Dan Young, CNN director, U.S. field ops, dead at 47
Dan Young, director of CNN/US’s field operations, died Sunday after a battle with leukemia. He was 47. During 24 years at CNN, he worked as a photographer on some of the biggest and most dangerous assignments of his time.
He covered the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the Gulf War in 1991, space shuttle launches, numerous political campaigns and conventions. His images from those and many other stories ended up on TV sets watched by millions of people the world over.
As his coworkers heard the news of his death, they remembered his work, of course, but more often than not, their memories were of Dan Young, the man: His smile and his sense of humor, his dedication to his work and family, his joy for life and his care for those around him. Here are some of the memories they shared:
My first assignment with Dan was in 1992. We traveled deep into the jungles of Peru for a series of reports on the Amazon rainforest. Those were four grueling days of relentless insects, stifling heat and the inevitable consequences of eating the local food. Dan’s smile however never dimmed. To him, it was all just part of the fun. As the shoot wrapped, we were taking our last trip upriver. Dan asked me several times, “Are you sure we’re done?”… like he had something up his sleeve. When I confirmed he could finally put the camera down, Dan yelled to our guide to stop the boat. Before anyone could ask why, Dan dove head-first and disappeared into the swift Amazon current. I can still hear his laugh as he emerged, swallowing a mouthful of the muddy water and daring any of the nearby piranha to try and take a bite. Dan’s enthusiasm was contagious. We all soon followed his lead by taking the plunge, predators and parasites be damned. I was still new to CNN at the time and I learned a lot from Dan on that trip. This wasn’t a job for him, it was his life. And he tried to get the most out of every moment. But what impressed me most came a few days later. Dan sent a long letter to Chet Burgess (my boss at the time) describing in glowing detail how the rookie correspondent handled himself on a difficult shoot. Truth is, Dan made it easy and I’ve been trying to follow his example ever since.
I first met Dan in 1985 when I was an entry-level employee fresh out of Ohio University. We had an immediate connection because we were both from Ohio and attended the same college. Dan was everything I aspired to be … a network cameraman, and a damn good one. He was the first photographer I worked with and our first trip together was to Memphis for the anniversary of Elvis’s death. He was eager to teach me everything he knew … and that never changed, 21 years later. Most important is that Dan was a true friend, a genuine friend. He always made an effort to stay close. He came to my wedding shower, my wedding, my oldest son’s baby shower, my 40th birthday party. I trusted him … I respected him … I will sorely miss him.
I had a secret joy when it was time to call on Dan Young. Because I always knew he was smiling on the other end. It was like he embraced every request as a challenge, even the ones that made him roll his eyes and give you that look of “you want what????” He never really said no to anything. Not to the request for a videographer that wasn’t available, not to using his brand new gizmo camera, not to teaching me how to do time lapse, teaching me how to use infrared, teaching me how to do pretty much anything. And when no one else would step up to the challenge — or was available — Dan would just do it himself. He was the only one to come through for us when we needed him most — when we needed shots of people sleeping for a sleep special. He not only took on the challenge when no one else would, but he snuck around his house in the dark, late at night, to get shots of his wife and son in deep slumber, and he did it artistically, and thoughtfully. His smile, his generosity and his presence are irreplaceable. I hope he is sleeping peacefully.
Dan would always find a way to make it “work for you,” no matter how strapped he was for time, equipment, or dealing with other people’s “need this now” panic. Late afternoon, October 27, 2001: Dan was pinned to the wall to find me a PD150 on short notice…it was after 9/11 and every piece of gear was scattered to the four corners of the world. There was a dusty camera brought back from Afghanistan that needed repair. ..but we were leaving that night for South America to do a story on terrorism in the triborder area … There was no time and no equipment left in Atlanta. We were desperate. Dan turned around and said: “Wait, I’ve got you covered. Give me 20 minutes.” I was running around doing last minute preparations and not in my office when Dan dropped the gear off. A neatly packed kit was on the floor — I noticed the name tag: Dan Young. He’d given me the last PD150 and gear he had left: his own.
A year ago, when Atia Abawi was an entry level VJ, she had an opportunity to take a personal trip to Afghanistan and try her hand at photojournalism. While it was not a CNN trip, we still wanted her to have the basic training to be able to make the most of her experience. As a favor, I asked Dan to spend a little time with her on how to operate the DV camera. We were very short on time and had scheduling conflicts so Dan only got a few minutes with her. This, apparently, wasn’t satisfactory to Dan. He created a blog page for her that she could access during her trip that explained shooting fundamentals. “He only knew me for an hour and went that far out of his way,” Atia said. “I will always hold my few but wonderful memories of him close to my heart. The last of which was bumping into him and his lovely wife and son at Turner night at Six Flags carrying a life-size Scooby Doo stuffed animal on his shoulder with a huge smile on his face. Or how he pretended to like my bland tasting ‘thank u’ brownies.” When I was heading off to adopt my first child from Russia, Dan appeared on my doorstep with his video camera packed and ready to go. “Are you ready for your lessons?” He proceeded to train me like a professional and when I returned from Russia he snapped up the video and converted it all without a word. I share these stories because while so many think of Dan as an outstanding photojournalist, he had become an exceptional manager and teacher. As he slowly came in off the road and as his management role grew, he thrived, as he got great satisfaction in helping to make people better at their craft. He loved the art of photography and he was an exceptional coach. Dan was a beloved and respected leader because he was a master of his craft, he cared enough to help people feel good about their abilities, he had unparalleled energy and he was compassionate and fair and funny. He would do anything I asked of him with a small on his face. I may have been his boss, but he taught me so much about the field, about being an advocate for people in the field, about human nature and about life. I wish I had thanked him one more time. I will miss my dear friend and colleague.
It is not one specific memory, it is a cumulative one. Dan, eyes gleaming, smile forming, coming out of his seat, moving out of his office. He had an idea he wanted to try on me. Henry, come here, I’ve got something for you. Was he going to pull my leg or was this for real? This was going to be the camera of the future, he might say, and it could as easily be something made out of a Lego as a new HD gizmo. That was what was so great. Dan was never dull. Every time I came to him with a request, I always tried to tempt him back out of the office, into the field. He was a news guy, not a news-acrat, but that didn’t keep him from taking care of his folks with ferocity. I remember introducing him to a friend who had fought the same sort of lymphoma that his brother had. They talked for almost an hour, and kept in touch afterwards. He cared. About everything. About everyone.
Dan was the classic CNN success story. He joined the network at an entry-level position, but soon became a photojournalist traveling the world, shooting video for CNN … The memory I will always share with Dan is he was the photographer for the two weeks that I spent covering Bono’s trip across Africa with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill back in 2002 … Four countries, 17 cases of equipment and more memories and stories than I could even begin to tell you. They will last forever. We all remember Dan as a dear friend and colleague. This picture — this was at a clinic in Uganda. One of the patients was playing guitar and Dan grabbed it and wanted a turn, even though he didn’t know how to play guitar. That was his spirit. That was Dan. He leaves behind his son Jake and wife, Marty, a twin brother and many other family members and friends who loved him very, very much. We express our deepest sympathies to Dan’s family.