Turning the Camera on Quintin
August 10, 2016
Quintin Washington is something of a curiosity in Charleston's journalism community. Over the past four years, he's interviewed media personalities, city and state leaders, activists and artists, but he's not affiliated with any news outlet. With a small digital camera no bigger than a deck of playing cards and a flimsy tripod — both of which he received as gifts — he's conducted more than 460 one-on-one interviews and filed almost 7,000 minutes of footage. Without a working laptop, he edits everything together using computers at local libraries and posts the videos to YouTube. He doesn't get paid for doing this. What time he has outside of his day job is dedicated to running across town, scheduling interviews with the people who guide Charleston, and cutting footage together. Washington considers it a public service, but also his calling.
Huddled outside of a courtroom in downtown Charleston, I mentioned Washington's name to the other reporters gathered to cover that day's hearing. There's a certain astonishment among local journalists when it comes to Washington. Having been interviewed by Washington, one veteran reporter who's been in the business longer than I've been alive talks about the level of research Washington is able to dedicate to every subject who sits down with him. "He knows things about you, you don't even know about yourself," Harve Jacobs jokes. Another remarkable thing is how Washington gets everyone to participate — all the big names sit down for "Quintin's Close-Ups." A big part of the news business is dealing with rejection, but after four years, Washington says he's only been turned down three times. I mention this to the other reporters and we all stare at the ground, nodding in a sort of reluctant acknowledgement of just how incredible that number really is.
But over the years, after sharing hundreds of stories, Washington has been a bit reluctant to share his own. That is until now. With an exclusive one-on-one with the man himself, here is the story of Quintin Washington.
Growing up on Charleston's Eastside, moving from Radcliffe Street to America Street to Drake Street, Washington got his start in news as a child. He struggled with reading and math early on. He took to looking through newspapers to overcome trouble reading, but Washington still faced other obstacles in and out of the classroom.
"Growing up was difficult," says Washington, now 31. "I would have people in the streets on the Eastside who would harass me because of my skin color or they'd say, 'You talk too white.' That was an everyday battle that I eventually overcame. Most of us, we grew up and became better people because of our trials and tribulations. We didn't have much. We still don't have much. But I'm learning how to enjoy the moment of now."
Dealing with harassment from other kids, Washington took refuge in one of the last places you'd expect to find a wide-eyed 12-year-old — a TV newsroom. After a mentor took him on a tour of the WCSC-TV station, Washington wrote a letter to the news director, saying that this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Washington would spend any time he could helping out at the station — learning to write scripts, edit tapes, shadowing photographers and reporters on assignment.
"I learned a lot there. I saw a lot of stuff that I never thought I would have. And at the time, things were rough. My mom still to this day works at Roper Hospital. She would work long hours, and we would be out in the streets until she would get home. We would stay at our grandmother's house or someone else's house, but things were still rough," Washington says. "My father was never around. Eventually, he died in 2014 in early January. That was rough because I had to make a decision of whether I should go to his funeral or not. I talked it over with my mother, and I told her, 'I can't. I can't do it.' I prayed about it to God and that was that. My stepfather, who we live with right now, I consider him to be my father because he was there for me when I was born. He was there to discipline me, to cook us Sunday dinners. He was there to tell us to go to the laundromat and wash clothes. He was there to take me fishing."
Washington says it was the constant change he found in the newsroom that first excited him as a kid. He'd sit and listen to the police scanners rattle off accidents and emergencies happening around town. While the news wasn't always good, it was always interesting. The race to keep track of a city can be challenging, to say the least. You have to keep pace with a seemingly constant flow of information, knowing that with the good news, there inevitably comes the bad. And no matter how close it hits to home, you just have to keep moving.
Since those first days in a newsroom, Washington had managed to intern in various news outlets across the city, from TV to radio to print. As he made his way through school, Washington would pull discarded scripts from newsroom trash bins, reading them aloud to himself and learning how to talk to an audience. As a student reporter with the Post and Courier in high school, he honed his writing skills, learning how to express himself in a way that was clear and informative. After graduating from Burke High School, Washington had hoped to leave Charleston to attend journalism school, but it never worked out.
