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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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Hodgson photographing a Marco Rubio event in Largo, Florida. Photo credit: Melissa Lyttle. Hodgson photographing a Marco Rubio event in Largo, Florida. Photo credit: Melissa Lyttle.

Ask an Aztec: Sam Hodgson

Sam Hodgson is a photojournalist working for the New York Times currently covering the campaigns of several presidential candidates.
By SDSU News Team

Sam Hodgson graduated from San Diego State University in 2006 with degrees in journalism and political science. After graduation, he worked as a county government reporter at the San Diego Daily Transcript before landing a job at the online, non-profit news organization Voice of San Diego as a photographer and web editor.

After leaving VOSD in 2011, Hodgson began freelancing for national news organizations including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg. He is now a freelance photojournalist in New York City, working primarily for The New York Times. In his rare time off, he plays guitar, asks strangers probing questions and hangs out with his cats.

1. Tell us the highlights of your professional career. What are your proudest achievements?

Being a photojournalist has afforded me so many amazing opportunities. When I was just beginning to get interested in photography, my mother gave me a book titled "Truth Needs No Ally," which is sort of a handbook for how to be a respectable, professional photojournalist and what that will mean for your life. She told me that if I took that career path: "you could have an all-access pass to life" and I truly feel like that's what I have now.

These past few years, I've had the chance to cover American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown, I have worked inside shelters to show the state of New York City's homeless services and I've shot so many of the big storms, protests and other huge national events that happen in New York City.

My current assignment is what a lot of journalists go to school dreaming they will get to do: covering the presidential election for The New York Times. So far I've done a 20-day stint in Iowa covering the campaigns of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. And I just got off a 2-week swing traveling throughout Super Tuesday states with Bernie Sanders. It's been exhilarating, exhausting and illuminating all at once. As I write this I’m on the Sanders’ press bus traveling somewhere (no idea where exactly) in Florida.

2. If you were to give current SDSU students some professional advice, what would you say?

Be nice to people, work harder than everyone else and don’t be afraid to fail. There are so many talented photographers in the world but I think one of the things that keeps me working consistently is that my editors know that when they assign me, I will put all of myself into the assignment. And I’m willing to take chances to make a unique picture. It doesn’t always pan out and there are plenty of times I get beat by other photographers. But without taking those chances, I could never provide my own vision of the world.

3. How do you stay connected to SDSU?

For five years, while I was still in San Diego, I taught courses on photography in SDSU’s College of Extended Studies and was able to pass on a lot of what I’ve learned in the field to SDSU students and a lot of mid-career professionals trying to update their skills. Now that I’m in NYC, it’s a bit tougher to stay as involved but I still take part in the Aztec Mentorship program and work on a cycling basis with different students to help them further their learning and develop as young journalists. Part of me does this because it’s important to give back to the place that launched my career but frankly, I get so much out of these experiences. Teaching and mentoring helped me really hone in on why I do things the way I do them.

4. Why did you choose SDSU?

To be completely honest, I kind of arrived at SDSU because when I graduated high school, I didn’t really have any direction about what I wanted from life, so I just wanted to stay close to home to figure things out. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I say this because I think it’s important for students to know that if they’re just kind of in college because they think they’re supposed to be and they don’t know quite where it’s all headed at this point, that’s OK. I became a Journalism major at SDSU because I was terrible at everything but writing in high school. When I was 17 and started at SDSU, I thought I would join a band and tour the world playing music. My how things have changed.

5. What’s your favorite college memory?

My favorite memory is really the first time I walked into The Daily Aztec. It was the first time I really felt the bustle of a newsroom and it was electrifying. I’ve never looked back since that day.

6. Who was your favorite professor and/or what was your favorite class?

I had a lot of great professors over my time, but my Journalism 220 class with Joe Spevak really stands out. He taught us the basics of journalism — AP style, including the 5 Ws, how to write inverted pyramid, but more than anything, he challenged us how to ask the right questions. It was a special type of laser focus he wanted to instill in us that I try to carry with me to this day.

7. What experiences at SDSU helped you grow professionally?

The first time I ever touched an SLR camera was because I wanted to get floor access to the basketball games. The photo editor at the time, Derrick Tuskan, got me a credential and let me use one of the paper’s cameras. I was hooked right away. At first I think I just liked the feel of the camera and the access it allowed me. But eventually I started to love using the camera as a storytelling tool even more than the pen.

8. Who was your “SDSU family?” What clubs, organizations or teams were you a part of?

The Daily Aztec was definitely a big one and there are still a few folks I keep in touch with from that time. There is something so unique about a college newspaper experience that really isn’t replicated once you’re out in larger news markets. There’s a camaraderie you develop when you, as a small team, are able to put out a product every day and (most days) call it a product you’re proud of.

On the Campaign Trail with an Aztec