Sentinel Television Critic
decades, Bob Cross has been the unsung man of Orlando Television.
"I think on a lot of the big
stories in this town in the last 30 years, the video that people
have seen has been from Bob Cross or his team," said Robin
Smyth, general manager of Central Florida News 13.
"I think his experience as a
firefighter and knowing the community paved the way for him being
successful as a news stringer."
Thirty years ago, Orlando firefighter
Cross set up an off-duty video business. When he left firefighting
after 25 years, he went full time with photography.
Cross, who is 66 and lives in Lake
Mary, said his interest in shooting the news started out as a hobby
when he was a volunteer firefighter in Maitland.
"I would respond to accidents,"
he said. 'Along the line, someone said, "You can make money.'
A light bulb went off."
The self-described Type-A personality
and his freelancers have photographed accidents, fires, shootings,
murders, drownings, carjackings and home invasions. Cross has branched
out by shooting for national newscasts, corporations and talk shows,
but breaking local news is his specialty. Gaining his news tips
via scanner. Cross has sold his footage to all the television stations
in town and to the Orlando Sentinel.
"On a good night, we were shooting
six to 10 stories," Cross said. "It was very good until
the economy got bad. TV stations have cut back on their budgets."
Cross and his 14-member team have
repeatedly heard one thing from grateful reporters and assignment
editors: You saved us.
"So much happens overnight. He
filled that niche," WFTV-Channel 9 anchor Greg Warmoth said.
"We talk about a fire, you want to see a fire, and he makes
sure you do. He taught firefighters to be photographers. They're
good. Bob has kept them with good equipment."
news director Bob Jordan helped Cross get a loan to buy a camera and
set up the business. "It's been cost-effective to be able to
buy video," Jordan said. "We don't have to call somebody
in the middle of the night."
Fire Department connections were another plus. "He had access
more than some annoying news person," Jordan said.
first, he used his connections as a former firefighter to gain access
to scenes," Sentinel senior staff photographer Red Huber
said. "That produced better angles, close-up views. He had access
like nobody else had. He has learned the craft, and he has done remarkably
Cross personal touch makes a difference, too. "He is such a friendly
guy," Warmoth said. "He has to go into different stations.
He's done such a good job of not siding with one station over another."
seems to faze Cross. In the beginning, stations credited him on camera
for his footage, but he said he doesn't worry about recognition. He
has taught people the business, and they have gone off on their own.
"It's not affecting us," he said.
worth $30,000 to $40,000 have been stolen or damaged.
been through a lot," Cross said. "In the early days, I freaked
out. Now I just say it's part of it."
requests for viewers to send in iPhone-type video have cut into his
business. So has the economic downturn.
are a lot more picky about what they take," Cross said. "Everybody
tells you up front: 'It has to be a good story.' The average robbery
might not sell."
said he's happy to be working because he has two sons at the University
of Florida. Yet the slowdown has meant he can slow down.
still have scanners," Cross said. "I don't listen the way
I used to. We have good people. They have scanners. I am able to sleep
more. I don't sleep with scanners anymore."