By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

‘ Watch yourselves. It’s a jungle out there.”

That’s what the police sergeant used to say to his cops before sending them out onto the mean streets in the tv series, “Hill Street Blues.”

No one ever said that to me before I started my shift as a newspaper photographer. Nor did I ever say that to any of the photographers who worked with me for the few years when I was Night Photo Editor. Maybe I should have. I dunno. I suppose that news photography, for the most part, doesn’t hold the inherent dangers of police work. Nevertheless, there were times. Yes, indeed, there certainly were times

Especially in recent years. News photographers have been getting killed and maimed with regularity, covering wars in the middle east and in central Europe. In this most recent war in Iraq, photographers and writers stationed in Baghdad were constantly in harms way, not only from a hostile Iraqi government, but from coalition forces, as well. A number of them paid the ultimate price. Journalists were kidnapped by Iraq and held incommunicado for long periods of time. Journalists embedded with coalition forces suffered casualties along with the military about whom they were documenting. It was truly a jungle out there for them.

Most of us can spend our entire journalistic lifetime without ever having a shot fired anywhere near us. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t face dangers in the jungles in our own backyards. Sometimes the peril sneaks up on us in situations where we would least expect to confront danger. Ours is not a 9 to 5 desk job inside of an office. We must go where the stories are at all times of the day or night and in all kinds of weather conditions. And, it matters not if you die from wounds suffered in a war zone or if you die from getting hit by a car covering an accident on your local expresway. Dead is dead.


We got a new Chief Photo Editor, once, who had been an art director and had no experience on the street. Shortly after he took over, he called the staff to a meeting to discuss how we would cover a hurricane that was going to hit us the next day.

He began by telling us that this was expected to be a major storm with brutal winds and flooding. Long Island is situated in the Atlantic Ocean just east of New York City and we sit a mere few feet above sea level. We are smack in the hurricane track and in my lifetime we have experienced numerous severe storms.

He began by saying, “I expect to ask some of you to place yourselves in jeopardy in order to get pictures that will show the severity of this hurricane.”

We looked at each other.

He went on to say. “I want you to take whatever precautions necessary to protect yourselves, but given the nature of this storm, I expect to ask some of you to take some risks.”

We looked at each other, again.

“Do you have any questions?”

We each waited for someone else to speak, because there really was nothing logical to say in the face of such an absurd statement.

Finally I spoke up. “Mike, I don’t know what kind of heroics you expect of us. Are you thinking of asking us to lash ourselves to trees down at the shore as the hurricane tide washes over us?”

“ No, of course not,” he responded. “But, I might ask someone to go up in a helicopter during the height of the storm, to get aerials as the storm lashes Long Island.”

There was a pause and we looked at each other, once more.

“Well, Mike,” I said. If you can find a helicopter pilot stupid enough to fly in a hurricane, you might find one of us stupid enough to go with him. But, I doubt it.”

The poor guy looked a little taken aback.

“ You see, Mike,” I explained, “most of us have been here long enough to have covered at least one or two hurricanes, and some of us have covered quite a few. The simple truth is that just being out there in the middle of a storm like that, puts us in jeopardy. Driving from location to location with torrential rain lashing at the windshield faster than it can be removed by the wipers makes driving hazardous. Then, getting out of the car to shoot something exposes you to winds of 60 to 100 mph. Trees come crashing down. Snapped electrical wires are sparking and sputtering in the wet streets. Wind blown debris comes hurtling at you and puddles become ponds that become lakes and if you’re down near the ocean, you can’t always tell which is ocean and which is land. So, what are the other risks you would ask us to take?”

The next afternoon, when the storm finally blew out to sea and his staff straggled back into the office, soaked to the skin and telling tales of adventures that were faced, Mike had a better understanding of some of the risks that news photographers experience in our own backyards.



During the racial unrest of the 60’s and 70’s photographers often wore helmets and the rudimentary flak jackets of the time while covering the riots that erupted in urban areas. We often found ourselves pitted between a minority population who distrusted the white media and police who felt that the media was fomenting all of the trouble by their presence on the scene. Many of us made our photos from under cars and trucks while bottles rained down upon us from the rooftops and occasional gunshots rang out of the darkness.

As I stated earlier, sometimes the most benign assignment can present peril. Not long after Robert Kennedy, the brother of slain President John F. Kennedy, was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York, he paid a visit to a local high school to talk to the students about democracy.

