Trueline Spotlight: Going, Going, Gonzo
Whether the life details of Jody Robbins seep out through his creative writing—or through thousands of articles published over more than two decades—he’s got a knack for finding a captive audience.
Growing up in Hardinsburg, Kentucky, his early days filled harvesting tobacco and hauling hay, Robbins found his love of literature on his family’s bookshelf. Words soon became his medium for self-expression—and would take him out of Breckinridge County to newspapers in Colorado, Montana and on to plying his skills as a magazine editor along the bountiful food-and-wine trails of Chicago.
Learning how to write in college—but having been a writer since grade school—Robbins eventually crafted content for more than 50 newspapers and magazines. Slinging ink, he spent his time covering topics including food, wine, science and tech, human interest features and adventure sports—whatever paid the bills.
“In my drive to survive I paved my way with words. So here I am.”
Arriving at Trueline in 2020, he became the director of business development after spending six months in the writing department. Now he specializes in search engine optimization and selling creative content for Trueline’s full-service marketing agency—a partner to Vanguard, Toggle and Blueprint Magazines.
“People trusted me, because I said what I was going to do, and then did it,” says Robbins. “I stayed true to the story.”
Way With Words
Initially the young boy from the country was presented with two career options: farming or trucking. A voracious reader, Robbins had other plans—and wasn’t afraid to tell those who would listen as much.
“I was pretty clear from an early age that I had plans to head out into the world,” says Robbins.
Life changed when the family moved to Louisville, where he was enrolled in a well-to-do middle school, Our Lady of Lourdes. Initially taunted for his “redneck” accent, he again stood up for himself while also putting extra attention toward language in all of its forms. Entering Trinity High School in 1986, he signed up for every activity he could—not having been afforded those options in his hometown. From chess club to football, speech and debate, to shotput and discus, he tried it all.
“Back in my hometown, we had seven boys and 10 girls in our school. We added a girl to our basketball team to have enough people to play,” he remembers.
Sadly, losing his father to cancer in 1993, he’s always kept a tight bond with his mother, an accountant, a lawyer, and a judge.
“My mom has a lifetime of dispensing rational and logical advice. You forego heeding her advice at your own peril,” he jokes.
After attending the University of Kentucky for three years, the 21-year-old transferred to the University of Louisville (after his father died) and graduated with a degree in English and Creative Writing.
He was on his way…but first things first.
Bylines and Deadlines
Post-graduation, Robbins took a news clerk position at the Louisville Courier-Journal, and later his hometown newspaper, The Herald-News. Writing news and human-interest stories, he lived in a log cabin he built with his Uncle Mooch on their family farm.
With the encouragement of editor and mentor Hank Bond (a legendary Kentucky newspaperman), Robbins—like Kerouac—took to the road. He worked as a reporter and snowboarded in Steamboat Springs and did the same in Whitefish, Montana, where having a 4×4 vehicle to get to work in the Rocky Mountains was handy. He found stories and photos ops everywhere he looked, from ranch families to the X-Games.
“Going to the first-ever couple of X Games in Crested Butte, Colorado, with a press pass was a unique experience,” remembers Robbins, who was half-redneck, half-hippie snowboarder at the time a with a slight southern drawl. “There was no shortage of things to write about.”
Finding love, he moved to Chicago in 2001. Conversation connected him with chefs and sommeliers, leading to a career in writing for WHERE Chicago, as well as writing articles for Wine Spectator, Food & Wine and more. He also gained skills in marketing, editing, PR and social media—ultimately starting his own company Nimble Social Media in 2007.
After 16 years in Chicago and life changes, Robbins moved to Maine with his ex and the kids. Tapping into the underground music scene, he found his future best friend and current colleague, Trueline’s art director, Shamus Alley.
Once again, the joy was telling peoples’ stories and getting the word out—in a new locale—something he knows best.
“In my drive to survive I paved my way with words,” he says. “So here I am.”
Record on Robbins:
Near death experiences: Robbins almost lost his life, twice. Once kayaking in the Colorado River; another time when a drunk cowboy held a machete to his throat. Eventually, the tearful cowboy apologized, and they had a beer together.
Kentucky kindness: If someone says, “bless your heart,” they might mean it, or it might be an insult. It’s critical to know the difference.
His soundtrack?: Roots music. When he’s got the time, he puts on private shows and helps bands with booking, marketing…carrying equipment. Whatever it takes.
God-given name: Joseph Vermont Robbins. His great grandfather spiced up family names by adding geographic locations.