Joseph Duarte’s professional career began with a leap of faith — one that saw him entrust his future in a promise.
After he completed an internship with the Dallas Morning News in 1996, the paper offered him a job covering Oklahoma and Oklahoma State athletics. But when then-Houston Chronicle sports editor Dan Cunningham rang Duarte’s phone, he listened, because Duarte had interned with Cunningham the previous summer.
“Come to Houston,” Duarte remembers Cunningham saying. “You won’t be on staff to begin with, but trust me. Give me a chance. Within a year or two, we’ll make something happen.”
Duarte obliged by accepting a general assignment reporting role focusing on prep sports, area small colleges and soccer. Less than two years later, he was hired as the Chronicle’s Houston Astros beat writer and became one of the youngest professional baseball writers in the country. He hasn’t left, turning one decision into a 24-year stint with the paper in which he became a staple of Houston-area sports coverage.
“If you’ve lived in Houston and you’ve been a sports fan, you can’t help but have read Joseph Duarte’s coverage on many different things,” MLB.com Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart said.
Duarte found his passion for writing in high school while playing baseball. Growing up in his small hometown of Bastrop, Texas, the news coverage wasn’t extensive. Duarte got his start there, covering local sports for the town’s paper. He often found himself covering the games in which he played.
He eventually was named to the Sports Journalism Institute’s 1995 class, with the program placing him at the Chronicle for a summer. One final year of college and another internship later, Duarte found his way back to Houston.
“I’m the only one, from the first (SJI) class ‘til last year, that is still with the same paper that I was assigned to,” Duarte said. “To me, that’s a source of pride. To me, it says that SJI is solely responsible for placing me at that job, and then from there I took it, ran with it, and I made a career out of it.”
As a Texas native, Duarte never saw a reason to leave. Instead, he dedicated himself to any beat he landed on at the Chronicle.
Before covering the University of Houston for the past 10 years, Duarte covered virtually everything else for the Chronicle — The Houston Texans, the Astros, Rice University and even his alma mater, the University of Texas.
He remembers a time when he hurried to cover news at Prairie View A&M and got stuck in Houston’s rush-hour traffic on the way back to his office while on deadline. Duarte whipped out his laptop and pulled into a parking lot along the Houston freeway to beat the clock. As times have changed with accessibility and smartphones, he’s found himself writing stories at movie theaters, baby showers and even weddings.
Duarte has made it a point to not just pore over his own work, but help pave the way for young reporters he meets.
“One thing that I noticed that Joseph does a lot, he reaches out to the student reporters at the University of Houston,” said Sam Khan, a Texas-based college football writer for The Athletic. “He is always willing to offer some tips or advice. He does that because he cares about sports journalism and wants it to be in good hands.”
He’s been relentless in his coverage, whether that’s while pestering the University of Houston for their COVID-19 testing numbers or attempting to appropriately paint the big picture during successful runs like Texas’ 2005 national championship.
Duarte has seen journalism frequently shift around him over the past three decades. But he’s taken everything in stride, changing with the times and delivering Houston fans dependable coverage through several eras.
“If there’s been a humbling part, it’s been learning how to adapt and survive a business that’s been under fire for the last 10 years or so with newspapers shutting down,” Duarte said. “... I still enjoy opening up the paper and seeing my byline on the front page. That stuff is still cool to me. That’s what keeps me going.”