I stood outside on the athletic field to cover his arrival by helicopter. When his chopper touched down and he stepped out, he was thronged by hundreds of eager students. I got some close-ups of him pressing the flesh with these kids and then managed to get back out of the crowd as he worked his way through the mob toward the school. There was a great shot crying to be made, showing him surrounded by his young admirers but I needed some elevation. This is Long Island, as I explained a few paragraphs ago. It is as flat as a billiard table.

Now, a simple thing like that wouldn’t daunt an old, experienced shooter such as myself. I took my Nikon in both hands and started to raise them to make the good old “hail Mary” overhead shot when suddenly, someone behind me slapped my hands down with force. I whirled to face my adversary, looking for a reason for such unseemly behavior. Behind me stood a uniformed Suffolk County Cop. Before I could speak, he pointed upward. Just above me, the blades of the helicopter were still spinning, even after the engine had been shut down. I had made the near disastrous error of losing sight of my surroundings in my zeal to get a good photo. It wouldn’t have been a pretty picture had it not been for a very alert cop.



Haiti has a reputation for being dangerous and inhospitable. For years, under various dictators and despots, the people of that impoverished island have suffered. Secret police and death squads decimated the population and fear and suspicion were the order of the day for everyone.

This was the atmosphere in which I found myself on one assignment. It started when a van load of Haitians, probably undocumented aliens, were killed when the vehicle transporting them to their low paying jobs at a Long island factory, ran off the road and overturned, killing most of them. Over the next two weeks, I covered their funerals.

The paper was doing stories on the hardships that these aliens suffered when they were alive and working and sending their meager earnings back to their families in Haiti. Now, with that source of income gone, what fate awaited the bereaved families?

Newsday sent me and a reporter to Haiti to do that story.

Nothing prepared me for the grinding poverty and desolation that I found waiting for me when I arrived in Port au Prince, Haiti. I had been to many third world countries and I thought that I had seen poverty. But, all of that paled in comparison with what I found in that Caribbean island nation. The infrastructure was so decimated, with no money to make repairs that roads in the cities were ribbons of rubble and the roads in the countryside were little more than goat paths. Garbage and refuse lay moldering at the sides of the roads, stinking in the semi-tropical heat, waiting for garbage pick-up that rarely occurred. The rare white businessman needed to hire body guards to protect him from being robbed and killed by a desperate population. White faces were targets for mobs of hungry, needy souls. The hotel where the reporter and I stayed was a run down Holiday Inn, and had the appearance of a besieged fortress behind walls and barbed wire. Scores of beggars wait at the front gate for handouts from the more fortunate denizens of this inn.

We had hired a guide/driver/translator who was a lawyer when he could get paying clients. Through him we managed to locate some of the families of the deceased accident victims. It was a difficult assignment, photographing the grieving widows, most of whom had many small mouths to feed.

When we had some time, I suggested to the reporter that we ask our driver to take us up the mountains that ringed the city and harbor of Port au Prince. I wanted to get a photo which would serve as an overview for the stories that we were developing. Our driver was hesitant. He said that it might not be safe. Many tourists had gone up into those mountains, never to be see or heard from, again. Bandits operated with impunity in that region.

But, when I pushed the point, he agreed, only if I would promise to be quick about getting my pictures so that we could be out of there before dark. That sounded reasonable, so off we went. The road out of the city soon crumbled into nothingness and for most of the ride through the countryside, we negotiated rutted paths that crested ridges so narrow, that I was amazed that a goat could navigate them much less a car. The reporter looked out of the window and saw empty space on her side, as the terrain dropped hundreds of feet into the valley below. She was terrified and cringed in the back seat as we zig zagged our way up the ridges to the top of the mountain.

We turned up one dirt track, near the summit, but our way was blocked by some fallen trees. Our driver didn't like the look of that and muttered something as he swung the car around and headed back down. As we came around a curve, a car blocked our way and three men were standing by it. Our driver pulled to a stop about 100 feet away. He got out and ordered us to lock the doors and stay in the car. He walked over to the group of men and engaged them in conversation.

He soon returned and got in the car. "These men say that their car won't start and if we want to get back down the mountain, we will have to help them push it to the side of the road. But, they are not what they seem. I saw a gun in the waist band of one of them. They are bandits. They saw us come up the road and knew that white people have money. So, they set this trap and will kill us all and dump our bodies into one of the ravines."

He put the car in gear and telling us to stay low, he whipped the car into a tight u-turn and headed back up the mountain. He found a hint of another trail that bypassed the fallen trees and we worked our way back to town by another route.

