Innerviews: Photo wizard guided by Golden Rule
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In newspaper photography circles, he's a household name. Charleston native Bob Lynn enjoys a national reputation as a newsroom miracle worker known for transforming mediocre picture coverage into award-winning photojournalism.
He credits his success to a management approach based on the Golden Rule, motivating good work through encouragement and mutual respect.
A journalism degree from Marshall ultimately led to a reporting and photographer stints at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Los Angeles Times.
But he found his true niche as a director of news photography. He spent three years as graphics editor at The Charleston Gazette where he revamped the photo department, redesigned the paper and engineered an era of photographic excellence.
During his 17-year tenure at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, the paper won virtually every prestigious photojournalism award imaginable.
Now, he's sharing what he learned in a book, "Vision, Courage and Heart," a manual of sorts for anyone involved in news photography.
At 80, he still exudes the contagious vigor and enthusiasm that marked his prize-worthy management style.
"I lived for eight years at Armour Park where Riverwalk Plaza is now. There were about 70 government-owned duplexes there.
"My dad worked at The Diamond for 35 years and eventually became manager of women's ready-to-wear. We practically lived at the store. On Sunday, when the store was closed, we would get in the package chute on the fifth floor and slide down to the basement.
"My mother's oldest brother became president of the Gazette. He was Jim and Bob Smith's father.
"We moved to the ancestral home up on Wildwood Drive, between Breezemont and Edgewood. My great-grandparents built the house in 1892. It's probably the oldest home in the valley owned by one family. That's where I live.
"I was the best artist in class through high school. I wanted to go to college and be an illustrator. The art teacher at Stonewall had gone to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and he got me in there despite my grades. In English, I averaged a D. I flunked three of six math courses.
"When I looked around at the students at Pratt, there was a Rembrandt there and a Monet over there. I didn't want to go into something that I was only going to be pretty good at.
"I let the Army draft me during the Korean War. Four days before I got my orders, they signed the Armistice, thank goodness.
"So I was going to Europe. While I was home on leave, my dad got me my first camera, a little Ansco. Going over on the ship, I took all kinds of pictures of the troops.
"I ended up playing regional basketball. That's all we did. I was spoiled rotten. Come baseball season they got me, a private, to build a baseball diamond near our facility. So I played baseball all summer. In the fall, they put me in charge of the intramural touch football league.
"The Army was fun. It helped me grow up. I got out in December of 1954.
"I decided I wanted to be an architect and applied at the University of Cincinnati. They said not with those grades. WVU turned me down. So I went to Marshall and talked to the admissions officer for an hour. I had to talk my way into Marshall to make up the grades so I could go to University of Cincinnati as a co-op student.
"I was taking bonehead English at Marshall. The instructor loved to write short stories. He said we would take one week and write short stories. I wrote one about three guys in Korea in combat. He liked it and told me not to worry about diagramming sentences and to just write short stories.
"Cincinnati finally said I could come but I would have to start as a freshman. I said no. Writing was thrilling. I decided I would go into journalism and be a reporter.
"I had to take something for a three-hour credit. I saw news photography. It looked like fun. And that's how it happened. I graduated from Marshall in January of 1959.
"My first job was at the Wilmington Morning Star in North Carolina, 19,000 circulation, in a two-man sports department. My sports editor moved to New England. They hired a young guy. We talked about how we were going to cover the big games, Duke and all those. He said we would take turns.
"He covered the first game, second game, third, fourth and fifth. I finally asked about our agreement. He said he'd never made that promise. The managing editor was standing there. With all of my diplomatic powers, I called him a lying SOB. That's when I started thinking about another job, because I didn't have one after that.
"Two days later, I got a telegram from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. I had hitchhiked to San Francisco and Los Angeles and I thought California was cool, so I wrote a letter about a job in Editor and Publisher. They'd filled that job but had another opening.
"Millie and I packed up our old station wagon and headed for California. I worked there about three months. My boss couldn't abide my creative spelling anymore. He gave me six weeks to find a job.
"I found one nearby at the Pomona Progress Bulletin, 40,000 circulation. I was there two years. Then I got a job at the Los Angeles Times as a reporter-photographer in the San Fernando Valley. After a year, I got a photographer job in the San Gabriel Valley zone for three years.
"We loved California, but we were too far from home. I wound up as a reporter-photographer in Cincinnati for five years. I worked Monday through Friday and got to write all these stories. It was a sweet job.
"To save some money, the paper eliminated that job. So I decided to get a master's. I took classes at Ohio University and kept working. It took me seven years.
"I started looking for an editor job. I was seeing all this bad management. I knew that wasn't the way to get the best out of people. It should be Sunday school stuff, treat people the way you'd like to be treated, believe in people. I wanted to do that.
"I started thinking about moving even closer to home. So why not start at home? I called Don Marsh at the Gazette.
"They said they were looking for their first picture editor. He said from the beginning, 'I don't know anything about pictures or layout, but I do know we stink. I want you to fix it.'
"At one point, the news editor went to Marsh and said, 'It's either Lynn or me.' Marsh said to him, 'Bob Lynn isn't going anywhere.' That's the kind of backing you have to have. There are people who don't want change.
"I redesigned the paper. The paper you see today is about 80 percent of that design.
"After three years, I got a call from the executive editor of the Virginia Pilot-Ledger Star. He wanted me to come down to be the chief photographer for $5,000 more in salary. I wasn't going down for that. A month later, he called back and said. 'How about director of photography and $10,000 more?' I was there 17 years.
"We did great stuff. We became arguably one of the best papers in the country for picture content and use.
"When I went down there, like here, a photographer would shoot a gangbuster picture, and it would run two columns wide on page eight. I would run it four columns on the section front. You think the photographer doesn't want to go out and do that again?
"You motivate people by respecting them. They will kill for your dream, because it's their dream, too. That Sunday school stuff works like magic.
"The title for my book is 'Vision, Courage and Heart.' First you have to have the vision. We are going to be good, maybe the best there is. Then you have to have the courage to believe in yourself. If you are a photographer who isn't doing well, and I have the courage to believe in you, then you start believing in yourself.
"The heart part is about treating people the way you'd want to be treated, a lot of positive motivation.
"Other big papers had good reports and awards on big projects. My aim was do it every day, to give readers the best you can every day.
"I retired in 1997 and we came home the following spring. I didn't start thinking about the book until 2002.
"It's not an ABC book. Do this. Do that. I tell stories and there are lessons in all of them. We did a survey of professors and got glowing replies. The reviews have been great.
"It's the only book ever written in our photojournalism profession about managing. But everybody in the profession should read this book. It's for photography directors, department heads and picture editors and also for photographers.
"I loved the newspaper profession. I loved feeling a part of something that in its own cantankerous way helps America be a better country. I loved going to work. I loved the people I worked with. Well, most of them.
"I couldn't be any more fortunate. What I've been able to accomplish, I just feel so lucky. All this recognition seems unreal for a kid from the West Side. I love the way my life went. If I drop dead in the middle of this interview, believe me, I went happy."