After more than 40 years in the news business, Rubén Rosario believes journalism is maybe more important than ever.
In 1981, Rubén Rosario had a conversation with editors at the New York Daily News, wondering if they were reluctant to have a reporter with a Latin name.
“Do I need to change my name to get a reporter’s job?” Rosario asked. “Because apparently Rosario doesn’t cut it.”
He got the job.
Rubén Rosario’s career has taken him from crime, cops, and courts in Brooklyn to the crack dens of Harlem to a long run as a featured columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Fresh from Fordham University in 1976, he snagged a job as a copyboy at the New York Daily News – the newspaper he’d grown up reading. Copyboys not only carried stories from reporters to copy editors; they fetched coffee, sandwiches and beer for those people. And placed their bets on the day’s horse races. It wasn’t exactly journalism.
In short order, Rosario worked his way up to a job as a sport tabulator – somebody who worked late at night compiling sport results from across the country.
But he wanted more. He wanted to be a reporter. On his own time, without pay, he wrote 50 stories about Latin music and street gang culture. Then he confronted his editors and wound up working tough crime stories as a cops and courts reporter in Brooklyn and Manhattan for 11 years.
“It’s one of the best jobs in the news business,” he said. “There’s a story everywhere. It’s like a stage. It’s a morality play every day.”
One of Rosario’s most talked-about stories involved a trip to a crack den in 1986.
“Crack cocaine was devastating communities in New York, especially disenfranchised communities,” he said. “I wanted to do more to cover this crack cocaine epidemic and the impact it was having on the city.”
That led Rosario on an undercover venture into a Harlem crack den.
“There were six or seven people standing in a circle passing a crack pipe around. They included two young women in their 20s,” Rosario said, “maybe both of them pregnant.”
What should I do as a reporter, should I smoke, he asked himself. Because technically I’d be breaking the law. Now retired, he can admit that he took a puff or two. And it didn’t lead to further use.
In 1991, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists arranged interviews for Rosario at the Seattle Times, USA Today and St. Paul Pioneer Press, which flew Rosario to Minnesota.
“I thought St. Paul was in Florida,” Rosario said. “When you live in New York City, you think you’re in the center of the universe.”
He planned on staying two or three years and returning to New York, but Rosario found that he liked the paper and the people in Minnesota.
“The major con (in Minnesota) is definitely the weather, but there’s a lot of pros: good quality of life, good schools, good place to raise a family,” he said.
Three decades later, Rosario is still in Saint Paul. After five years as city editor and head of the public safety team at the Pioneer Press, he became a featured columnist in 1997.
“Rosario was a real journalist,” Pioneer Press editor Mike Burbach said. “He knew that you had to be constructively skeptical of everything. That’s what a journalist does. A journalist checks things out and tries to find out where the facts are.
“Rosario worked hard to have contacts in the community. He went and talked to people, he listened to people, he called people he knew and didn’t know. Rubén was passionate. He cared about people who weren’t the bosses of the world.”
Rosario wrote columns about immigration, social justice and the interaction between citizens and police.
“I got quite a bit of negativity,” Rosario said.
“I learned that I had to grow a thicker skin. But in the end, if you write the truth, write with integrity, then all the criticism doesn’t matter.”
Late in his career, Rosario wrote what he called his hardest column – but also the easiest. It was about his diagnosis with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
“I got a lot of positive feedback on that,” he said. “I got hundreds of emails and phone calls from people offering prayers and support.”
Rosario and Burbach talked about how when someone has a life-threatening illness, they learn to appreciate that every day is a gift.
“Rubén got it,” Burbach said.
When Rosario got into journalism, “newspapers were at the top of the media food chain,” he said. “That’s no longer the case. With the advent of the internet and social media, people have become their own journalists. One result has been the explosion of misinformation and disinformation. Quality journalism is more important than ever to help people sort through all of that.”
About the future of journalism, he says, “The human imagination is boundless. We have no idea how information will be delivered in the future. Maybe a microchip embedded in your brain.”
Rosario left full-time employment with the Pioneer Press in April 2020.
“The memories of more than 43 years as a full-time newspaperman rushed unimpeded inside my noggin,” he wrote in his farewell column.
“There’s no rocking chair for me yet. I’m wrapping up a book of my columns and pursuing other opportunities. I’m also grateful that I can still write an occasional column for the paper,” Rosario said.
Does he have any regrets? “None,” Rosario says. “Every story was a learning experience.”
- Name: Rubén Rosario
- Hometown: New York City
- News Organization: Retired/ freelance journalist
- Job Title/Beat: former metro news columnist
- Other Roles: Longtime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists; Treasurer for the Criminal Justice Journalists
- Years in journalism: 46
- Past Affiliations/Outlets: NY Daily News/St. Paul Pioneer Press
- Education/School/Major/Degree: Fordham University, BA, Communications
- Hobbies: Basketball, racquetball, billiards, music, reading
- What did you want to be when you were a kid? Centerfielder for the NY Yankees
- Role Model: My late mother
- Journalism heroes: Juan Gonzalez, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill
- Guilty Pleasure: Coconut flan
- When was the Golden Age of Twin Cities journalism? The ‘90s
- How has/hasn’t technology helped increase diversity in journalism? Tech spurred decline in newspapers and newsroom jobs. But it also created more diverse online news sites for mass as well as niche audiences
- What should diversity/inclusion look like in our newsrooms in the Twin Cities? Newsroom workers and leadership should reflect the diverse communities it portends to serve
- What should diversity/inclusion look like in our storytelling in the Twin Cities? More journalists of color and/or from diverse life experiences that know the turf and allowed to write and cover non dominant society news and events that are reflective of the diverse tapestry in the TC area.
- 1976: Graduated at Fordham University in New York
Got a job at the New York Daily News
- 1981: Became a crime reporter
- 1982: Opened the daily tabloid’s first bureau office in Harlem
- 1986: Wrote “Journey into the Den of Lost Souls”
- 1991: Joined St. Paul Pioneer Press as a city editor
- 1997: Launched his award-winning column
- 1999 & 2003: The weekly named as best columnist in Twin Cities
- 1999: Recognized with the Anna Quindlen Award for Excellence
- 2000: Received the National Council on Crime and Delinquency PASS Award
- 2001-2021: Won first place honors multiple time in the annual Minnesota SPJ Page One competition
- 2004: Received “Access to Justice” award from the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association
- 2006: Honored with the Minnesota Latino Achievement Award
Received the “Voice of the Community Award” from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
- 2008: Finalist for ASNE Batten Medal
Selected “Best Reason To Read The Pioneer Press” by City Page
- 2009: Received the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota’s media advocacy award
- 2011: Diagnosed Myeloma, a blood cancer and wrote a column about it
- 2020: Left full time employment with the Pioneer Press
Published “Deadline Minnesota”
This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.