Risk and adventure key ingredients for award-winning journalism
The first book Dave Tacon ever read was Tintin and you could be forgiven for thinking it had a lasting effect on his life. Tacon has become a travelling journalist in search of adventure, living life from one story to the next.
“Except Tintin wasn’t a very good journalist. I don’t think he ever filed a story,” Mr Tacon says.
Mr Tacon recently won the 2012 Walkey Award for Best Freelance Journalist.
The folio submitted for consideration to the judges included stories filed from Lebanon, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. He has previously worked in many other countries including Italy, Burma, Thailand, Japan and USA.
Journalism wasn’t the career he was planning when studying German and film theory in his Bachelor of Arts degree, although he believes his education gave him important skills and discipline he would find valuable when his career started to take shape.
“In an Arts degree you have to write a lot. I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I still find staring at a blank screen a terrifying thing,” he says.
Mr Tacon took his first step towards journalism when he travelled to Berlin for a student exchange placement at Freie Universitaet. He returned to Melbourne to complete his Honours thesis then went back to Germany as soon as he could to search for work.
He found employment in Road Movies studio run by acclaimed director and documentary maker Wim Wenders. While working in production offices and on set as a translator, he learned, mainly through trial, error and persistence, how to use a camera.
“My studies of film theory and composition and how movies are made proved to be very useful. My Arts degree introduced me to the work of some great filmmakers whose work continues to influence my photography,” he says.
He stayed in Berlin for two years and then flew to Hong Kong where he worked for three months, gaining valuable experience as a photographer’s assistant. Then he came back to Australia and worked in a professional studio run by photographer David Simmonds, who would become his mentor.
“Working with a professional photographer was like an apprenticeship for me. Doing work like photographing live bands, which was a great way to learn photography due to fast, unpredictable movement and low light, helped hone my skills.”
In 2004 what seemed an unfortunate development launched his career in journalism.
“I travelled to Sierra Leone in 2004 with my friend who was a human rights lawyer with some journalism experience to cover the war crimes tribunal. We had an agreement – I would do the photography and he would write the stories,” he says.
After filing one story with a newspaper in Scotland, his friend became involved in other important work and was unable to continue writing the stories.
“So I decided to write a story myself to ensure my photographs would be published. I had invested a great deal in the trip, both financially and emotionally, and I wanted to make sure that people saw my photographs.”
The article was published in The Age on Boxing Day 2004, and was his first published piece of journalism.
“It was my first article apart from film reviews I wrote for Farrago many years ago,” he says.
Mr Tacon has continued travelling the world, providing written and photographic content for his stories. One of the articles submitted to the Walkley Awards was about an Indonesian community making a living finding recyclable items in an 80-hectare garbage heap.
“These stories give a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t have one. It’s about looking at issues and stories that are under-reported or not reported at all.”
The adventure is another motivation. He likes to live his life in three months cycles, completing set tasks and assignments before deciding if it is time to move on.
Between stories he works as a professional photographer. In May 2012 he was in Shanghai shooting luxury and fashion events such as the launch of the Harry Winston luxury jewellery store and the Gucci fashion show.
His advice to students who would like to work towards an independent, flexible and global career is to take advantage of any opportunity the University offers them to study overseas.
“Take risks and back yourself. Yes, you could choose to go to USA or England and have a good time, but why not visit a country where they don’t speak English, such as China? Try to avoid safety and comfort,” he advises.
Some of Dave Tacon’s work, including his Walkley Award-winning articles, and photos are at:
and appear in Voice from time to time