Later that night, I realized how close I had come to being dead in a situation that I would never have dreamed could happen on an assignment like this.




One time I almost ended up as fish food at the bottom of New York Harbor.

I had been covering the Islip Garbage Barge story all summer. That was the barge loaded with Islip's garbage that had been chased out of a number of Atlantic State ports as well as some in Mexico and the Bahamas. It was now back in New York Harbor while politicians and environmentalists tried to hash out a solution.

I had a friendly rapport with the captain of the tug that was attached to the barge and he allowed me to spend a good deal of time on the tug and barge which gave me a decided advantage over the competition.

However, they were moored out in the middle of the harbor and I had to charter a boat to transport me there. I had contracted with a 36 foot sport fisherman, owned by a dentist and chartered out to wealthy fisherman. There was a hired captain and deckhand to run the boat. I would meet them at a marina each day, and they would ferry me to the tug.

The hired captain was a young man who was well aware of the responsibility that he had to the boat and its' owner. Unfortunately, as it turned out, he didn't feel the same responsibility to the people who chartered the boat. He was loath to bring his boss's gleaming white sport fishing boat too close to the ocean going tug from which I worked. The tug's outer hull was lined, as were most work boats, with old rubber tires which cushioned the hulls of the tug and the craft that they were working, and kept them from getting bashed or dinged. But, if a nice clean white hull like the sport fisherman, rubbed against those tires, it would leave a nasty looking black blotch on the pristine paint. While it could be scrubbed off, leaving no trace, it was a chore that the charter captain preferred to avoid. So he always approached the tug with great care and made sure that he left a gap between the hulls as I transferred from one boat to the other.

On this particular day, I had gotten out to the tug in the morning. The sport fisherman would usually anchor about 1,000 yards away until I was ready to be picked up. It was a Sunday and I spent most of the day taking photos of all the curious pleasure craft that came over to take a look at this strange phenomenon that was appearing in the news and on tv and was the focus of late night tv talk shows. Other tugs working the harbor would stop by to chat with Duffy St. Pierre, the captain of our tug. Ferries would veer off course to treat their passengers to a closer look. On this summer Sunday, there was a lot of boat traffic in our vicinity. Their wakes roiled the water and kicked up a nasty chop.

When I was done, I radioed to my chartered boat to be picked up. I gathered my cameras and gear at the rail as my young charter captain approached with his usual caution regarding those nasty black tires. When he got close enough, I passed my camera bags across the gap to the deckhand. I still had a couple of Nikons hanging around my neck, one of which had a heavy 250mm auto-focus lens attached. I stood on the broad railing of the tug, and reached across the narrow gap of water to grab the railing on the fly bridge of the sports fisherman.

At that moment, the wakes of the passing boats rocked the sport fisherman. The young captain, fearing a black smudge on his owner's white hull, threw the engines in reverse and backed away, pulling me off the railing of the tug.

For a moment, I dangled there, with my feet swaying in the air and the weight of the cameras around my neck threatening to break my grip on the fly bridge rail. I looked down past my feet and all I saw was open water. If I dropped, either the weight of my cameras would sink me like a stone, or else I would be crushed between the two hulls that were bobbing and swaying in the rough chop.

I remember hearing Duffy, the tug captain, cursing at the charter captain to bring his boat back so someone could help me. I hung on for my life and eventually was able to lift one of my legs high enough to get a foot aboard the charter boat. With that foothold, I managed to get myself down into the cockpit as we headed for home.

I was too rattled to raise hell with the idiot who almost cost me my life, but that was the last trip that I took with him.



When TWA Flight 800 blew up in mid-air off the south shore of Long Island, I was assigned each day to get out onto the ocean to cover the recovery operations. After the US Navy and the FBI took over, the area was pretty much frozen out to the media, but, once in awhile an opportunity arose.

One day, a contact at the Coast Guard station from where most of the recovery operations emanated, told me that some of the media could go aboard the Coast Guard’s ocean going tugboat that was operating in the recovery zone. The problem was that the tug drew too much water to come through Shinnecock Inlet and pick us up at the dock there. So, the Coast Guard offered to ferry us out to the tug which would stand a off couple of miles outside of the inlet. A bunch of us jumped at the chance. Then we found out that the ferry would be one of the Coastie’s semi-rigid inflatable boats. These were nothing more than large oval inner tubes powered by two huge outboard motors. There were no seats other than the one at the center console where the cox’n drove the boat. So you kind of have to sit on the inflated rubber sides of the boat and hold on for dear life. It’s either that or you squat on the wooden floor which usually fills with sea water that sloshes over the low sides of this contraption. The winds were pretty stiff out of the southeast and getting worse, we were told. That meant that the bay would be choppy, the waves coming through the inlet would be breaking and the seas in the Atlantic were growing.

