By Julia Martinez
James Rodriguez, a 20-year-old Austin native, pitched his first story idea as a sophomore in high school: a six-mile race to the capitol.
Armed with his recorder and fueled by adrenaline rushes from talking to complete strangers, Rodriguez shed his shyness and embraced the life of a journalist. He interviewed people who ran the race as a tradition and quirky characters like a hungover Batman.
James is now on his way to spend a summer reporting for the Austin Business Journal. For a week as part of an internship with the Dow Jones News Fund, Rodriguez will head to New York University with a small group of interns for a crash course in business reporting.
Rodriguez was shocked when he received a call from Garry Howard with American City Business Journals.
“I just knew that the caliber was so high for the types of students that they admitted,” he said. “It was one of the best feelings ever.”
Destined for UT
Growing up, Rodriguez spent plenty of time on UT’s campus because his parents both graduated from there. He now majors in business honors and plan II, an interdisciplinary liberal arts major, and writes on the side.
At the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, his high school, Rodriguez was a sports editor his junior year and as a senior became one of the editor-in-chiefs of The Liberator. He learned about his love for feature writing and attended a journalism conference on campus, a memory that sticks in his mind.
“I picked up the Daily Texan, and I said this is what I want to write for,” he said.
His freshman year at UT, he walked into the Daily Texan newsroom and asked to be on staff. As a trial assignment, he wrote a recap of the first football game and was later assigned to the rowing beat, something he quickly learned about. He focused on writing features on athletes and easily slid into the life and arts beat his sophomore year with more autonomy in pitching stories.
“I met this grandmother who, after her husband died, she got into Ferrari racing,” he said.
The grandmother, in her sixties, showed up to their interview in full racing gear.
“That’s always why I’ll love journalism, (it’s an) opportunity to talk to people and get their stories,” he said.
As his editor, Danielle Lopez, 22, said Rodriguez was a great writer from the moment they met and only kept getting better. Even after she had left the paper, she was impressed by his series on gentrification in East Austin. As a writer, he became more confident, she said.
“My favorite thing about Jamie is his maturity,” Lopez said. “(H)e’s just an extremely eloquent, thoughtful, competent and easy-to-talk-to person.”
Although Lopez wished Rodriguez picked up the life and arts editor role, spring of sophomore year the sports information director at UT contacted Rodriguez, offering him a job. Rodriguez worked as a writer for UT athletics, writing game recaps and features, fact-checking and researching during his junior year.
Love for journalism
At UT’s first sports press conference that year, Rodriguez was more excited to see journalists covering the conference than the team itself. Rodriguez was star struck by Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden, sports columnists for the Austin American-Statesman.
“As a kid, I’d turn to the sports section to see what they had to say that day,” he said. “Those are the guys that I had grown up wanting to be.”
Rodriguez now understands the value of sports journalism, but still considers himself a feature writer, although his current focus is business journalism. With his business knowledge, paired with his love of feature writing, Rodriguez hopes to look at the human-interest side of business this summer.
He wants to break down complicated issues, get more experience in a professional newsroom and see how business touches every aspect of people’s lives.
“As long as I can be telling people’s stories and creating content that will actually benefit people’s lives and make them more interested in something, or educate them on something,” he said, “I think I’ll be happy.”