Q&A with Gary Mondello, editor at Rivals/Yahoo Sports

Gary Mondello is an editor at Rivals/Yahoo Sports. Before going into online editing, he was a copy editor in the sports departments of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and The Fayetteville Observer. A graduate of West Virginia University, he is a proud citizen of Mountaineer Nation. In this interview, conducted by email, Mondello discusses his job and the outlook for sports journalism.

Q. Describe your job. What do you do on a typical day for Rivals.com?

A. I am an editor and content manager for the Rivals.com front page and the Yahoo! Sports college football and college basketball pages. I sign on at 6:30 a.m., check for breaking news and build our morning content, which usually takes 60 to 90 minutes.

Throughout the day I am responsible for updating those three Web pages. The Rivals.com content usually consists of recruiting news and updates, feature stories and breaking news from the approximately 100 college team sites in the Rivals network, and stories from the Rivals college football and basketball staff. The Yahoo! content usually consists of breaking news — from the wires, Rivals team sites and Yahoo! Sports investigation team — and blog items. I also build content for the next day from the Rivals college football and basketball staff.

A second editor comes on at 4 p.m. and takes over updating the pages. I give him an update and stay on until 6 p.m. to build more of the next day’s content.

On college football Saturdays, we run live play-by-play box scores of the biggest games and continually update the Yahoo! college football page. During the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, we add four regional college basketball pages and run all the games live from “March Madness on Demand.” That first week of the NCAA tournament is truly madness.

Q. You work from home. What are the pros and cons of working remotely?

A. Working remotely has a lot of benefits. If a story breaks late and the desk needs my help for any reason, I am able to jump on quickly without having to drive to an office. Working in a real-time atmosphere, that is crucial.

While I work almost exclusively at home, working remotely also allows me to work from anywhere. I recently went to New York to visit my family and worked from my sister’s house. Also, if a weather-related issue arises (such as a hurricane), I can pack up my laptop and get someplace where I can work. All I need is Internet access.

There are some personal benefits to working remotely as well. I love the fact that I don’t have to travel to my job, saving time, gas money … and driving stress. It’s also nice to be able to see my family throughout the day even though I can’t hang around with them. If I worked my hours at an office, I would likely only get to spend time with my two children on my days off. I usually get to each lunch and dinner with my wife and children (who are homeschooled), and if something comes up, I am around to help out.

The biggest drawback to working remotely is the camaraderie that you lose from not working in the same office. There are so many unbelievably talented writers and editors on the Yahoo! Sports staff, and I haven’t met any of them. I know most of the Rivals.com staff from the times I trained in the Tennessee office. While I am connected to most of the Yahoo! Sports copy desk through Yahoo! Messenger, and we do a lot of Web conferencing and training through Adobe Connect, it’s still not like working in the same office.

The positives to working from home, however, far outweigh the negatives.

Q. You previously worked as a copy editor and assistant sports editor at The News & Observer. What are the differences between working in print and online? Similarities?

A. As far as the skill set, there really aren’t a lot of differences. Editors for both newspapers and websites need solid news judgment, excellent headline writing and editing skills, and the ability to multi-task and be ready to react to breaking news. And as far as learning a content managing system for a website, I would compare it to learning how to use a pagination system for a newspaper.

The biggest difference working online as opposed to a newspaper is the ability to create — or at least try to create — amazing user experiences through a variety of platforms: stories, video, blogs, chats, photo galleries, radio links, engagement links, live TV and much more.

At Rivals/Yahoo! there is so much content through so many platforms, how do you organize it all? How do you get users to stay on the Rivals/Yahoo! sites and absorb as much content as possible? It’s an amazing challenge, one I look forward to every shift. You just can’t get that kind of depth and user interaction through a newspaper.

And the funny thing is, even though working online is in real-time, I actually have more time to edit copy than I did when I was working at The News & Observer. For example, at The N&O you have a 9 p.m. ACC basketball game and a midnight press start, and you have 5 to 10 minutes to read a running story (no quotes) from the reporter, write a headline and photo cutlines and cut it to fit so the designer can send the page and the presses can start on time. At Rivals/Yahoo! we can link to the AP story as soon as it moves, giving our writers the time they need to develop a complete story. Since the news is already out there, the staff story can be posted whenever it’s ready.

