CLEVELAND - He has seen much of the world and all of northeast Ohio through the lens of his news camera. Jim Lentz celebrates his 40th anniversary with WEWS, where the many thousands of stories he has covered have been broadcast throughout the community and sometimes across the nation.
Lentz is a news cameraman whose pictures are the centerpiece of any newscast. The newsroom staff stepped away from its routine Friday afternoon to honor Lentz, who is still on the job as a news cameraman. It is a job that has endeared him with many people, and not just the news staff, throughout northeast Ohio.
You need only work with him in Cleveland City Hall, other government offices, or on the streets of Cleveland to understand his renown. Mayors come and go over the years, but Lentz has covered every one of them since he rolled tape in his first city hall interview. When Lentz first hit the streets with a television news camera on his shoulder, Ralph Perk was the mayor.
Lentz has covered every one of them since that time. However, he did not start at WEWS, the ABC television station in Cleveland, as a cameraman.
"I was a typist for Dorothy Fuldheim," he said, referring to the late commentator who distinguished herself for decades in local television.
Once he was given a chance to work as a news cameraman, Lentz found his passion. It has been with him ever since.
"I have been to all four corners of the United States and different parts of the world," said Lentz. "I just think of all the neat people I've met."
He has covered every president since Richard Nixon took office in January 1973. In between presidents, he has covered every imaginable story in northeast Ohio. In 1981, when President Reagan was inaugurated, Lentz somehow was able to get within just a few yards of the new president as he delivered his inaugural speech on the steps of the nation's Capitol.
"How I was allowed to get that close with my camera, I don't know," said Lentz recalling the historic moment.
It was at that moment, Iranian militants who had held many Americans hostage for 444 days during the Jimmy Carter presidency decided to release them.
"I was standing next to Helen Thomas (the longtime Washington journalist) and during Regan's speech, she was listening to the radio and whispered into my ear that Iran had just released the hostages."
Locally, there have been murders, corruption trials, unveilings of major attractions, traffic accidents, political campaigns, sports events and feature stories of all kinds. Lentz has covered them all. As his colleagues feted him for his 40 years on the job, the veteran cameraman had just come into the newsroom after recording a story about the selection of Michael Lombardi, newly-named general manager and vice president for player personnel for the Cleveland Browns.
Looking back, he said he has been thankful for his years on the street as a cameraman. "I have worked in the glory years of news gathering." Though much has changed in the industry, he said he still draws deep satisfactions from his job that take him to wherever the news unfolds.
He works efficiently. He is usually seen with his camera shouldered and directed toward the action. Even after 40 years on the job, his ability to get the center of a story is evident. Reporters who are assigned to work with Lentz often ask his opinions on approaches to stories. Lentz has seen it all. Most of the veterans in local government, he has met and know him by name.
Jim Lentz is still on the job, and not giving any date for retirement. On his next day at work, he will be as he has always been at WEWS NewsChannel 5 -- loaded with equipment with his camera already rolling on the events which make news.
If you want to see Lentz, just look at the newscasts where his work unfolds daily. He may not be in the pictures. The pictures are in him.