- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Many television viewers see the news through Don Watrud's eyes.Mr. Watrud is a photojournalist for WTTG-TV (Channel 5), the local Fox affiliate. He operates one of the cameras used to videotape reports for the station's newscasts, which are some of the most watched in Washington.

The job forces him to think visually. On each story, he says, he strives to capture images that will match the reporter's narration.

"I try to look at things the way Joe Average looks at things. I think, 'What is someone watching at home going to want to see when this story airs?'" he says.

Mr. Watrud was on the scene after an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Kensington last month. He began by getting an "establishing shot" footage of the train as it lay on its side near the track. He then shot scenes of the rescue, concentrating on the anguished faces of rescuers and victims.

"We're documenting history every day. We may not know it at the time, but that's what this job is all about," says Mr. Watrud, a bearded man with broad shoulders that easily support his heavy camera.

Train crashes are rare, so Mr. Watrud spends most days on capturing routine news: press conferences, government hearings, trials and crime scenes.

On a scorching day this week, Mr. Watrud clad in shorts and sneakers shot footage of residents in Spotsylvania County, Va., reacting to forensic evidence showing that Richard Marc Evonitz kidnapped and murdered three local girls in the late 1990s.

Mr. Watrud's day begins shortly before 10 a.m., when he arrives at the WTTG newsroom on Wisconsin Avenue NW. He scans the newspapers and reads wire reports on a computer while waiting for the day's assignment.

"Local news in this town is national news. The first thing I do every morning is read the newspaper. I want to know what's going on in the world," he says.

Mr. Watrud doesn't know he will be traveling to Spotsylvania County until about 11 a.m., when an assignment editor gives him his marching orders. He is assigned to work on the story with Bob Barnard, one of the station's top reporters.

The men begin the two-hour drive to Spotsylvania County about noon, after Mr. Barnard does some quick research on the Evonitz case and makes telephone calls to some of the people he hopes to interview.

By 2:15 p.m., Mr. Watrud has lugged his camera and a tripod from the back of the station's Chevy Tahoe and set it up on the lawn of the Spotsylvania County courthouse, where Mr. Barnard interviews Sheriff Ron Knight.

Mr. Barnard is pursuing a fresh angle for his story. Investigators suspect Evonitz, who killed himself in June, may be responsible for other crimes in Spotsylvania County.

Mr. Watrud and Mr. Barnard spend the next few hours cruising the Stonybrook neighborhood, where a young girl was raped in the 1990s. Mr. Barnard hopes to find neighbors who believe Evonitz may be responsible for the rape, as some investigators suspect.

It turns out to be tougher than expected. Mr. Barnard goes door to door, talking with neighbors, most of whom don't want to be interviewed on camera. He eventually finds two women who do.

When the reporting is complete, Mr. Watrud turns over the wheel to Mr. Barnard. Mr. Watrud moves to the passenger seat and gets footage of the neighborhood as Mr. Barnard slowly advances the vehicle down the tree-lined street.

Next, Mr. Watrud sets up the tripod in the middle of one of the streets and shoots Mr. Barnard as he slowly walks toward the camera and summarizes the story. This method, called a "walk and talk," will be used to conclude the report.

The two men work together frequently. Mr. Barnard says Mr. Watrud is one of the station's best photojournalists.

"I'll see him around the station and I'll ask, 'What are you up to, Don?' He'll always say, 'As little as possible.' But he's kidding. He gets out there and mixes it up with the best of them."

Shortly before 4 p.m., Mr. Watrud and Mr. Barnard begin the drive back to the station, but not before stopping at a fast-food restaurant to pick up lunch.

"You're not a news photographer if you can't eat a burger, drink a Coke and drive at the same time," Mr. Watrud says.

It's well after 5 p.m. when the men return to the WTTG newsroom. Together, they edit the footage Mr. Watrud has gathered the interviews with Sheriff Knight and the Stonybrook neighbors, the neighborhood scenes, Mr. Barnard's summary into a roughly two-minute report that will air during the 10 p.m. newscast.

Both men will end their day at about 6 p.m.

Betty Endicott, a longtime news director at WTTG and a legend in local broadcasting, hired Mr. Watrud in July 1984. Before coming to Washington, he held gigs at television stations in Green Bay, Wis., and Portland, Ore.

During his 18 years in Washington, Mr. Watrud has covered the Oliver North hearings, the Marion Barry trial, the Mount Pleasant and Virginia Beach riots, and the attack on the Pentagon.

His work allows for some travel. In 1992, the Fox network dispatched him to Somalia to coordinate live shots and tape feeds of the war in the African nation.

Mr. Watrud is regarded as one of the best photojournalists at WTTG, a news operation known for producing vibrant, visual reports.

In June, the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presented Mr. Watrud with its Ted Yates Award, which is reserved for professionals who makes unique contributions to local television news.

The award is named for an NBC newsman who died on duty during Jerusalem's Seven Day War in 1967.

"I don't consider myself the best photojournalist at the station. I work with some of the best in the business, and I consider myself lucky to be among them," Mr. Watrud says.

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