Q. Your field is changing, with sports covering themselves with sites like MLB.com and NASCAR.com. What does that mean for traditional sports coverage and the future of journalism?

A. That’s a great question.

First, let me first say the thing I like best about sites like MLB.com and NASCAR.com, and I’ll throw in many university sports information offices as well, is the fact that they are hiring more traditional sports journalists. In a field riddled with layoffs, universal desks and “do more with less,” that’s a good thing.

The biggest fear I’ve always had with league sites like MLB.com is their desire to control the message. And as these sites get better and better in the digital age, and more and more athletes use Twitter and other social media, the traditional media’s access to these athletes is only going to get more difficult.

I believe the future of sports journalism will be filled with blog posts, stories from league and team sites, Twitter and Facebook posts and other social media. I also believe the best way for the traditional sports media to continue to be a major player is through investigative journalism.

Is MLB.com going to run an investigative piece on steroids? Is NCAA.com going to run an expose that paints the BCS in a negative light?

I feel fortunate to work at a place that puts a premium on investigative journalism. The Yahoo! Sports investigation team has broken numerous stories over the past few years, including the Miami booster scandal that rocked the football program in August. There are many other examples of outstanding investigative sports journalism and not just from Yahoo! (The Arizona Republic’s recent BCS expose for one).

Will newspapers and websites continue to devote the time and resources needed to break these kinds of stories? I hope so.

So while some might say sports journalism is dying, I say these kinds of stories will keep it strong long after I’m out of the business, which I hope won’t be for at least 20 years. Because even though it’s a new day in sports journalism the old standards — accuracy and trust — will keep the traditional sports media relevant.

Follow Gary Mondello on Twitter.

Guest post: Finding a new life after -30-

Laura Marshall is a Park Fellow in the master’s program at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. In this post, Marshall offers her “top 10 takeaways” from a workshop at the j-school called “Life After -30-: How to Recast Your Journalism Career and Reinvent Yourself.”

Surviving life after “-30-” requires a willingness to change and to put the pieces of your own puzzle together in different ways, according to the panelists at an event for journalists and former journalists. The group met at Carroll Hall on Sept. 23 to help former and soon-to-be-former journalists determine how to shift from a career in news to a parallel track in another field.

The panelists came from a background in print or broadcast journalism, and they have moved from newsroom careers to lives in public relations, academia and other pursuits.

What are their Top Ten tips for navigating the choppy waters of a move from news into something else? A willingness to network, sell yourself and see your own skills through different eyes.

1. Make it a point to become an expert. Leslie Wilkinson said that as she worked for the Los Angeles Times as a page designer, she learned that the newspaper was laying off some of its most experienced reporters and her own position might be next. She took the opportunity while still at the Times to learn about social media so as to “become an expert” on technology and the newer forms of communication. That, and pursuing an MBA, helped her move into online media as managing editor at NASCAR.com at Turner Communications.

2. Use your reporter’s skills to get a foot in the door. Julie Henry, a broadcaster turned public information officer for state government, found her ability to talk with total strangers about something she needed to learn translated well into being able to make cold calls to potential job contacts when she was looking for work.

3. Reinventing yourself is key. So said Emily Harris, who was a copy editor when she found out her now-former employer was planning to lay off dozens of people. She’d heard about part-time college teaching positions and used her experience teaching seminars and workshops to pitch herself for the position.

4. Fill the gaps in your knowledge between what you know and what you need to know to make a change. Chuck Small had always thought he might like to teach, but as a 20-something college graduate, he didn’t think he was old or experienced enough to teach people just a few years younger. He went into print journalism, but when the cost-cutters started looking his way, he decided it was time to follow his original dream. Small went back to school to earn the master’s degree he needed to become a guidance counselor.

5. Get someone outside your circle of friends to critique your resume. Bill Krueger was the Capitol bureau chief for The News & Observer for 28 years when layoffs hit him in 2009. He knew his resume was dated, but didn’t know what it needed until a career coach helped him rewrite it. He’s now an editor at the alumni magazine at N.C. State University.

6. Interview potential employers; don’t just let them interview you. The informational interview is valuable to get your foot in the door and to find out whether you’d be a good fit, said several of the panelists. Even if there isn’t a particular job opening to apply for, cold-call someone who can tell you about a particular employer and meet with them to learn more.

