Journalism Professor

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Rick Rodriguez, former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee, joined the faculty of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication last year. He discusses his role as the school’s first Carnegie Professor specializing in Latino and transitional news coverage.

José Cárdenas: last year ASU's Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication named Rick Rodriguez to help launch the southwest borderline program. He was named the schools first professor specializing in Latino coverage. Joining me from the school of journalism is Rick Rodriguez. Thank you for joining me on "Horizonte." it's an honor to have you here. You have a fascinating background in journalism, so let's start there.

Rick Rodriguez: Actually, I was -- started as a high school editor, but I actually grew up in Salinas, California and at a fascinating time in California's history. When Cesar Ch√°vez was organizing farm workers. It was a really historic time, all kinds of interesting stories. On my dad's side, farm workers and I worked in the fields and grew up with the kids who were the sons and daughters of the growers and all of a sudden, I was an 18-year-old student, translating for reporters and meeting Chavez for myself and that was really a turning point. To be able to watch history unfold and be part of that. It hooked me on journalism.

José Cárdenas: You went from working in the fields to attending Stanford?

Rick Rodriguez: I went to Stanford and community college for two years, and not many people transfer from community college to Stanford, but the background I got covering the united farm workers and having that journalism background helped me get into Stanford and really launch my career.

José Cárdenas: And then you were at the "The Sacramento Bee" for --

Rick Rodriguez: For 25 years, I started probably at the lowest job at the "The Sacramento Bee" and within 10 years I was the managing editor which was second in charge of the newspaper and for the last nine and a half years, executive editor. I'm proud that my fellow editors elected me to be the president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the first Latino in the history of that organization to serve as president.

José Cárdenas: What attracted you to ASU?

Rick Rodriguez: It's a program on the move; it's a program building toward the future. Under the leadership of Dean Chris Callahan and the support of Dr. Crow, they're doing incredible things. Right now, the newspaper industry is in a state of flux.

José Cárdenas: Considered a dinosaur.

Rick Rodriguez: You can look at it as a dinosaur or as new opportunities for entrepreneurship. That's what A.S.U. is trying to do. The standards with that are worth saving with the future ways of delivering news.

José Cárdenas: How does the new initiative fit in?

Rick Rodriguez: You look at the demographic changes in the country and I think we have to understand the culture, the Latino culture, much better than past journalists have done. Diversity in terms of numbers isn't going to be the only way that story needs to get out. What we're trying to do is train the next generation of reporters, whether they be Latinos or not, to understand the nuances and report them to -- to the community and the culture and report in a deeper way.

José Cárdenas: Do you think that's more or less important now that we have Barack Obama as president -- people have been saying things such as, Black History Month, we don't need that anymore. We've gone beyond that. How do you respond to that?

Rick Rodriguez: I think -- I don't understand people who aren't interested in other people's cultures and I think more than ever, journalists are needed to tell that story. That needs to get out so people can understand and create communities. What I'm afraid of right now with journalism changing so much is that everybody will start looking on the web for things that reinforces their own views of the world. We need to get views of the world out there for people to study in a mass way and form a sense of community and learn about their neighbors and accept them and to build on those differences in a positive way.

José Cárdenas: And how will the initiative do that?

Rick Rodriguez: We're taking journalists and having them delve in depth in a couple of classes, and using professors from all across the A.S.U. campus, experts, to come and tell these aspiring journalists their stories and share their research with them and hopefully that will in turn get them to report stories in a more accurate and sophisticated way. 10 of those students in my graduate class will end up being selected for a program called "News 21," a summer program where they will put together in-depth stories online and will serve as a model for traditional media to look at as a new way of telling a story.

José Cárdenas: these are the programs being funded by the Carnegie Foundation?

Rick Rodriguez: Yes, and hence the Carnegie Professorship and also by the Knight Foundation. So it's joint funding.

José Cárdenas: As I understand it, it's a limited number of universities being funded.

Rick Rodriguez: There are 12 universities participating across the country. The top journalism schools in the country and it really is an honor to be selected and it's very competitive to get in to the program because of the versatility that the students are taught how to deliver stuff on video and audio and print and tell different kinds of stories it's a good opportunity to find employment for those students at a time when getting into the newspaper business isn't easy.

José Cárdenas: Each of the 12 programs have a particular area of focus?

Rick Rodriguez: Yeah, ours will be the southwest border lands and others will be -- Berkeley will look at urban issues. U.C. Berkeley. U.S.C. in Los Angeles is going to look at Latino issues in a different way than borderlands and we're looking at the American mosaic and trying to tell stories from different regions and of interest to the regions.

José Cárdenas: Can you give us an example of the kind of product students will produce?

Rick Rodriguez: We may do a story on the Colias that exist along the border that people don't know about in a great part of America. The stretch all the way from California to Texas. How do we tell those stories? We can tell stories of individual families and write stories and post them on the web and they might be picked up by pbs or maybe mainstream media.

José Cárdenas: And this is what the students will be doing?

Rick Rodriguez: This is what the students will be doing for 10 weeks, I'll be one of the professors overseeing the work at A.S.U. and we're going to have a really dynamic time.

José Cárdenas: We're going to have to end on that note. Thank you for joining us.

Rick Rodriguez: Thank you for having me.

Rick Rodriguez:ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication;

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