Roughly six years ago, Christian Lee gained The Alestle’s attention as a student photographer. Now, he has garnered the recognition from big name publications, most recently, that of Rolling Stone.
In the professional world, Lee worked as a photographer for various news sources, but he got his work published in Rolling Stone thanks to social media.
“I had done a lot of internships and had met a lot of people. There are editors from the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times, and they shared my work I did, or like and tweet about it and put it on Facebook, and it leads into other opportunities,” Lee said. “Rolling Stone saw it on social and wanted to purchase the usage rights, and they sent over their info.”
The project featured in Rolling Stone was inspired, in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic, and from Lee’s personal life.
“The project was about the students that couldn’t go to prom because of the pandemic. What really motivated me was my cousin, who didn’t get that opportunity. He lives out in [Los Angeles]. They just did nothing. If I was there, we would at least dress him up just to do something about it. And there were people in the neighborhood who wanted that same opportunity,” Lee said. “That inspired me to document other students who didn’t go to prom. [They] needed that opportunity to show out. Doing that once in a while is good for morale, and good for people.”
Because of his connection to the story, Lee cared greatly about it. According to Lee, that is incredibly important to his work.
“I started working on the project because I was passionate. There’s a difference between working on an assignment, and just doing something because you’re passionate about it,” Lee said. “Do what’s required at your job, but remember to submit those ideas that you’re passionate about.”
Lee said working with The Alestle gave him chances to explore his passions, like his coverage of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests in 2014. He said the two best parts of the job were the experience he gained and how versatile student journalism was.
“To be honest, [that] was one of my first journalism jobs. I really had an opportunity,” Lee said. “My biggest thing I learned was planning. As a student journalist, you have to plan around your studies and still get your work done. It wasn’t just a nine-to-five [job], it was all very flexible for getting stuff done.”
Specifically, the most useful skill Lee said he learned at The Alestle was preparing for interviews. He also said he was grateful for the stress that courses at SIUE added to his life.
“Some people spend more time trying to execute than to plan,” Lee said. “It is so important to find out about [your subject], find their resume. That’s the planning part of the job. The skill I ultimately learned was planning, on a basic level, around studies, but now … if you can plan around your studies and still do stories, you’re going to be fine.”
Lee said the most important advice for any aspiring journalist would be to develop themself as much as they develop their writing.
“When you sit down at an interview, [the interviewers] really want to know your passions. Anyone can go to a job and write. But when they hire you, they buy you,” Lee said. “Your work should be an indication of who you are. If you’re producing work that isn’t who you are, you won’t be memorable.”
For more information about Lee and his work, visit Lee's website.