Rob Cox: A Perspective from A Journalist and World Traveler
It is a rainy day at SUNY New Paltz on my walk to meet visiting professor and professional journalist Rob Cox. Due to my being a new journalist, I feel humbled finally meeting the writer and world traveler face to face for the first time. I had seen him do his lectures and had observed him at a dinner at one of those honors center events.
I remember the discomfort at that event just a few days before. I had some issues with my ear and wasn’t feeling like being forced into human interaction.
The vibe of the honors center events have always bugged me. The whole show of it all. I don’t feel that I fit in. The food isn’t even normal. While having an understanding of the eccentricity of New Paltz, the food at this event even threw me off. In contrast of what I’d call my traditional American diet, odd salads and weird tiny slider sandwiches were served at the event.
As one who hates meeting new people, on top of the ear problem, waiting for Cox proved to be more nerve wracking second by second.
“I love Rob! He’s just always so busy, he often just makes it to class right when it starts most of the time!” Said a nearby journalism student.
This previous statement proved to be true as it hit 5:10 and there was still no sign of him. As each minute moved, I grew wearier. People were chatting all over and while I was participating in the social function like a normal member of the human race. President Donald P. Christian probably thinks I’m some kind of deplorable lunatic the way I was dressed for this event, wearing a flannel shirt and backwards New Paltz Hawks Cap.
It was then at 5:15 that the man of the hour, Mr. Rob Cox, had entered his arena of awaiting students. He had changed since his previous lecture in the honors center covering his life. His career had been a journalist’s dream. He was an editor for Breakingviews, which he founded, and grown around the globe from places such as Newtown to London and then to Tokyo. What has he seen? Has the journey made him a wiser man?
He had gone from the clean shaven look he rocked in the campus promotional flyers to a more rugged look with a beard and longer hair rocking a pink dress shirt, a brown tweed jacket and dark jeans. Perhaps the look change signifies an effect the teaching position has had on him.
He conveniently sat right by me not knowing who I am, facing the opposite direction as he ate. He took about ten minutes to eat and, once he was done, then opened himself up to talk about his life and career. There was a keen focus on his passion, financial journalism.
“This is my first time teaching at a university long term. Now I’ve done lectures before so I wasn’t nervous and was ready to take the leap.” Said Cox about being a professor for a semester.
The memories of that honors event hit me as I walk down the hallway to Cox’s pseudo office, using the head of the Ottaway department’s office. The mystery grows more prevalent.
I get to the door and I catch Cox off-guard looking at his phone. His presence is quiet yet welcoming. He had had a rough morning.
He had a rough morning . He had been suffering from a cold and had taken the day off from work in the city. He appears to be the type who doesn’t like to miss work.
On his commute there it had been the perfect storm. He got a flat tire so his mood was more downbeat than usual. He had class in about 15 minutes. He was wearing all black.
He understands the process of the profile so it feels odd trying to play his game despite him being all for doing it.
Our first true conversation was more informal. He was quiet. I decided not to hound him too much. He had had a rough day. He also expressed interest in getting to know me as well.
“So are you a journalism major yet?” he asks. I respond with my own issues deciding what I wanted in school and life.
“I understand that. I didn’t even study journalism in college. I spent time trying different things that’s just how life works.”
He hadn’t decided he was going to be a journalist until graduate school. As an undergrad he studied English and philosophy. He ultimately winded up studying journalism at Columbia University. Ironically he “screwed around” in his high school journalism class and failed it.
“Long Island huh? I’m from Newtown myself.”
His hometown is very important to him. He explained that he had moved back To Newtown around 13 years ago.
As a Newtown resident The Sandy Hook tragedy hit close to home.
His activism with the non-profit Sandy Hook Promise is part of his legacy. Despite being open to talking about it, he often stresses that it is in his past. Cox became more than a journalist fetching for a story.
“That is important for human nature. We have to help each other.” Said Cox in a bashful manner.
He didn’t fight organizations such as the NRA, writing on expose on them after signing up as a member for a year, as a journalist, but as a father and a native from Newtown. He felt he owed it to his neighbors, the families of those who suffered crippling losses that day.
He had no idea on that fateful day on a flight back home that tragedy was unfolding. He was grateful however he didn’t know until he got off the flight. His mind would’ve gone in 500 different directions. So many thoughts could’ve gone through his head.
The second he got off the plane and found out his children were safe he was ready to do his job and figure out what caused the tragedy.
