By Breanna Noble
As a college student, James Higgins covered a school shooting, earned an award for an investigative story on a student athlete overdose, and helped uncover police hiding gang activity in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
He did so without attending journalism school.
This summer the 21-year-old Los Angeles native — who goes by his middle name, Tucker — will find himself on Wall Street in New York City as he writes for TheStreet. The Dow Jones News Fund selected him as one of 18 interns from more than 120 applicants for the program.
“I think covering business is one of the most important things journalists can offer,” Higgins said. “I think where people put their money and where we spend our money in aggregate as a society tells us a lot about where our priorities are…People care where the money goes, and that’s the role of a business journalist.”
Growing up as the youngest of eight, Higgins said the lessons he learned about power and authority inspired him to go into business journalism. Having a venture capitalist mother and a father who retired from banking also helped him learn the jargon and about capitalism around the dinner table.
“I grew up with the person who had the information had control of events,” Higgins said. “I knew having information was always important, and also I was sensitive to what can be seen as injustice.”
Higgins said that became a pattern at high school and college, whether it was a much-too-expensive coffee machine or administrators concealing sexual harassment cases.
“Abuses of power touched a nerve for me,” he said. “In college, I got to explore how people use power and conceal information on a larger playing field. I think that was really fascinating.”
Although Higgins said he knew he wanted to become a journalist after writing for his high school newspaper, he wanted to study international relations and travel abroad in college. He chose the College of William and Mary in Colonial Williamsburg for a program that would give him the U.S. freshman college experience but also allow him to study at and graduate from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
“I ended up liking William and Mary so much and liking my friends so much and the college so much that I stayed,” Higgins said. “[It was] a place that I thought was a somewhat random but turned out to be a really great place to spend four years.”
Higgins made close friends in the Sandbox Improv comedy group. He performed at least once a month while on campus during his college tenure.
Writing for William and Mary’s student-run newspaper, The Flat Hat, also kept Higgins busy. The college, however, does not offer journalism courses, and The Flat Hat does not have a faculty adviser. As editor-in-chief in 2016, Higgines had to train reporters and carry administrative responsibilities.
“There were no safety nets for our newspaper,” Higgins said. “It’s influenced the way I think about journalism. It’s something that you have to do and have to do a lot and by taking risks and messing up sometimes.”
As editor, however, Higgins led The Fat Hat to a Mark of Excellence award from the Society of Professional Journalists for its in-depth coverage of a shooting at a college dorm, which beat local news outlets. He also won a third-place Pinnacle award for an investigative sports story.
Higgins said he was grateful for the balance from improv’s creativity and the newspaper’s technicality.
“In journalism, I would have the editor check every verb and every noun to make sure there was no basis to question the veracity of the sentence I’d written,” he said. “In improv, that doesn’t matter. In fact, the truth is the least important thing. You create the truth.”
Despite staying at William and Mary, Higgins did not abandon his dream to travel. In summer 2015, he traveled across Europe, touring and trying the dishes of Copenhagen, Edenborough, Rome, and more. That fall, he participated in a study abroad program in Prague.
“They told me on day two that if you missed three classes, then they’d fail you,” he said. “So I opted to fail.”
He spent the time developing his photography skills. Higgins met a fellow photographer, and they traveled throughout Prague for the semester.
During summer 2016, Higgins earned a fellowship through his college to work part time at New York Magazine, covering gender issues, art, and movies.
“Tucker was an eager and enthusiastic intern,” said Kaitlyn Jessing-Butz, the magazine’s online deputy managing editor. “He was reliably cheerful and willing to tackle any task, and I could always be confident that he would turn in high-quality work. “
On the other days, Higgins worked at Buyouts Insider, which covers private equity, venture capital, and insurance marketplaces across the globe.
Buyouts’ Executive Editor David Toll said Higgins was hardworking and eager to help in whatever capacity he could. Toll said Higgins got the photo archives into “ship-shape” and did research on several prominent private equity professionals.
One individual was David Morgenthaler, the founder of Cleveland-based Morgenthaler Private Equity Partners. Higgins quickly helped pull together details on his life after he died in June.
“David did in fact pass away, and we ran an obituary in Buyouts Magazine based on Tucker’s work,” Toll said. “While David was 96, we had no indication his death was imminent.”
Higgins said his time at Buyouts grew his interest in business journalism. He said he learned about the connection between public and private institutions and the people they affect, especially concerning teacher pensions.
Higgins will return to New York for a weeklong business journalism seminar and his internship on Saturday after hiking through Iceland and trying the seafood for five days with his parents to celebrate his graduation.
“I want to write about business every day,” Higgins said. “And I want to learn it from the pros.”