One thing that I’m thinking after Danny Lyon’s lecture is “what’s the key to being a successful journalist?”

A casual T-shirt under the suit, a cap hiding half of the face, a braid behind and the tough facial expression–the first sight of Danny Lyon gave me the impression that he’s absolutely not a traditional journalist.

Danny Lyon, left, talks with David Rees before the lecture begins.

Afterwards, I learnt that he studied history in the university and never received professional journalism training. So strictly speaking, Lyon is not even a journalist.

Then, what makes his stories successful?

  1. the devotion of time to the story. Lyon joked at the lecture that we students have to quit school and go out if we want to do good stories now. “Several weeks are not enough, it takes your lifetime.” Lyon did this when he produced his photo stories like the bike riders. He didn’t show any photos at the lecture, so I searched for some at home. From the content of the photographs, I can guess how long it took him to immerse himself to the life of the Hells Angels to get such intimacy between those bikers and him. Definitely, the immersion made his story different from the ordinary ones.
  2. the unique contents of the stories. Is journalism actually something that everybody can do? As Lyon said, “Photography is part of the air.” It’s the same as journalism. Everything can be related to the journalism, which also means the journalism is about nothing. A person who doesn’t have the professional background may produce better works because he can focus more on the content and get rid of the frames and technical restriction. Just take Lyon’s film “Murderers” for example. From a “professional” aspect, I found a bunch of “mistakes” which should be avoided in a documentary video. The shaky scenes are resulted by not using the tripod. The use of zoom-in and zoom-out also obeys the rules. Even the music used to arouse the emotion can be criticized in a lot of ways. However, all these “mistakes” did not prevent the video from being a good documentary film, just because its content is compelling and unique. The “zoom in” works when he wants to show the tears on that man’s face.

So the lesson I got from Lyon is that technology is important, but always second to the content. To get amazing contents, you need to dedicate yourself into your story. This is also the way how Lyon seeks for truth.

Lyon recorded stories in a straightforward style. It sounds simple, but not easy. He chose to cover the uncovered, and believes that is what he wants to do. It’s especially hard for people in the current age when everybody is struggling with materials and money. Few people are willing to sacrifice the wealth to pursue for the justice. Lyon did make big money, but it apparently was not his original aim.

Lyon also gave me some inspirations to make this world better by being a journalist. I’m always thinking of going back to China after graduation. One of the reasons is that I do want to do something for my hometown. My country is experiencing a period when a lot of social issues are springing up as a result of quick economic development. I don’t know if I might become a photographer like Lyon some time, but I do want to record those conflicts and changes in some way.

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