The Casey Interviews: April Saul

April 30, 2012

Some journalism is so well done—the writing so compelling and clear, the topic and context so important and the story so responsibly reported—that, well, it deserves a medal. The annual Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism honor the best written, photo and multimedia journalism covering children and families. They are awarded by the University of Maryland Journalism Center on Children and Families and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

So what's it like to be a judge for this prestigious award? To have the honor (and pressure) of selecting the 11 winners?

SparkAction's Alison Waldman had an opportunity to find out. She spoke with several of the judges of the 2011 contest, who shared their thoughts about what we should be reading, what makes a great and responsible story, and where this type of journalism is headed. (Hint: it's not where you think.)

Our series celebrates journalism on youth and families and 2011's extraordinary winners!


Adrianne Flynn, Head Judge     |     Patrick Boyle, Magazine judge     |     Blake Morrison,  Project Series judge     |     Natalie Hopkinson, Magazine judge 



April Saul
Judge, Photojournalism category


UPDATE: We're thrilled to report that April was awarded the Photojournalism Casey Medal in 2012. See her compelling winning entry A Stray Bullet, A Shattered Life.

April Saul has been a photojournalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer for over 30 years, often writing stories to accompany her images.  Her honors include a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and numerous awards from organizations like the National Press Photographers Association and World Press Photo.  When SparkAction's Alison called her up, they quickly got into a conversation exploring the nitty-gritty of the coexistence of photojournalism with other mediums.



Alison Waldman: What’s happening with photojournalism these days? Why is photojournalism important for the children and families beat?

April Saul:  I think the wonderful thing about photojournalism is that it puts a human face on problems that a lot kids are dealing with. I think that’s the strength and power in it. Words can do the same, but photos can really create portraits of people suffering who need help. Children and families are really vulnerable in our society--especially kids. My best day at work is when I can take pictures or even write something that help people understand each other better. That’s my goal as a photojournalist, because you can show people things that they wouldn’t normally see.

"My best day at work is when I can take pictures or even write something that help people understand each other better."

To give you an example, I live in a little town called Haddon Heights, population: 5,000. Six miles away from me is Camden, PA. Camden usually has the highest murder rate in the country.  I did a piece about a little boy in Camden who got shot and blinded at the age of nine. That’s six miles away, so people in my town wouldn’t have seen this story because they’re not going to drive through there.  If I can help my neighbors see the kinds of problems people are having in Camden, maybe it would help connect the dots.

If they would just give me the underclass America as my beat, that’s what I would cover,  I’m way more interested in covering people who need help than in covering anything else. Sometimes I feel like I’m not that much of a pure photographer because I don’t delight as much in making interesting images of things as I do in telling the story that I feel needs to get out there.

I will say that with last project I did, the accompanying video was even more powerful than the photo gallery.  I'm learning that video gives you a whole new tool to tell a story with, and it’s just, wow.

AW:  What are your thoughts on journalism pieces with different multimedia elements together? For example, the winning piece by Barbara Davidson had video, photo, and a written story and I found that every piece of it reflected something different.  It was really well rounded.

AS:  It's absolutely a good thing. Every time I’ve written a story and photographed it, I photographed something that couldn’t be put into words, and there were things I was able to put in the copy that couldn’t have photographed.  I really think that you can’t underestimate the power of them together. Now that news can be told with words and photo and video, things can really compliment each other.   It’s really interesting to see how they all flow together.

I do, though, really worry about the survival of American newspapers, on that note. I feel like newspapers provide a check and balance role in society that keeps corporations and politicians honest. They need to stick around.

AW:  Many with a more traditional view of news and newspapers have a fear of multimedia —that we’re moving so fast in the online direction that the traditional medium will be lost.

AS: Right! And personally, I’m a technophob. The video editing program is so daunting for me. But what news always comes down to is telling a powerful story, and multimedia just gives you another medium to choose. So, I feel like it will be alright as long as there’s still a place to tell real stories of people with problems. 

AW:  I spoke with (Chief judge) Adrianne Flynn, and one of the things she said she likes about this contest is it really inspires good work. She said, like you, that she's seeing less and less of this work in the field, and the Casey Awards bring it together and shines a really powerful light on them.

AS:  Personally, awards have been great for me to demonstrate to my editors that the story they may have discounted has more worth than they initially thought it had.  It makes you feel like you’re on the right track. I think it helps perpetuate good work that is often overlooked today.

AW: Absolutely. I think it’s like a chain reaction—you see one good thing, and more comes of it.

AS: Yes! And you don’t do a story to win an award.  That would be a bad reason to take on projects. This kind of work is pretty grueling—you really have to throw yourself into it and give up yourself.

AW:  When you were judging the photojournalism entries, did you notice any common themes that threaded the entries together, or typical kinds of topics of photo essay?

AS:   I would say economics—how bad the economy is, what people are up against, losing their homes and their jobs. Some of the others were focused on violence, but violence is connected to the economy.

AW:  Right.  That makes me think about Barbara’s piece and your own piece about shootings, and that those tragic stories tend to be about people who are also suffering economically.  You can see how it’s all connected.

AS: Yes. When I did my piece, there were people who wanted to move out of the neighborhood in fear that they were in danger, but they couldn’t afford to.

People think that you can minimize your exposure or your chances to something horrible like that happening to by doing this or that, or what time of night it is.  And yet, really, there are people who are vulnerable to violence just because of the neighborhoods they are living in.  They’re forced to live in these areas because that’s all they can afford.  I think Barbara’s piece spoke to that.  It can be random, but poor people are going to run into this more than anyone else. So, maybe it’s not so random. It’s awful.


Images from Barbara Davidson's "Caught in the Crossfire", Winner of Casey Award Photojournalism category.
All photos copyright, 2011, Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with permission.

AW: I've heard it's best for young journalists to hone skills in one area to avoid the "one man band" in field, since having one person be responsible for all mediums isn't so great for journalism. Do you agree?

AS: Well, it’s not optimal.  But as staffing decreases, papers really do want you to do more than one thing.  So, I would advise people to hone as many communication skills as you possibly can. I’m a photographer and a writer, and I can do both pretty well, and that's been good for me these days.  It’s really an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation now that budgets are low. So, photographers at my paper are often asked to make videos.  But when that happens, it’s nice to have an editor and collaborator the same way you have an editor for photos or writing.

Actually, It's funny, I never really thought about that until I’m saying it out loud to you right now.  Why wouldn’t you want an editor for a video just like you do for everything else?  I’m going to use this in the office!  It’s really true!   So, I would definitely say to know how to do as much as you can, but keep an eye out for collaborators, because you need them!


Adrianne Flynn, Head Judge     |     Patrick Boyle, Magazine judge     |     Blake Morrison,  Project Series judge     |     Natalie Hopkinson, Magazine judge 


Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial Assistant at SparkAction.  Email her at alison[at]


Alison Beth Waldman