Several news crews dropped out.

We were advised to travel light and to keep our camera equipment protected. I dumped any superfluous equipment into my car trunk and stowed one Nikon body, a couple of lenses, a flash gun and spare batteries into my canvas Domke Bag. I wrapped some spare Ektachrome in a plastic baggie and took my place on the rubber sides of the boat. No sooner did we clear the Coast Guard dock than I realized that the young cowboys who drove these light boats knew only two speeds; stopped at the dock and bat out of hell. There was nothing in between. I gripped the straps of the Domke Bag at my feet with one hand, and held onto the lifeline that ran around the edges of the rubber boat with my other, as the spray from the choppy water pelted us and soon had us soaked. The little boat flew from the top of one wave to the back of the next and as the propellers of the twin outboards left the dense water and entered the less resistant atmosphere of the air, the engines would rev up and roar like airplane engines as they tried to get us even more airborne than we already were.

Each time we hit the next wave, we would crash into it with a force that jarred the fillings in my teeth and would threaten to throw those of us sitting on the sides, into the water. I had spent four years in the Navy, many years earlier, and I recalled a lesson learned in Boot Camp. The Navy expected each sailor to give one hand to the ship and one hand to yourself. The “yourself” hand was meant to hold onto a mast or a spar or a halyard to keep from falling, while the “ship’s” hand was used to untie knots, unfurl sails, or whatever. As we bounced through the bay, I found that I needed two “yourself” hands to keep from being pitched out of the boat. I ended up holding onto the lifeline with both hands and I wedged my camera bag between my feet.

My heart sank when we neared the inlet. I had been in and out of Shinnecock Inlet many times. But, never had I seen such breaking seas coming through the gap like those I saw this day. I quickly gave up any thought of sitting on the rubber side of the boat. I squatted on the wet floorboards and hung onto the lifelines while I wedged my camera bag between my knees.

“ Hang on!” shouted the cox’n as he took aim and shot our little craft into the maelstrom. One minute I would be looking at the angry black water of a huge wave careening down upon us. Then I would be looking at the scudding clouds overhead. Water poured over us from all sides and I gave up even worrying about my cameras as they bounced on the wooden floor which was now ankle deep in water. The cox’n never let up on the throttle and we pounded through the inlet into the open Atlantic.

I glanced over at my associates, for a moment. They were all huddled on the floor, soaked through and white as ghosts. One of the video crews contained a pretty female reporter whose carefully coiffed hairdo hung over her face in wet streams as she puked her breakfast over the side.

After what seemed like days, we finally spotted the gray hulk of our tug through the mist. We came alongside on the lee side and for a moment, gave thanks to be out of the wind and waves. Transferring from the bobbing inflatable to the larger tug, however, was another harrowing experience. We handed our cameras and equipment to the sailors on the tug and then we had to time our leap onto the larger boat when both of our craft were level with one another.

When we were all safely aboard, the crew of the inflatable gave us a wave and sped off in the direction of their dock while our tug got underway to the recovery zone. Even being aboard the larger boat, we were aware of the motion of the ocean as the winds picked up and the seas grew larger. But, it was nowhere near what we had just experienced. Even the seasick young tv reporter managed to get some color back into her face.

My cameras managed to make the trip unscathed, except for the wet canvas at the bottom of the camera bag. The two tv crews weren’t as fortunate. They spent the next three hours drying out their cameras in an effort to get the “moisture” warning light to go out. One cameraman managed to locate an electric hair dryer among the ship's crew and made better progress than his hapless associate.

The fact of the matter was that it really didn’t matter because the Navy wouldn’t let us get close enough to the recovery operation to make any useful images. Then the weather got so bad that recovery operations were suspended. That’s when we found out that the seas were too rough to attempt to transfer us “newsies” back into the rubber boats for the trip home, so we had to steam to Staten Island where we got off the tug and had to take expensive cab rides back to Long Island to get our cars.

When I finally crawled into bed at 2 AM, and I recalled the details of the day, I had to ask "why?" Why had I subjected myself to the risk and discomforts. I mulled over the realization that I was then almost 60. What the Hell was I thinking? I made a silent promise that next time, I would say no.

But, like all newspukes, it was a promise that would never be kept.


Dick Kraus



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