Remembering photojournalist Alan Hagman

As KU fans go, few outmatched Alan Hagman’s devotion to his beloved Jayhawks. The Los Angeles Times photo editor had an entire room in his Long Beach, California, home decorated with KU memorabilia. His newspaper office was filled as well. He visited campus every year to attend basketball games, and he never missed a Sweet 16, Final Four or national championship game if KU was there. He also cheered KU football to victory at the Orange Bowl.

So when Hagman, j’88, died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart condition Nov. 11, 2019, his family knew the best way to honor him and his love for KU would be by creating a scholarship at his alma mater, the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

“I needed to figure out what to do to honor him,” said his sister, Dr. Jennifer Hagman, m’86. “There was no question at all we would do something at KU in the journalism school.”

The Alan Hagman Journalism Scholarship, which was first awarded in 2020, is for students who are interested in visual storytelling. Hagman’s family hopes students who receive the scholarship are inspired by the lifelong devotion that Hagman had to photojournalism.

To honor Hagman and his career, the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications is displaying an exhibit of Hagman’s photos on the second floor of Stauffer-Flint Hall. The exhibit on display throughout 2022 and is open to the public during hours when the building is open, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Early in Hagman’s life, there seemed to be no question what his career would be, as Hagman was interested in photography starting in middle school and was the lead photographer for his high school newspaper and yearbook in his hometown of Pittsburg, Kansas.

He grew up in a family of Jayhawks, with 15 family members having attended KU, and Hagman followed the tradition by being accepted into the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications. On campus his photography skills were quickly recognized, and his opportunities flourished. He was a staff photographer for The University Daily Kansan from 1984 to 1987 and the chief photographer for the KU Sports Information department. While a college student, he also freelanced for United Press International in Kansas City, the Parsons Sun and the Pittsburg Morning Sun. 

Initially, his passion was sports photography, but he was always looking for new opportunities to expand his photojournalism interests. Following the lead of another KU student, Hagman applied and was selected for a prestigious White House photo internship in 1986 covering Vice President George H.W. Bush. He worked alongside famous White House photographers David Valdez and Pete Souza, traveled with George and Barbara Bush on Air Force 2, and often photographed President Ronald Reagan. His White House experience no doubt opened the door to his next internship – with the Los Angeles Times. His talent and work ethic earned him a full-time job as a photographer, initially in the Ventura bureau, but he was promoted to the main newsroom in 2001 after his coverage of Sept. 11.

Hagman was both relentless and well-rounded in everything, noted Colin Crawford, a colleague at the L.A. Times.

“He was just great -- great at his job as a journalist and a great co-worker and a good friend, and somebody you could just rely on. Somebody that you could go to, for advice or help with almost anything,” Crawford said.

Hagman eventually shifted from a photographer to deputy director of photography. He turned down offers to move up to executive positions because he thought his position put him in a better place to support photojournalism and mentor younger photographers.

“Not only did we, photo editors, respect him,” Crawford said, “but photographers respected him and then newsroom leadership.”

Unlike so many who resisted the major changes in the world of journalism, which arose from new technology, Hagman embraced those changes. He was also an early adopter of digital photography and took a leading role in transitioning the L.A. Times from print to digital and video.

“Whether it's technology or covering the nation in the world, working on those photo stories, working with reporters, he was just a true leader in everything he did,” Crawford said.

Hagman’s work was noticed and respected outside the L.A. Times newsroom as well. Early in his career, he won the 1998 Life Magazine and Associated Press photo of the year award with a memorable photo that captured the futility of standing up to Mother Nature.

Hagman won many other awards, including several Pulitzer team photo awards and numerous Photo of the Year awards. In May of 2019, Alan and L.A. Times photographer Marcus Yam received the Robert F. Kennedy Humanitarian Award for International Photography for the project, “The Great March of the Return,” documenting Gaza/Israel border clashes. Hagman told Yam the award was the most meaningful recognition of his career.

Two years after Hagman died, he and Yam also won a National Headliner Award for the “Best in Show Photography” for Yam’s portfolio entitled “The Long Road: An Exodus from Venezuela.”

Hagman’s death left a huge gap in the L.A. Times, his colleagues said, and the newsroom lost a great teacher and leader.

“It probably took three people to do what he does,” colleague Robert St. John said. “ We hired at least two people, maybe three, to replace him.”

While his colleagues, family and friends want people to remember his work ethic and remarkable career, they also recall how he made the most of his life outside work as well.

“I think one of the envious things I have about Alan is his ability to step away from work and his ability to spend time with his family, with his sister and travel and go to concerts,” Crawford said. “I would joke with him a lot by just saying: ‘I just want your life because you really know how to live it.’” 

He had a strong passion for bourbon and barbecue, and his barbecue parties were quite well-known among his family members and colleagues.

“He was an expert,” St. John said, noting how he was always learning how to improve his knowledge of barbecue and smokers. “It was just really funny that he would start with a very small one, and then buy quite an expensive one just to learn how to do it better.”

In addition to the scholarship at the J-School, the Hagman family also established the Alan Hagman Photojournalism Grant. The $5,000 grant, which is administered by the National Press Photographers Foundation, is awarded annually and is supported by donations from Hagman’s family, friends and colleagues.

“Alan was so talented, yet very humble,” his sister Jennifer said. “He was a passionate advocate of the free press, the Los Angeles Times and the critical role of photographers in bringing national and global perspectives to Times readers. The Alan Hagman Grant will support photographers in carrying forward Alan’s dedication to the importance of photography and visual storytelling to raise awareness of issues and stories that might otherwise not be told.”

Bill Hagman, Alan’s father, is also planning to establish another scholarship at Pittsburg High School. The scholarship will serve the same purpose as the one at the KU School of Journalism.

“He was a complete journalist on so many different levels with so many different skills, and then topped that off by being a great human that really knew how to live life,” Crawford said.

Watch a video commemoration of Hagman's life and career here.

Read more about Alan in KU Giving Magazine.

Donations to the Alan Hagman Journalism Scholarship can be made to KU Endowment.