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Alumni Story: Through the Lens of a Photojournalist

By Katie Sigeti ’06, philanthropy manager, alumni programs
Sam Hodgson ’02 shares his experiences as a photojournalist.
The critical function of journalism has never been more apparent in today’s world. As a photojournalist, Sam Hodgson ’02 has played a vital role in sharing news stories relevant to our local community in San Diego and those of importance on the national stage.
After graduating from San Diego State University with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science in 2006, Sam worked briefly as a reporter for the San Diego Daily Transcript. He then became the first staff photographer at Voice of San Diego, where he worked for five years before branching out as a freelance photojournalist. 
Being a freelancer has its advantages. Sam moved to New York City in 2014 and freelanced full-time for The New York Times, traveling around the nation covering a range of stories, including Hurricane Irma, Girls Scouts Troop 6000 (for homeless girls) and the 2016 presidential election. 
Sam’s journey led him back to San Diego, where he joined the staff at The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2020, managing the team of staff and freelance photographers before being promoted to director of photography and video.
Sam’s interest in photojournalism piqued around the time he was graduating from college when his mother bought him a book, Truth Needs No Ally, by Howard Chapnick. “She knew that I was very interested in the boots on the ground aspect of reporting,” he says. “I liked being out in the field learning more about the world around me. Reporting provided that but not nearly the same way that photojournalism did. She said to me, ‘I think this could be an all-access pass to life.’ She was right. Always listen to your mother.”
Sam recently returned to LJCDS as an alumni speaker for the annual Career Day in February. During a breakout session, when a student asked him about his most important piece of work, he shared, “I would say that I’m doing it right now. My career in the field has been very fulfilling, but what I’m doing right now at the U-T is overseeing our efforts to hold a mirror up to the community through visual journalism. I have a team of photographers, videographers and editors who I work with to try to bring the humanity of our community’s stories front and center.”
Sam believes that he’s at his best when he’s helping his team do their best. “That means something different every day,” he explains. “I really enjoy the rewards and challenges of mentoring other journalists and helping them grow and fulfill their visions. I like doing anything and everything I can to make for a strong community of visual storytellers in our community, whether that’s with U-T staff, freelancers, or even others who may never work at the paper.”
At LJCDS, Sam played on the roller hockey team, sang in Madrigals and contributed to The Palette, the school newspaper. Reflecting on his years as a student, Sam credits a few key factors as integral to his path. “First, I think the spirit of community service that LJCDS instills in its students made me a very civic-minded human,” he shares. “I also think my teachers at LJCDS just did such an incredible job of building us into strong writers and communicators. When you break journalism down to its simplest form, we are just professional communicators. We gather, distill and disseminate information. LJCDS set me up well for the career I have now.”
Outside of work, Sam is all about family. “When I’m not committing acts of journalism, I can usually be found with my two amazing daughters Ellis (almost 4) and Greer (5 months) and my wife, Hailey. After a long day or week of all of the heavy doses of reality journalism has to offer, it’s rejuvenating to be with my family.”
Sam summed up the meaning of his life’s work in the following Career Day statement to Upper School students: 
In his career, he’s had the opportunity to photograph popes and presidents. He’s stood in front of 40-foot walls of flames in raging wildfires and been right in the thick of riots and hurricanes. He’s embedded himself in the lives and homes of total strangers from all walks of life. The experiences, while often stressful and difficult, have provided him with a complex and beautiful mental mosaic of the world around him, enabled by the all-access pass to life that a career in photojournalism grants a person. Through it all, the greatest privilege of work has been documenting his own community here in San Diego. 

Photos from Sam’s Instagram

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