How does one become a professional photojournalist at the Standard-Examiner?
For Samantha Madar, who just started working at the newspaper on Friday, it all started with a bright pink camera.
“I struggled in school when I was little, but then I got my first camera,” Madar says, before remembering, “Well, I had a Barbie camera when I was really little.”
After that first camera, Madar (pronounced “muh-DAR”) would begin dabbling in photography. She started shooting sports images of her older sister, who like so many in their extended family, excelled at athletics. (Madar herself was not too shabby at basketball, volleyball, softball and golf.)
“When I was a freshman in high school, classes got out at whatever time it was, and practice wasn’t until 5,” she said. “So we’d wander around the high school and I’d take pictures of my friends being weird.”
That led to a stint with the high school yearbook, and an eventual interest in photojournalism.
“I didn’t even know what photojournalism was until my senior year in high school,” Madar admits. “In high school we had to take these career tests. It always said I should be either a stunt double or a firefighter.”
The now-25-year-old quickly took to photography, studying at Central Michigan University and earning internships at four separate media outlets in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Madar was named the 2016 Michigan College Photographer of the Year by the Michigan Press Photographers Association; she graduated from CMU the following year.
Late last month, Madar was on her way to yet another newspaper internship — her fifth, this one in Cody, Wyoming — when she was waylaid by the Standard-Examiner.
Madar and her mother (who was along to help with her daughter’s move) were driving through the Black Hills on their way to Wyoming. We’ll let Madar pick up the rest of the story, from a Facebook post on Feb. 28:
“CHANGE OF PLANS! Tuesday I was headed to Wyoming for an internship and by 3pm in Deadwood, South Dakota everything changed. I was offered a job Tuesday evening and by Wednesday morning I was offered a second! Wednesday I had to make the most difficult decision of my life! But I am happy to say YOUR GIRL IS OFFICIALLY A STAFF PHOTOJOURNALIST!! I accepted a full-time position at the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah! I cannot believe my dream to be a staff photojournalist has finally become true and in true Sammy style, in the most unconventional way! Thank you to my amazing momma for dealing with all this craziness! Now onward to Utah!!”
Madar is originally from the tiny town of St. Johns, Michigan. She basically grew up in the middle of nowhere.
“We don’t even have Wi-Fi or stuff like that at our house,” she said.
The other full-time job Madar was offered on that fateful Tuesday in Deadwood? It was at a newspaper in Michigan, just three hours from her parents’ home. But after talking it over with family, friends and mentors, Madar chose Utah and the Standard-Examiner.
“Being home would be nice, but being here would be a dream,” she explained. “So we changed course, added four hours to our drive, and came to Utah.”
Truthfully, Madar admits the safe bet would have been the Michigan job. It’s close to home, all her friends and family are there. And Madar had never even set foot in Utah.
Besides, the apartment Madar had waiting for her in Wyoming was fully furnished. But here in Utah?
“All I brought was clothes,” she said. “My bed — and everything else — was back home in Michigan.”
So then, why choose the Standard-Examiner?
“It’s worth it, the risk of trying something new,” Madar said. “I’ve always wanted to live on the west side of the country. We don’t have mountains in Michigan.”
Madar also likes the idea of working in a college town, with college sports. Because Madar’s first love is still sports photography.
Now, when we say “sports photography,” it’s not exactly what you’d think. While Madar is no slouch when it comes to the on-field action, it’s the activity swirling around the game where she particularly excels.
“Everybody can take a photo of somebody dribbling a basketball down a court, but to recognize and capture the emotions — that emotion is what makes it so special,” she said.
Madar remembers playing sports back in high school, and the things that really mattered to her as an athlete.
“I barely remember the scores, and if we won or lost,” she said. “The things I remember more were the teammates, the friendships, the things I learned, and the stuff we went through.”
That’s what Madar hopes to capture as a photographer at the Standard-Examiner.
And not just in the sports pages. She hopes to use her photos throughout Northern Utah to make newspaper readers think, to touch their emotions or change their point of view.
Says Madar: “Having a career where I can tell people’s stories? And having people trust me to let me into their lives? There’s nothing like it.”