Through the lens of a camera: Dickinson native Joe Carroll covers breaking newsJoe Carroll, a CBS photojournalist for 45 years, was an eye-witness to historic breaking news whenever it happened around the world. Looking through the viewfinder of a camera, Carroll was in Moscow when the tanks rolled in to overthrow the government. He was at the Houston mission control center when Neal Armstrong walked on the moon. He covered revolutions in Nicaragua and El Salvador and was in the middle of the riots during the civil rights movement.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Joe Carroll, a CBS photojournalist for 45 years, was an eye-witness to historic breaking news whenever it happened around the world.
Looking through the viewfinder of a camera, Carroll was in Moscow when the tanks rolled in to overthrow the government. He was at the Houston mission control center when Neal Armstrong walked on the moon. He covered revolutions in Nicaragua and El Salvador and was in the middle of the riots during the civil rights movement.
“Basically, I followed the action,” the Dickinson native said. “When you have one side pitted against the other, you basically go with the flow and try to keep your head down when the bottles start flying,” he said.
Carroll, who lives in College Park (Orlando), Florida, recently retired from photojournalism and is planning to visit his family in North Dakota during October.
He was one of eight children born to Mary and Clarence Carroll. His brother, Pat of Dickinson, remembers the family as being poor.
“We raised chickens for the Queen City Club,” Pat said. “Everybody had a job when they came from school. Joe was one of the luckier ones — he’d grab a prayer book and go to St. Joseph’s Church — he got out of the work.”
Carroll would beg to differ, saying he had an Eddy’s bread route in southwestern North Dakota.
Sister-in-law Bonnie Carroll described Joe as a soft-spoken family man.
“For all the things he’s been though in life, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “We talk on the phone all the time — I think he’d move back here to North Dakota in a second.”
His sister Rita Carroll Weber added, “This North Dakota boy had what it took to embrace a long and successful career in the news business.”
After graduating from St. Joseph’s eighth grade, Carroll enrolled in Crozier Catholic Minot Seminary in Onamia, Minn.
“I actually was thinking of becoming a priest,” he said.
As a sophomore, he transferred to Assumption Abbey at Richardton, and then to Dickinson High School where he graduated in 1961.
Carroll could credit his start in journalism to The Dickinson Press where he wrote weekly columns about high school news.
“I didn’t get paid, but it was fun,” he said. “We gave the students the publicity they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
He hasn’t forgotten the North Dakota winters either.
“I remember the winters preparing you for life,” he said. “I recall one winter when it was 50 below zero in 1949 or 50 and the wind was blowing like crazy. We could only get out of the house through a second floor window.”
Carroll’s brother, Leonard (deceased), a former editor at The Dickinson Press, was his journalist inspiration. His intellectual inspiration is credited to Velva native, Eric Sevareid, a CBS news journalist.
After graduation, Carroll joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was trained as an aerial photo reconnaissance photographer. With his service completed, he enrolled at Loyola University in New Orleans, thinking he would become a lawyer.
However, CBS affiliate WWL-TV and radio learned he had motion picture shooting experienced and hired him to cover the civil rights marches and related KKK unrest.
Carroll said the unrest was a clash of the white and black cultures, where the blacks weren’t welcomed in public facilities occupied by whites.
“It was as simple as that,” he said.
In 1969, he was hired by CBS to work as the Atlanta Bureau film editor/field producer. That job took him from West Virginia and the South through northern South America, including the Caribbean and Cuba.
In 1982, he got off the road and joined CH-6 — the CBS affiliate in Orlando, Fla.
“While there, I covered the greatest story in history — the breakup of the Soviet Union,” he said. “It was ironic for me because my mother was a German-Russian born in eastern Ukraine. Also ironic, because of all the nuclear drills we had ducking beneath our school desks at St. Joseph’s.”
The Soviet Union’s breakup was not anticipated by the media, but Carroll had the ability of being in the right place at the right time.
He was filming a Christian group from Orlando who was handing out Bibles in the Soviet Union. Starting out in Kiev, they were Moscow when the tanks moved in.
“The KGB basically held Mikhail Gorbachev hostage at the Black Sea,” he said. “Most of the cameramen were out of the country for holiday. We thought there would be awful bloodshed, but the tank commanders were in allegiance with the Mayor of Moscow, who was Boris Yeltsin.”
Carroll met Severeide when CBS was covering the first moon shot at the Kennedy Space Center.
Carroll said so many reporters covered the manned moon landing because they didn’t think the astronauts would come back.
“We thought they could get to the moon — that was one thing, but it was another matter to get them back,” he said.
Carroll covered the Apollo moon missions and all the space shuttle flights, including the Challenger disaster. He also has covered the presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.
Being an eye-witness to the elections of the time, Carroll said he doesn’t discuss politics, even with his family.
“Politics was a lot of fun, especially in 1972 — that’s when women finally were allowed to become journalists,” he said.
The glory days of CBS news was when he was part of the team headed by Walter Cronkite, he added.
He worked on the road with Dan Rather, Ed Bradley, Hughes Rudd, Roger Mudd, Connie Chung, Leslie Stahl, Charles Kurait and many more. He was part of the team coverage of the Casey Anthony story and trial, the 60 Minutes Dan Rather interview with Fidel Castro in Cuba, and the Jonestown massacre in Guyana.
Carroll covered his share of hurricanes.
“The worst storm I was in was Hurricane Charlie — it came off shore at Punta Gorda, Fla,” he said. “We were very close to the water by a motel. We were almost killed in that one.”
Living with danger was part of his career.
“Frankly, with all the different types of stories I covered, I didn’t think I’d live past 40,” he said. “We were in dangerous situations, but so was everybody was in my profession. I was in a helicopter when it went down. We flew in hurricanes. Looking through the viewfinder of a camera, you have a different perspective of what’s happening. You keep focused on your work and that’s what you should be doing.”
He said technology changed the way he reported. He started with 16 mm black and white film and retired with a digital camera — a gift of the company.
“There was no such thing as satellite transmission — we had what they called telephone long lines,” he said. “There were only certain places in a country where you can transmit a story. Quick release didn’t come along, until say about six years ago.”
He’s won numerous awards throughout his career, including a Kolcum News and Communication Award by the National Space Club, a Cine Golden Eagle Award for educational video production and a Platinum Marcom Creative Award for work with McLaughlin Productions travel video production. He was an Iris Award nominee for the documentary “To Russia With Love” and was a photojournalist for the WKMG Emmy-Award winning series on the Middle East.
Carroll is looking forward to his visit to North Dakota. In addition to Pat’s family, he has a niece, Shelly (Dave) Michaelson in Dickinson. His sisters Patricia Carroll and Rita Carroll Weber and families live in Fargo.
Carroll and his wife, Mary Ann, have four children: Jean (Kevin) Schmidt, Louisiana; Joe (Melissa), New York; Nicole (John) Keating, Florida and Marisa (Colin) Worley, Florida.
The next chapter in Carroll’s life is to finish a documentary on Haiti about several Catholic nuns who are teaching and working with the locals to upgrade their medical facilities and to develop agri-forestry projects in northern Haiti.
He also is producing more documentaries and perhaps may write a book or two about his experiences.
“Best of all, I will be able to spend more time with my family,” he said.