In 2009, while Washington was attending the College of Charleston, his stepfather suffered a stroke. At the same time, his mother was battling breast cancer. He used his money from student loans to help pay rent. After all the therapy and treatments, the family managed to pull through intact, but Washington didn't return to college. Although it may have taken some time, he eventually found his true calling.
"I guess four or five years ago, I grappled with the fact that I don't know what to do when it comes to television news. At one point, I wanted to be a traffic anchor in D.C. At one point, I just wanted to be a reporter. At some point, I wanted to be an anchor, but I don't know if I'd be the type of person who'd be doing that," he says. "Now, doing interviews, I love it. This is amazing. Doing 461 interviews — that's a lot. And I'm still learning. ... I still want to ask the right questions. I still want to ask the questions that people want answers to. I'm still growing. That process can never stop."
Last week, after working a shift at Queology on North Market Street, Washington, who doesn't drive, ran home to change clothes before racing back across town to tape an interview with Elizabeth Moffly. The two met at the law office of Larry Kobrovsky, where four years ago Washington filmed his first true episode of "Quintin's Close-Ups." Prior to that, Washington had a short stint taping interviews for WLCN in Summerville, but eventually set out on his own.
Seated beside each other across from his small Canon PowerShot perched on a tripod, Washington and Moffly talked about her campaign for county auditor and the death of her son. In less than five minutes, their conversation shifted from the political to the personal before Washington thanked Moffly for taking the time to speak with him.
It was already a little after 5 p.m., when Washington said he'd have the interview edited and posted that evening. Stepping outside, Washington set up his tripod along Meeting Street to film an intro to this most recent installment of "Quintin's Close-Ups." He counted down from three before running through a few brief takes. In between filming, Washington offered a friendly smile and hello to everyone passing by. Some paused for a moment to try to figure out exactly what he was doing — this lanky figure posed on the sidewalk in front of a camera. But Washington knows that this is exactly where he belongs, even if he has to go at it alone.
"Just because I'm not on television or radio or with a newspaper does not mean I'm not a journalist. After 461 interviews, I feel like this is a brand. This is a public service. I'm not doing it just for me. This is what God has called me to do to serve the public," he says. "This is my way of serving the public. I don't have much money or anything like that. It's just me. The Canon PowerShot camera I have, someone gave me. This tripod, someone gave me that. It's not about money. It's about serving people. I don't care about money because I know God is taking care of me."
Moving forward, Washington says he is walking by faith, not by sight. When he prays, he asks specifically, "Can I please do more interviews?" It's when he's in front of the camera that he feels most comfortable. He knows he could do this for the rest of his life and be content.
As he looks ahead, Washington says he will continue to improve as an interviewer and continue to carve out the niche he's made for himself online.
"The reason I'm doing it on YouTube is because I don't have any other outlet. I went to all the stations and asked to do a weekly interview segment, and everyone said 'No.' Traditional news outlets don't always give people an opportunity. That's why YouTube and social media are so popular now," Washington says. "When it comes to doing interviews, I'm very professional about it. When the camera's on, when that red light turns on, all my opinions go to the side. I'm impartial, unbiased, and that's the way it's supposed to be. If people were doing what I am doing, maybe people would trust the media more."
Perhaps it's this quality that makes so many prominent figures willing to sit down with Washington, although he still insists that it's largely due to divine intervention. Either way, it's working. And although Washington is reluctant to accept full credit for his body of work, there's no denying the level of hustle involved with what he does.
He's been recognized by the S.C. House of Representatives, and he's earned respect from all those who see him go from interview to interview. Ask him for advice, and he'll tell you that no one is going to give you anything. You just have to go out there and create it. And that's exactly the advice he's followed.
"I've got a lot of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who love what I do. People who are very controversial will say to me, 'I love your interviews because you don't take sides.' When you do an interview, you let them tell the story," says Washington. "That's the way it should be. I want to take it back to the old-school days where you don't inject your opinion. You just tell the story. And that's what I want to do — tell other people's stories and do one-on-one interviews."