7. Create an online presence to sell yourself. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other website that suits your potential audience to keep your name and face in front of people who can help you. To a cartoonist looking for work, the panelists recommended mentioning new drawings on Twitter and linking them back to an online profile.

8. Do your own personal inventory and decide what you have to offer. Linda Conklin, a career coach, cited her own experience of moving 12 times and having to constantly “reinvent” herself as a way to gain what she called “unexpected wisdom.” List the things you know, not the jobs you have, when you determine how to sell yourself for a new job.

9. Share your news with friends and acquaintances if you get laid off. Krueger spent the days immediately following his own layoff connecting with friends of friends through LinkedIn and by talking about his situation whenever he had the opportunity. Those conversations led to potential job leads and connections that helped him in his search.

10. Volunteer work can help you meet the right people. Henry recommended spending some of your time working for free in places where you can make contacts and spread the word that you’re available.

Being flexible and giving yourself time to accept what’s happened and move on were important themes shared by the panelists. All have parlayed successful careers in journalism into parallel positions in fields that use the skills they developed in the newsroom in new ways.

Celebrating the First Amendment at UNC

First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill is Tuesday, Sept. 27. Here is what it’s all about:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For journalists of all types, that means we can gather news, write an article or blog post, edit it and put a headline on it without fear of going to prison. We can tweet, too. There are limits — we can’t commit libel, for example, without legal consequences. Even so, journalists (a word that I define broadly) enjoy freedoms in this country that their counterparts in others do not.

That right and the others in the First Amendment deserve a day of recognition and celebration. The UNC events this year include a reading of banned books and a discussion of media coverage of the NCAA investigation into the Tar Heels football program.

All sessions are free and open to all. I hope to see you there. If you can’t be, you can follow the fun on Twitter with the hashtag #1stAmendmentDay.

Life after -30-

Today is the first day that The News & Observer, my former employer, will be without a copy desk. No page designers will come to work in downtown Raleigh either. That work will be done at an editing/design hub in Charlotte.

The decision to remove editing and design from the Raleigh newsroom affected about 25 people, who had to choose between moving to Charlotte or losing their jobs. About a half-dozen people took the offer to move.

What of those who decided to stay? They’ll be looking for new jobs and new careers. That can be a daunting task, but there’s help out there.

Blogger and visual journalist Charles Apple has written this guide to journalists who are facing this transition. He covers everything from finding health care and dealing with depression.

Meanwhile, the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill is offering a free workshop on Sept. 23. It’s called “Life After -30-” and will include advice on recasting your resume, preparing for job interviews and using social media to look for work.

Losing your job is a painful experience. There’s a mourning period. But there is also hope and renewal.

I am confident that my friends and former colleagues at the N&O will find fulfilling work that will allow them to use their journalistic skills. Even though the newspaper business is changing, the skills of gathering information, distilling it and presenting it are still valuable and always will be.

Newspapers and the failure to deliver

I recently had coffee and went to a movie with a longtime friend. He lives in Chapel Hill, and I live in Raleigh. So we met in Durham.

It was what former New York Times writer Jennifer 8. Lee would call a “man date.” Part of the conversation went like this:

Him: “Did I tell you that we canceled our subscription to The News & Observer?”

Me: “No, really? Why?”

Him: “The main reason is they didn’t deliver it for five straight days, so I’d had enough.”

Me: “Wow. That’s pretty bad. Did you call to complain?”

Him: “Yeah. The first day, I did the automated complaint. When the paper didn’t come the next day, I insisted on talking to a person. I did get someone on the phone, but still no paper. So I canceled.”

Me: “How will you get your news?”

Him: “We started getting the Sunday New York Times.”

Me: “What about local news?”

Him: “We still get the Chapel Hill News, and I pick up The Carrboro Citizen. I set up an RSS feed from other sources, and I read the Chapelboro site from WCHL.”

Me: “So you feel like you know what’s going on?”

Him: “Yeah, and to be honest, I wasn’t getting local news in the N&O as much as I used to anyway.”

I share this story as another example of how newspapers are hurting themselves. The self-inflicted wounds include questionable business decisions and a lack of vision for the shift of advertising away from print. But the failure to carry out the basic function of a newspaper — to  provide news of interest and to deliver it to the driveways of paying customers — is practically suicidal.