John Chrystal of Reno is a television photographer and satellite truck operator. He worked at two local television stations but tired of the dull routine and low pay and went into business for himself, traveling the world doing jobs for the television networks and other clients. His brother Phillip is stationed with the U.S. military in Iraq, and his father—Reno First Congregational minister William Chrystal—may be going to Iraq as a chaplain.
You started out at Channel 4?
I started at TCI Media Services, then L.A., then Channel 2, Channel 4, and then overseas, now freelance.
Do you work for yourself?
I’m kind of on a contract now, but for the most part.
Once you left here, did you have to scratch for work?
No, because as soon as I left [Channel] 4, I was already lined up to go to the Middle East with BBC, and it was six months, all set—monthly salary, whatever. I came back, and I had money saved up, and I was like—well, if I work a week a month or even just a few days a month, that’s fine. … It ended up being three or four weeks a month.
Why didn’t you want to stay in this market?
Mostly it’s the money, and it’s the day-to-day news. … You know, back-to-school stories, and it gets boring.
Tell me some of the stories you’ve been on.
World Trade Center. I left here three days after the 11th and then took three days to get there. … Iraq … Israel/Palestinian conflict, all over Ramallah, inside the mukata, which is Yasser Arafat’s compound … The Arab summit, the World Economic Forum.
You have not had occasion to encounter your brother yet, right?
No. That’s something I’d love to do. If I could get over to Iraq now, I would, and [I’d] do my best to see him.
What are the advantages other than money?
The traveling. The first time I left the country was to go to Iraq. And then, since then, it’s Iraq, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank … Brazil, Bangladesh. It’s usually crappy countries, otherwise they have their own guys they can use, but it’s still fun even in the crappy countries.
Tell me about the World Trade Center experience.
That was probably the biggest story I’d done. I don’t know New York at all, anyway, but everyone was calm and mellow. Arab taxi drivers were explaining to you, without—I didn’t even ask—"No, no, I don’t like this!” Even six days afterward, it was still smoldering. And then, it became a tourist attraction real quick, thousands of people going down there just to check it out.
A lot of us on sensitive stories feel like intruders. Do you sometimes feel like that?
It was strange there. I do sometimes, but on this it was different. … There’s times you feel like an intruder. Anytime you knock on a family member’s door, for whatever reason, you know—whatever the story is—nobody likes doing that.
How long are you going to do it?
Stay in this business? I think it’s a done deal. This is the career. This is what I’m doing. I’m 25; I’ve been in TV since I was 18. I could do something else, but I’d have to go back to 10 bucks an hour.