Alumni Newsletter

Newsmakers: AJ Chavar’s role at The New York Times brings him close to President Barack Obama, White House

Courtesy of AJ Chavar

AJ Chavar ('10) films an event with President Obama in the White House.

UPDATED: Oct. 31 at 6 p.m.

A work day for AJ Chavar includes interviewing President Barack Obama in Hawaii, catching a ride back on Air Force One to Midway Atoll to film another interview before heading back to Hawaii to file from the press pool van on the highway.

Six years after leaving Syracuse University, Chavar never thought this is where his career would take him.

“I didn’t think I would be where I am right now. I thought it would be many more years or possibly ever,” Chavar said. “It’s the big things and the little things. I never thought I’d be in the position to interview the president.”

Chavar (‘10) is a videographer who covers the White House for The New York Times. He recently interviewed Obama, and one of his photos appeared on the front page of both The New York Times and the International New York Times.

The Daily Orange alumnus said his time at 744 Ostrom allowed him to gain real world experience, leading him to a career where he would cover the country’s biggest news events.

When he first got to campus in 2005, Chavar immediately sought out The D.O. It wasn’t until he shot photos of SU students protesting the country’s involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in Washington, D.C., that he was given an official role: assistant news photo editor, a position created by Jared Novack.

From that moment, he was hooked.

Chavar then joined the in-house staff as an assistant photo editor, where he quickly moved up the ranks. He became the photo editor and eventually EIC as a second-semester sophomore.

Late in college, he decided to make the transition from photojournalism to video journalism. He found he was able to grasp the new technology with which his peers struggled. And despite his love for newspapers, they weren’t hiring photographers.

“There were lots of people with broadcast backgrounds, and (newspapers) were looking for people from photo backgrounds so it all just kind of worked out,” Chavar said.

Following graduation, he was offered a job as a contractor for The Washington Post. He was soon brought on full-time as a staff reporter, where he created videos of anything from a press conference to a natural disaster.

Six months into working at The Post, he was assigned to cover the aftermath of the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Chavar’s coverage earned him an Edward R. Murrow award.

One year later, he was one of the videographers assigned to cover the 2012 presidential election. Chavar used video to harness a new understanding of the opposing parties: He placed coverage of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions side-by-side in a diptych-style video.

This work caught the attention of The New York Times.

At The Times, his work ranges from compiling wire footage and verifying information to covering large-scale breaking news. He’s often on the ground reporting, making both enterprise and short videos about politics.

During this presidential election season, Chavar covered both the Republican and Democratic conventions.

Chavar said The D.O.’s biggest impact on his career was gaining unteachable experience.

“Being in budget meetings or pitching a story to a room full of editors, if you’ve done that it’s one of the more intimidating things because….you hope they’ll tell you it is a good idea but they won’t always,” he said. “If you can do this and if you’ve done it before, it’s a little less terrifying.”

Through video, Chavar has been able to combine his passion of newspapers with his love of visual storytelling. And while he reports high-profile politicians, he’s still touched when everyday sources appreciate the stories he tells.

“What you put into the world has an effect,” Chavar said, “and sometimes you can forget that.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the timeline of AJ Chavar’s work day spent interviewing President Barack Obama was misstated. Chavar interviewed Obama in Hawaii, took Air Force One to Midway Atoll to film another interview and then went back to Hawaii to file his work from the press pool van. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, AJ Chavar’s relationship with Syracuse University was misstated. AJ Chavar left SU in 2010. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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