Getting the names off of a list of pick-up Frisbee players of all things, The Sandy Hook Promise began. Knowing the media well, Cox was a great asset for the non-profit getting up and running. Media sources across the globe had their eyes on Newton and the non-profit, with the help of Cox, used that to their advantage.
The organization is still active to this day, helping people understand the importance of gun safety and stressing mental health awareness. Cox believes it is much more powerful nationally today as opposed to locally.
He stresses however that the promise was in his past. His modesty is humbling. The idea of being in charge of the organization and having power over the parents of the victims was a situation he did not want to be in. You tend to see a lot of people who grip on to helping others in a selfish manner.
He still accepts being called a co-founder, however.
We start to walk out of his office and inevitably into the rain. Two sick men trying to hold a conversation can be difficult, but we managed.
He appeared to be reluctant to go by the title of “Professor”, revealing his relaxed attitude towards the profession. The time has certainly changed him.
The conversation is personal and he’s still trying to get a read on me as well. We seem to hit it off. He invites me to his class and I humbly take the offer to see the man in action.
After observing his class “Financial Journalism in the Business at Media” he appears to be adored by his students. In a room full of media hopefuls. He drives his students to think critically, analyzing real press releases by Time Warner Cable and asking his students to dissect it. By the end of the class he had warmed up from his macabre, tired vibe he gave off after getting a flat tire.
He wants to push his students. He rejects the title of “Professor” as he believes other people have been doing it for much longer and before New Paltz all he did was the traditional intellectual lecture he’s grown accustomed to. He prides himself on pushing his students to help them understand the field they’ve chosen and he also provides the resources necessary. He offers advice to his students for the moral grey areas that a journalist may face following a story.
“If it’s off the record just don’t tell me. If the general public know it I can’t either.” Said Cox
Cox appears to be the textbook definition of a workaholic. The man lives and breathes journalism.
What drives him? Why does he do the job that he does? He appears to be a receptive man, yet he focuses heavily on talking about his own career and it’s hard to pry much else from him. Others would try to get him to talk about trivial things, it’s more meaningful to find something out of what he does.
“Journalism allows me to pull together all of the things I’m interested in. Current Affairs, International Affairs, Human relationships and other things. It lets you examine all of these things and put your perspective on it” said Cox.
After sitting in on his class we part ways, agreeing to get coffee before class the next week.
The next week we are both healthy and receptive for some brain picking and conversation. He gives off a much more relaxed attitude, offering to buy me a coffee and unafraid of dropping a few f-bombs in casual conversation.
“The Sandy Hook Promise is my past.”
He wants more to talk about more on what he is up to this day and age. After talking about the promise for a few minutes he was willing to move on to talking about his daily life.
Cox is an intellectual profit of doom in essence. He is confident that China will take over the world despite the Trump rhetoric and the patriotic reservations of the American class. As a young man the nation’s fear of Japan taking over the economy didn’t drive him to waving around a flag, but rather drove him to look at the numbers and the powers that be to understand why things such as these are happening.
He is one of the many calling out President Donald Trump. When he used to call Trump for stories back when he was starting out in the 90’s he had no idea that Trump “the media whore” would come so far. He does admit that Trump does have a great handle on the media, despite his constant trashing of it.
“I always seemed to call him when something bad was happening” Cox says about Trump.
There seems to be a motif to his studies. The Numbers Don’t Lie. In a world of human deceit we have people like Rob Cox there to call out what’s going on around him.
Sitting at a tiny table, I ask what’s been up my journalistic sleeve this entire sleeve. I wanted to know how travelling the world has changed his perspective as not just a journalist, but as a man.
“It helps you to put the good and the bad, the effective and ineffective, of your own reality. Your own country.” Said Cox
Analyzing other countries for his own profession has had an effect on the view of his own culture. How can we be the best at everything if we don’t even know what’s out there, he argued.
There’s so much to learn: how education is done in the Netherlands, how transportation and infrastructure in China works, what constitutes a good meal in Italy, how much the French treasure cheese and so much more. New Paltz just seems to be another one of his stops on his quest for truth.
Cox puts his coffee down, apologizes, looks at his phone and remarks to himself “Hmm… Not running for a third term. Interesting.”. Even on his downtime, he is working.
We walk back to his classroom as he is giving me advice for the writing of this profile. He offers to have me sit in his class again, I decline. When in class he is setting up the room and answering student concerns just like any other professor. As I walk out we make eye contact as he begins a new lecture on using financial journalism for the common good. I walk out into the hallway as he begins to speak. I hope we both learned a little bit from the other.