Lorenza “Lori” Rodriguez, the first Hispanic editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan, was found dead in her home last week. She was 62.
Rodriguez was editor-in-chief from 1971-72, an era when the newspaper was under pressure from the UT Board of Regents. During her tenure, the Texas Students Publications’ 50-year contract neared expiration, and the Board of Regents attempted to push a new contract that would give the them more control of the editorial board. In 1971, the Board of Regents also reduced funding for the Texan.
Despite the obstacles she faced, many who knew her said she dealt with the controversies calmly.
After serving for one year as editor-in-chief of the Texan, Rodriguez went on to work as a columnist and reporter for the Houston Chronicle in 1976. She was one of the first Hispanics on city staff at the Chronicle and retired in 2008 after 32 years of service.
“There was a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the student newspaper and the extent to which students would continue to have a free hand in covering the news and commenting on the news,” said David Powell, who was an assistant editor to Rodriguez in 1971 and succeeded Rodriguez as editor-in-chief the following year. “There was a lot of concern that the regents were trying to stifle the paper from covering the news and commenting on it.”
Although she was outspoken about issues on campus, Powell said Rodriguez was a wonderful person to be around and had a great laugh.
Griff Singer, a senior lecturer at the UT School of Journalism, said when Rodriguez was a student, she asked for advice about how to cover certain issues, not whether they should or shouldn’t be covered.
“I do not recall Lori ever coming to me to bounce a question about editorial or coverage policy,” Singer said. “That was just Lori, and I understood and respected that. She was an outspoken person. You knew what she believed in, and she sought to carry out those beliefs.”
On June 10, 1971, the Texan editorial board wrote under Rodriguez’s leadership in favor of a rule that would prohibit the regents from changing the Texan’s editorial board. In the editoral, the board stated the Texan will resist the regents’ attempts to take Texas Student Publications’ assets.
“The Texan reiterates that we are not going anywhere if it can be prevented,” the editorial said. “If the Texan were to be forced off-campus, it would have to be just that — forced.”
In an editorial later in the summer, the editorial board promised to fight for its rights as an independent newspaper.
“We are not the Athletic Council,” the editorial said. “We are not the Texas Student Union. We are a student newspaper. We are a free and independent press which always has been and still is under the direct management of Texas Student Publications, Inc. And the Daily Texan will fight to remain so.”
Tony Pederson, a former managing editor of the Houston Chronicle, said Rodriguez was a stylist and a storyteller with words.
“She proved to be an invaluable asset in creating a bridge between a mainstream city newspaper and the rapidly growing Hispanic community,” Pederson said. “She wrote stories that no other reporter could get or write and always handled them with sensitivity, taste and style.”
Pederson said his favorite memory of working with Rodriguez was a conversation he had with her in the late 1980s.
“She was incredibly passionate in explaining to me that, in her view, being a writer was the highest calling one could have,” Pederson said. “And she viewed it in the artistic sense of being able to craft a story of meaning and relevance and with a stylistic approach that would please readers.”
Pederson said answering this calling gave Rodriguez personal satisfaction.
“Young journalists should take her passion to heart,” Pederson said. “Even in the digital age, if we forget style and writing, shame on us. Lori would tell us that it’s still storytelling that matters.”