Interview: Rick Rodriguez

Rick Rodriguez is the first Latino president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), and the longtime executive editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Rick Rodriguez is the first Latino president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), and the longtime executive editor of the Sacramento Bee.

As part of his tenure at ASNE, he's pushing for more investigative journalism, while also weathering an ethics scandal at his own paper.

PRWeek: Do you think it's harder to do in-depth investigative work with today's financial pressures on newsrooms?

Rick Rodriguez: It's a matter of focus by individual editors. Yes, we have constraints. All newspaper companies have operational and profit goals. But editors control what they can control, and they have budgets. It's a matter of deciding how to deploy the resources. My message to editors is that it is tougher out there. There is a lot of competition. But if you can focus your resources and create a culture that fosters investigative journalism, then it's not beyond your control. And it's your decision to make.

PRWeek: How can PR pros best pitch newspapers these days?

Rodriguez: There is an opportunity to pitch more stories. People want stories that are unique and that will serve their readers in a way that makes them stand out. From a PR view, if you pitch the same story to everybody, you'll get some takers, but I'm not sure you'll get it as broadly as you could have before.

PRWeek: How do you think Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger handles the media?

Rodriguez: He's very good on his feet. He's very media-savvy and controls access to the media he wants to speak with. He also stays pretty on-message. He's funny when in front of crowds, and obviously still has some star power. In Sacramento, people still gawk when he walks by, but not as much as before. It tends to be a place where folks like celebrity, but don't go crazy over it.

PRWeek: The Bee recently had an ethics scandal when it came out that a columnist had manufactured some stories. How has this changed the newsroom, and what lessons did you learn from it?

Rodriguez: It's changed things in the [sense] that we ask tougher questions. The columns being investigated were not necessarily columns most folks would suspect. We're not talking about anonymous sourcing or about people whose names weren't identified. We're talking about people we haven't been able to authenticate, who she named by name, said she was in their house, described things that were happening in their houses, and the way they looked, what the leaves looked like, and how people smiled.

So in a normal case, editors generally have to rely on the fact that they can trust reporters to tell them the truth. Essentially, the relationship in journalism is that editors trust reporters and then the readers trust the paper. Obviously, we needed to have our guard up a little bit more.

PRWeek: Do you think in general ethics are slipping?

Rodriguez: I think people are more transparent about reporting them. I think old-schoolers who say this didn't happen back when they were editors or writers are kidding themselves. You also now have the Romenesko Poynter website, where everybody finds out about everybody. Before, somebody would be quietly ushered out the door.

Name: Rick Rodriguez

Publication: Sacramento Bee

Title: Executive editor and SVP

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