50 years: KTTC-TV news cameraman Chuck Sibley has seen it all
"You got to deliver the goods."
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Chuck Sibley is Rochester’s best-known newsman.
The Rochester native reached a milestone on Monday rare for any working professional: Having worked as a photographer and video cameraman for KTTC-TV News for 50 years.
That’s a lot of stories. His presence at events, his video camera propped firmly on his shoulder, is by definition a declaration that something is happening. News is happening.
And Sibley, Rochester’s roving recorder, has covered it all: Floods, stories of tragedy or triumph, the best in humans and the worst, countless legislative and city council battles, thousands of press conferences.
And though his role has always been a behind-the-scenes cameraman, his professionalism and reputation for sensitivity and grace have given him an outsized influence as a mentor of hundreds, if not thousands, of young TV reporters.
Even his jokes are rooted in a lifetime of living in Rochester. Many have heard them. He went to St. John’s School for grade and middle school and graduated from Lourdes High School. And then he went to college out east: to Rochester Community and Technical College.
PB: Why do you think you stayed with the job as long as you have?
Sibley: I’m not really sure except for the fact that I grew up around here. I’m kind of a hometown guy. Most of my family lives around here. It just seemed to be a place where I’ve always wanted to live. And I’ve gotten to know southeastern Minnesota, northern Iowa and western Wisconsin a hundred times better because of my job.
But secondly, after being diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 1979, I knew I would have to go back to Mayo Clinic for regular checkups. That was probably the deciding factor: I wanted to be around where I was close to Mayo.
PB: You’ve covered thousands of stories in your lifetime? Which stories stand out?
Sibley: Meeting the "King of Gopher Trappers" at the Viola Gopher Count. He was 85 years old and he was still trapping gophers. It was one of my favorite stories.
When it comes to weather stories and powerful stories, the flood of 1978 stands out. It was my second year as a photographer. The flood had a huge impact on the whole town. Watching what happened after the flood and then the impact of the flood control project. That has made a major impact on my career, and I think a lot of people will tell you the same thing.
PB: What have you liked about the job?
Sibley: Just the experiences you have. Whether it’s breaking news, feature stories or all of the above, it’s the experiences you have on a daily basis. And then delivering the goods. You got to deliver the goods on a daily basis.
PB: You have been a mentor to hundreds of TV reporters either straight from college or from small TV markets. Have you always seen that as part of your role?
Sibley: It’s not something that is in your job description. But it’s something that comes with the job. When you get in the vehicle and you’re traveling to a story with a young reporter, you go over a few things. And then you do your job and they do theirs. Once in a while, in the middle of an interview with somebody, you might type in or suggest a question of your own.
You have to be open to the spontaneous, human moments. Young reporters learn fairly quickly. Even when we’re just getting shots of people walking and talking. If they got a mic on, you might get your best sound not when they’re doing a straight-up interview or sit-down interview, but when something spontaneous and unscripted happens.
PB: You have mentored many people. Who mentored you?
Sibley: I remember being trained in as a part-time studio cameraman back when they had studio camera operators. And I was pretty nervous. My hands were sweaty, but I had a good mentor, Bob Vogt, and a real good boss, Don Merz. And Bob just told me, everybody gets nervous when they’re doing this for the first time. Just hang in there. And within a couple of days, you’ll get the hang of it.
I also want to remember our dear workmate and friend, Pat Lund (Lund, a retired sports anchor for KTTC-TV, died April 7 after battling an undisclosed illness). Pat was enormously responsible for a lot of our success with “Sports Extra.” As far as I’m concerned, "Sports Extra" was as great a team effort as I’ve been a part of.
PB: What has your job taught you?
Sibley: One thing that I’ve observed, especially since 9/11, is when it’s nature versus man, people come running to help with everything from a pickup truck to a chainsaw to a cooler full of beer to a pot of goulash. What can I do to help my neighbor?
What has gotten tougher and tougher to watch and witness as a news photographer is when it’s a man-versus-man situation. What do you say to people after 9/11? What do you say to people after the David Brom murders in Rochester?
PB: When young, green TV reporters first arrive at KTTC, are they all similar? Do they need to be taught the same things?
Sibley: In a certain way, they’re kind of similar. In other ways, they’re all different. Some lack confidence. Some have a smugness to them. It kind of depends on how they were raised. What you want to remind them is to keep both eyes focused on what you’re doing in this market. And then you’ll get a good resumé.
But if you got one eye focused here and another on Tulsa or New York or Chicago, then you’re probably not going to deliver the goods here as well as you should.
PB: You’ve received scores of tributes from current and former KTTC-TV news colleagues on your 50th anniversary. That’s not always the case with people. Sometimes, the cranky old guy goes out the door and everybody’s glad to see him go. But that’s not true with you. Why is that?
Sibley: It ain’t what you say. It’s what you do. If you deliver the goods on a daily basis and keep showing up and doing your job with a healthy sense of humor and a good work ethic, that’s what they’re appreciative of.
PB: Do you have an idea how much longer you’re going to continue to work?
Sibley: Oh, maybe a year or two. I don’t know. Everybody’s asking me: When are you going to retire? I don’t know. I got to figure out a reason to get up in the morning and get after it.