 

Television viewers often look to the news anchors and reporters whose faces are on the screens. 

However, often are forgotten the photographers who take those images, both those recorded and delivered on digital video or delivered live into viewers' homes.

"Without me, you guys are radio," Jimmy Lentz often told reporters with a laugh. Though he said it jokingly and it was taken in that manner, both Lentz and the reporters who worked with him understood it to be the truth. 

Television is an animal that demands both pictures and sound without interruption. Lentz and Seeley are among the industry's pioneers who helped form television news. 

They have seen many events unfold before them. With steady hands on their cameras and disciplined ears monitoring the quality of the sound they recorded, they stayed strong in their crafts. 

On days when it seemed the world was falling apart, Lentz and Seeley stayed the course and delivered their stories to hundreds of thousands of viewers.

If their cameras were plugged into a television network, their audiences bloomed to tens of millions of viewers. 

Still, they never wavered.

One story Lentz and Seeley will never forget is September 11, 2001.

They both were on the job when terrorists hijacked three aircrafts, which crashed into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon just outside Washington D.C., and a meadow in Shanksville, Penn.  

The jetliner that crashed in Pennsylvania had been hijacked in the skies over Cleveland. 

As the terrorists commandeered the aircraft and made an erratic U-turn in the cloudless sky that day, passengers were later able to thwart the terrorists' plans by overwhelming them and — in a fight in the cockpit — crash the plane down in Pennsylvania instead of the intended hijackers' target of the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

It was during this time period, another aircraft landed mysteriously at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport. 

Seeley and Lentz were among the photographers WEWS dispatched to that scene. 

Lentz described what he was thinking as he raced to the Cleveland airport and focused his camera on the plane, which at that point was surrounded by security officers. 

"You just took your camera," said Lentz in a voice almost reliving that moment in 2001. "You point, you shoot, you just gather as much as you can because things are happening all around you."

"You just took your camera," said Lentz in a voice almost reliving that moment in 2001. "You point, you shoot, you just gather as much as you can because things are happening all around you."

Seeley was there also.

"I don't know whether we expected it to blow up; I don't know if we expected there were terrorists on board," said Seeley.

The two photographers recall police, security officers, and federal agents quickly surrounding the plane. 

Many had police dogs on leashes ready to pounce if there was a need. Seeley and Lentz both recalled the emotions that pulsed through their bodies. 

Terrorists had struck into the heart of the nation and no one knew where they might strike next. The hijacking directly over Cleveland had heightened tensions even more. 

Eventually, it was determined the suspicious aircraft posed no threat.

Throughout the event at the airport, Seeley and Lentz kept their internal focus on what was taking place as they kept their cameras focused on whatever would happen, even if their own lives hung in the balance. 

It was a day no one knew what would happen next or where again terrorists would disrupt life.

"The angst goes along with everyone who is working," said Seeley describing the feelings among all the reporters, photographers, producers, and others operating on the many scenes or in the newsroom. "They are feeling the same feelings you are feeling. They just have to keep the emotions down enough to do the job."

Lentz echoed that thought as he remembered 9/11.

"You can't help but feel emotional," said Lentz. "You just have to check it; you have to put it behind you," he said as he eyes seemed to be almost re-seeing the scenes he saw first hand at Cleveland's airport. 

"You just have to do your job."

And do their jobs they did; for nearly a 92-year stretch.

Seeley and Lentz have watched not only the events unfold, but have also watched television news coverage unfold. 

The industry's pace has quickened because of technology and the needs of newsrooms to not only get news stories on the air, but also on television news websites continues to demand more of those who labor as journalists.

Today, Lentz and Seeley are retiring. 

This television station is a better one because of their abilities to meet the demands and deadlines of covering the news. 

They have shaped both new and veteran reporters to be better in covering stories. 

All of us salute two great photographers who have stayed the course and covered the news. 

Bob Seeley and Jim Lentz have been eyewitnesses to history and brought their skills into every place where there has been a television set in Northeast Ohio. 

Through their abilities, they have taken the public to the scenes of tens of thousands of stories, allowing the public to view the news through their eyes and the lenses of their cameras, which never blinked.