May. 31, 2013  

We The Journalists: Jim Sitton

Jim Sitton is a photographer and editor for WPTV, NewsChannel 5, where he works on special project segments, primarily with the Contact 5 investigative team. He’s been working in the business for 25 years. After a stop in Georgia, he found himself working in South Florida. Sitton has worked in the Miami and West Palm Beach markets since 1990. He started his career in Corpus Christi, Texas where he worked in radio and television.

By: Lynn Walsh

JimSittonJournalists are human. And like all humans we too experience deep love and great loss. Jim Sitton has experienced extreme violence, intense grief and the horrible tragedy of mass murder in his home. On Thanksgiving day 2009 his 6-year-old daughter Makayla was murdered, along with three other family members. His wife lost her only child and her mother at the hands of an evil, estranged cousin. Follow him on Twitter.  To learn more about Jim’s story and his beautiful little girl please visit her memorial website.

SPJ South Florida: What’s one part of your job that most folks don’t realize you do?

Jim Sitton: Most don’t realize the emotional toll a career in news takes on you. After years of triumph and tragedy you get weary and cynical. The trick is to have a life outside of work. Enjoy sports and family. Take long vacations and talk about what you have seen and experienced with your peers. Grief shared is grief diminished. Joy shared is doubled.

What is your key to capturing the amazing video moments that you are able to capture?

Patience is key. It doesn’t matter if you are working with a child, animal or a sunrise timelapse. Impatience will ruin a brilliant moment. Also, spend time with people. Put down your camera and get to know them on a personal level. Let them see you are human too. Once they know that you also have children, and fears and failures, they will begin to trust you and reveal emotions that they would normally hide from a “reporter.”

Can you name one career highlight?

Winning your first Emmy or SPJ Award is of course a huge thrill and one of the highlights of any career.

A lowlight?

The lowlight is when you realize that no matter how many awards you win, you will never receive a Hollywood actors’ salary. Good thing it’s not about the money!

What’s the best part of your job?

The absolute best part of being a photojournalist is the unpredictability of any given day. You could be Scuba diving with sharks in the Bahamas or stuck at a school board meeting. Speaking with grieving parents who just watched their only child die, or experiencing the overwhelming joy of a Super Bowl win.

When we are sent to tell someone’s story, it’s usually because they just experienced their best day or worst night EVER! Either way you have to remain calm, steady, professional and hopefully maintain crisp sound and focus through the tears in your viewfinder.

Do you have any weird dues-paying story?

While waiting for a “Perp Walk” my camera battery died. I sat my camera down and asked my fellow photographers to watch it as I quickly headed off to my van for a fresh battery.

Upon my return I see the doors begin to open, as I switched batteries and turned on my camera I see the cops exit with the handcuffed criminal. To my dismay when I looked in my viewfinder all I can see is a very dark image. I hear a few giggles from my fellow lensmen as I quickly realize the problem.

My fellow fancycam carriers had switched all my camera settings. I promptly reset my ND filter, doubler and macro. They even messed with my back focus! I captured maybe 10 seconds of video as the perp is placed in the cop car by the time I had regained a usable image. They had a good laugh and I learned a valuable lesson: NEVER trust a competitor no matter how close of friends they are!

One piece of advice you wish you could surgically implant into college students and young professionals?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. These people are trusting you with their stories. To them it’s their life, their reputation. This day may affect them and their family forever. Respect them enough to be fair, honest and ethical in every way. Respect them enough to do your best. Light them with excellence. Mic them with pride, and edit them fairly.

Treat them as you would treat your daughter or mom. Remember, “You reap what you sow.” So plant truth with kindness.

Last thought: Everyone comes with opinions and bias. Be extra careful to not let yours show. Seek truth and report it.


Throughout March, April, May and June, SPJ South Florida Pro will feature Q&As every Friday with South Florida’s most prominent journalists. Want to see someone featured? Want to join SPJ? Email us.

Lynn Walsh is Vice President of Programs for SPJ South Florida Pro. Follow her on Twitter.


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