Jose Rodriguez grew up with a strong interest in writing, politics and news while living in Calgary. From there, he entered the journalism program at Mount Royal University (MRU), and accepted an internship at the Calgary Sun. Twenty-four years later, he’s the editor in chief for the Calgary Sun and the Calgary Herald, where he’s having to deal with the challenges of still churning out copy after years of newsroom downsizing.

Rodriguez moved to Calgary from Uruguay, South America at the age of eight and he hasn’t left the city since.

“I remember Pope John Paul being shot when I was in grade six and they brought us into the gym. They brought TVs in and I remember that was a news story that I had to pay attention to because somebody made me,” said Rodriguez, recalling the first big news story he saw when he was growing up.

As a result of an abundance of skills in writing and a lack of skills in math, Rodriguez decided to pursue journalism, leading him to apply to the MRU journalism program when he turned 21. However, Rodriguez didn’t have a set goal for after graduation, but wanted to obtain a degree that allowed him to play to his strengths.

Rodriguez’s first published news story came out in 1993; it was about how to winterize your kids.

“Basically we were in the middle of a cold spell. It was my first day of my practicum at the Calgary Sun, and I was working with another reporter named Mike Fisher. He did a great big story about the weather and the effects and everything else and my sidebar contribution was how to layer your children and make sure they have toques on, and there was a graphic with it.”

Rodriguez originally wanted to go to the Kelowna Daily Courier for his internship, but went on to stay at the Calgary Sun, continuing to pick up $25 shifts and cover any story they needed to add to his bylines.

“There will always be a need for objective professional journalists. I was told newspapers are dead some 25 years ago, I’m sure you guys [journalism students] are all hearing it now. And I can tell you I’ve got a pretty good career and I think that many people in your class and in journalism will also have pretty good career. So I’m an optimist.” — Jose Rodriguez.

Former longtime Canadian Press reporter Ron MacDonald was Rodriguez’s journalism professor at the time, and battled with Rodriguez on where he was going to attend at the end of the term, since the only place left was the Calgary Sun.

“I said, ‘Well I don’t want to go to the Calgary Sun,’ and he said ‘Well if you want to graduate you’ll go to the Calgary Sun.’ So I went to the Calgary Sun and I never left. That was 24 years ago.”

At the time, Rodriguez never intended to become an editor.

“All I ever wanted to do was be a reporter. I think, you know when I got here I got excited about stories, I get excited about writing. I get excited about hopping into my car and going to wherever it is that whatever it is I need to cover happens.”

Dave Dormer, a former Calgary Sun said, “Rodriguez’s background as a reporter is an advantage for those still in the newsroom. There’s a lot of times you get a boss that doesn’t understand what they’re talking about because they’ve never done it.”

Jose Rodriguez stands next to his collection of Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald issues at the office. Requirements of wearing the usual suit and tie in the workplace isn’t required on the weekends. Photo by Casey Richardson

David Blackwell, the current online content director for the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald, said, “He [Rodriguez] is pretty much up to his elbows, but is also capable of providing a detached perspective of the things that are rolling through the newsroom.”

Ninety jobs were cut countrywide during the newspaper merger in January 2016, resulting in newsrooms joining, editors being let go and re-assigned. For Rodriguez, this meant he would take over the Calgary Herald as well, putting two competing papers in the same office.

“The people who are actually doing the journalism for the Herald and the Sun… I think their work is bordering on heroic.”— Jim Cunningham

“You had people who for a long time were basically in competition with each other now working out in the same newsroom. Now here in Calgary I’m very fortunate, every single person here is a professional,” said Rodriguez. “Most of them I had worked with at some time or another because it’s an incestuous little business in that you know there’s very few of us who do what we do.”

Both papers continue to carry a large audience, and have had the challenge of producing with a significantly smaller staff with layoffs in Calgary last year.

Jim Cunningham, previously a reporter for the Calgary Herald and now a journalism professor at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), said, “that while cutting out this much editorial staff gives a chance for better revenue, those remaining have an unreasonable amount of community to cover.”

Blackwell has noticed the quality of material decline, as there is less than half the staff from when he started in 2008. In addition, Dormer stated there is an obvious limitation with what you can do when resources and staff is reduced.

“There’s very little time for reporters to investigate, to dig into things, to look for stories off the beaten path, just to sort of paint a real portrait of the community,” said Cunningham. “The people who are actually doing the journalism for the Herald and the Sun… I think their work is bordering on heroic.”

Stacks of past issues live around the office, while papers with breaking stories from past years are framed around the building, which date back to the very first issue. Photo by Casey Richardson

While Rodriguez recognizes that layoffs have had an effect, he is more focused on the stories they have run this year, breaking major news before anyone else.

“You know the way that I’ve always viewed these things is that we are a newsroom, and we have a job to do. And if we used to do it with 100 [staff] and now we do it with 50, there will be an impact,” said Rodriguez. “So we do our best every single day. We are still the biggest newsroom in this city by a lot, so that can’t be lost on any of this. We cover and break more stories than probably all the newsrooms in the city combined.”

For his own part, Blackwell wants to see an increase in journalists and resources at the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald, “because as you know, we’re outnumbered by PR people doing the spin for government or whatever corporations, about six to one.”

“There will always be a need for objective professional journalists. I was told newspapers are dead some 25 years ago, I’m sure you guys [journalism students] are all hearing it now. And I can tell you I’ve got a pretty good career and I think that many people in your class and in journalism will also have pretty good career. So I’m an optimist,” said Rodriguez.

crichardson@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Cassie Riabko and can be reached at criabko@cjournal.ca