Fit to Print
New York Times national correspondent Rick Rojas ’10 draws from his natural curiosity to tell some of the nation’s biggest stories in real-time.
Written by Bailey Payne ’19
Illustration by Mike McQuade
Usually, Rick Rojas ’10 is the one asking questions, not answering them. As a national correspondent for The New York Times covering the American South, he utilizes interviews to gather information and provide a grounded, human touch to increasingly overwhelming stories. During the past year, Rojas covered the COVID-19 pandemic, a wave of massive political protests and a Senate-swinging special election in Georgia.
Fresh off a move from Atlanta to open the paper’s new bureau in Nashville, Tennessee, Rojas discussed providing “all the news that’s fit to print” in a time where there seems to be too much news to fit on a front page.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY?
I grew up in Beaumont, Texas. My dad worked in an oil refinery, and he always said, “I don’t care what you do, but you have to go to college,” so that got drilled in from a young age. I first got interested in journalism writing for my high school paper.
When I was a senior, Hurricane Rita hit the town hard, and I lost a friend and a cousin later that school year. A lot of my friends were going to Texas A&M, so I decided to join them, have some stability for a year and then transfer somewhere else. But when I arrived on campus, I quickly found a place for myself writing for The Battalion newspaper and came to appreciate the university in ways I never expected.
DESCRIBE YOUR WORK REPORTING FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES.
My current beat is the American South, and I covered the Southwest, religion and metro beats previously. A lot of what I do is driven by news and events. In calmer times, there’s room for enterprise journalism, which is when the reporter writes about an idea or discovery of their own, but I haven’t had many opportunities to do that recently.
YOUR WORK OFTEN REVOLVES AROUND POLARIZING SUBJECT MATTER. HOW DO YOU APPROACH STORIES WITH SENSITIVE TOPICS?
It takes a lot of reporting and critical thinking to put the story in context. There’s far more research than what you see directly cited in the story. The Times sets a high bar for reporters to not just deliver basic information, but to also convey why it matters to the reader. Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.
WHERE DOES TEXAS A&M FACTOR INTO YOUR LIFE AND CAREER NOW?
Texas A&M and the College of Liberal Arts gave me a foundation, community and structure during a challenging point in my life. I was given a platform to write and learn the news industry. It was the first time in my life where I had to step outside of my comfort zone, and I gained a sense of perspective that I still carry with me today.
When George H.W. Bush died, I emailed my editor at the Times and said, “Hey, why don’t I write a story about Bush’s connection to the university?” It’d been years since I was in Aggieland as a student, but as I was writing the piece, I still felt connected to the school. I think that connection is something Mr. Bush and I had in common.
WHAT STORY OF YOURS STANDS OUT FROM THE REST AS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE?
During a trip to Arizona, I found a real estate listing for an old nuclear missile silo in Roswell, New Mexico, and I wrote my first front-page story about it. Whenever you make the front page for the first time, The New York Times gives you the plate from the press run with that page on it as tradition. I have that framed now.
It wasn’t an “important” story by any stretch, but it was the kind of story I like to tell. I drifted toward journalism because it offers an opportunity to learn, be curious and soak up the world around me. That story was deeply meaningful and cool.
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ABOUT RICK ROJAS ’10
Rick Rojas ’10 is a national correspondent for The New York Times based in Nashville. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2010 and has also reported for The Dallas Morning News, the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. He was also part of the Times Student Journalism Institute, where he helped train and mentor minority student journalists.
Originally published here by the Texas A&M Foundation.