Defenders Newsletter: Behind the camera with photojournalist Josh Saunders; plus, a big award

KSAT investigative photojournalist Josh Saunders, a member of the KSAT 12 Defenders
KSAT investigative photojournalist Josh Saunders, a member of the KSAT 12 Defenders (KSAT)

Editor’s note: This newsletter was sent to subscribers last week. To get early access to content like this, subscribe to the free KSAT 12 Defenders newsletter here.

Good afternoon, and welcome to the KSAT 12 Defenders newsletter! Today, we’re taking you behind the scenes to get to know investigative photojournalist Josh Saunders.

But first, I want to let subscribers in on some great news that is soon to go public: the Defenders 2020 investigative special “Broken Blue: Misconduct at the San Antonio Police Department ” has won another major award, this time a Silver Showcase Award for Enterprise and Innovation in Journalism from the Headliners Foundation.

You can find more information about this early-access announcement for Defenders newsletter subscribers at the bottom of this email (and thank you for reading!). Without further ado, meet Josh Saunders.

Off-Camera: Meet Josh Saunders, KSAT Defenders team member

Editor’s note: The ‘Off-Camera’ feature will provide newsletter readers with behind-the-scenes glimpses of the people and work that make KSAT’s investigations a reality.

Josh Saunders (KSAT)

Joshua Saunders is NOT a photographer.

Don’t get me wrong: He does excel at it, capturing scenes both beautiful and sometimes haunting in their clarity.

No, what Saunders IS, is something grander, something far more important and necessary than an interesting angle or color, because Josh Saunders is a ‘photojournalist’ in an investigative reporting team.

It’s not an easy job and demands some unusual skills.

Take timing: Saunders has the situational awareness of a bodyguard (and at 6′4″, he could easily pass for the real thing.)

That means knowing in sometimes crowded and chaotic moments, where to be at all times: When to get close, get left, get right, “no, no, no, back off,” all while keeping the shot just right, zooming in, zooming out.

Because if something crucial gets said, an interview subject tells a tale with a glance, fixes a frozen stare, or just falls apart, in “the Industry,” the standard is painfully clear: “If it ain’t on-camera, it never happened.”

Another needed quality: Patience.

This being ‘investigative’ TV sometimes means there’s ‘surveillance’ needed. But no “Barnaby Jones” episode here with the detective watching from the front seat of his sedan, clear as the day, with his sport jacket only mildly creased.

No, try days and days of that 6′4″ Saunders frame jammed in the back of a small SUV, windows tinted, curtains drawn, with his camera in pause and the air-conditioner off. Watching, watching, watching for something to happen.

Food? Probably not.

A bathroom? Not a chance.

But Saunders says, in the end, it’s worth it.

Like: “People were dealing on the parking lot” of a business complex. And there’s Josh, hidden in the back of his vehicle, recording all of it. “We’re having people selling drugs from out of the cars, right next to us.”

So you may be asking yourself, how does anyone end up in a job like this? Josh’s answer is simple.

“I’m passionate about music.”

Stay with me now.

As a boy, he trained in classical guitar, which led to an interest in audio recording technology. That led to a college major in communications, which required Josh to take a videography course.

And. He. Loved. It.

Soon he was making and editing short films. His teachers spotted his talent and that was that.

So why news?

“I was just out of college and needed a job,” he says. “I thought News was a doorway to the film industry.” He adds, with a chuckle, “I could NOT have been more wrong.”

Even so, Saunders says he has few regrets. As photojournalist/editor he gets to control the look of everything he shoots and put it together in the edit bay with his usual, meticulous perfectionism, a process that he describes as simply “fun.”

“The computer is my tapestry,” he says, “and I want to make things, I want to be original and not tread on things that other people have done.”

Yet, like many who found themselves in this line of work, Josh Saunders discovered a reward that comes with all of the obstacles, discomforts, and boredom: Helping the powerless.

“I think the most satisfying part of the job for me is being able to shed a light on people or organizations who, for whatever reason, feel that they can take advantage of others. I think that’s probably the best part of the deal for me,” he said.

See some of Josh’s greatest hits below:

“Broken Blue” Awarded 2020 Headliners Foundation Prize for Enterprise and Innovation

Defenders Special: 'Broken Blue'

The KSAT Defenders have won a Silver Showcase Award for Enterprise and Innovation in Journalism for “Broken Blue: Misconduct in the San Antonio Police Department,” a one-hour special that aired in January and June of 2020.

The journalism foundation looks at entries and awards entries from digital, broadcast, magazine, and newspaper – and highlights the stories for their “impact on government, public policy, or the conduct of a business, nonprofit, or other organization.”

Headliners Foundation judges cited reporters Dillon Collier and Tim Gerber for their work on “Broken Blue,” which examined a 10-year pattern of misconduct with SAPD and the questionable protections officers get when being internally investigated. It also revealed how officers who had been terminated for their behavior often got their jobs back either by pressure from the local police union or by appealing to an independent adjudicator.

The Foundation’s news release said: “The one-hour news special sparked changes in San Antonio including citizen demands to remove excessive job protections for officers, a citizen’s campaign to repeal some of those state laws, and the mayor promising to roll back officer protections in the next collective bargaining agreement.”

Watch the full one-hour special here.

Thank you for reading,

David Raziq, Executive Producer

Find the latest Defenders investigations below:

About the Author:

David Raziq is the executive producer for the Defenders investigative team.