Pulitzer Prize winner returns to teach at his alma mater
Oct. 30, 2008
by Kelly Downs
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Four-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and RIT alumnus William Snyder is back in the RIT classroom. But this time he’s the pedagogue, inspiring future photojournalists to be passionate about their craft and their ideas.
“The work you can generate yourself and be passionate about usually ends up being your best work,” says Snyder. “I stress this to the students: generate your own stories. Find things you are passionate about. Don’t let anybody tell you not to. You may not get the okay to do it, but do it anyway.”
Snyder cites his trip to Romania in 1990 to cover the AIDS infection rate among orphans. His boss at The Dallas Morning News didn’t like his story idea, but Snyder forged ahead anyway, self-financing the trip. Snyder says that project changed him both personally and professionally, and ultimately earned him his second Pulitzer.
“These orphans were severely neglected,” says Snyder. “I kept thinking about my son in that position. And that emotional connection informed my work and made me think about things I had never thought about. It changed the way I worked from that point on. Because of all the attention generated from the Pulitzer, the Romanian government was embarrassed and cleaned up its act a little bit.”
Following graduation in 1981, Snyder landed at The Miami News for a couple years and then spent 23 years at The Dallas Morning News. The newspaper business offered him variety. Some of his numerous assignments included covering the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl, elections in Haiti and Romania, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, the ’91 coup attempt in the Soviet Union, the re-unification of Germany, seal hunting in Newfoundland, Republican Conventions and five Olympics.
Snyder and fellow RIT alumnus Ken Geiger won a Pulitzer for their sports coverage of the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, Spain.
"We had a good sense of the big stories of the day and because we controlled our schedules, unlike many of our colleagues, we were at almost all the high points of those Olympics. That was a lot of fun. And it was the first time Ken and I ever really worked that closely together.”
Now back at his alma mater teaching fulltime in the photojournalism department, Snyder hopes to grow and improve the program. He says the students motivate him to want to do better.
“The students have a knowledge and a passion that is inspiring. And it pushes me. I want to help them look at this particular area of photography in a different way than what they are used to.”
Web extra: Hear an interview with William Snyder on the RIT news podcast "Studio 86" at www.rit.edu/news/podcasts.