Jonathan Jones is the editor of Carolina Blue Magazine, which focuses on athletics at UNC-Chapel Hill. A recent graduate of UNC, Jones was sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel and had internships at CNNSI.com and The Gaston Gazette. In this interview, conducted by email, Jones talks about his job at the magazine, his use of social media and print vs. online journalism.
Q. Describe your job at Carolina Blue Magazine. What do you do on a typical week?
A. I’m the editor of the magazine, which typically means I’m an overseer. But really I like to get my hands dirty and do a lot of everything with the magazine.
A typical week during, let’s say football season, includes going to Larry Fedora’s press conference on Monday and talking to players throughout the week to get enough quotes for an advance on Saturday’s game. That’s when the express edition comes into play. Our online subscribers get a weekly PDF emailed to them known as an express edition. That recaps the week that was while looking ahead to UNC’s next opponent.
Just because I’m a magazine editor doesn’t mean I don’t do game stories like the other print/online writers. While I put together the express editions, I’m communicating with freelancers, planning the next issue of the magazine, designing the current magazine and putting together longer, more broad articles that can occupy the monthly publication. It slows down in the summer, but when basketball and football overlap come late September/early October, I’ll be underground.
Q, You’ve worked for both print and online publications. Which medium do you prefer?
A. It has to be print. I’ve known I wanted to go into sports writing since I was 5, reading The Charlotte Observer back home and subscribing to Sports Illustrated a few years later.
I have an affinity to print, and that undoubtedly makes me biased. Along with that, no matter how many articles I write, there’s always something special about seeing your byline on paper, and you just don’t get that same feeling online.
Furthermore, I like having a word/inches count. On the Internet we can all ramble, but print places a premium on your words, and I feel like some of that may have been lost in the shift from print to online.
Q. When you were at The Daily Tar Heel, you wrote columns that irritated fans at East Carolina University and N.C. State. What did you learn from that reaction?
A. The Russell Wilson article happened first, and I really wasn’t prepared for the reaction. I had gotten hate mail before, but in the past I had always known it was going to come. I wrote that column and honestly forgot it was in the paper the following day until Twitter started blowing up.
What I realized after that column was that I didn’t touch on every possible counterpoint. Rightly so, the critics exploited those holes, and from that I learned to cover the other side of the argument better when writing something that may irritate folks.
The reaction from the ECU column was huge. I had learned from the amount of comments on the NCSU column that I couldn’t, nor should I, respond to everyone. So that day as my email piles up with some thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) messages from folks, I didn’t respond. I also didn’t get into any Twitter arguments. It just wasn’t worth it.
That’s not to say I don’t interact with those who critique me. In fact, quite the contrary. Since my days from the Gaston Gazette in 2005 until now with Carolina Blue, when I get emails from readers wanting further explanation or what have you, I do take my time and get back to them with what I hope to be a thoughtful response. For the ECU column though, there was no calming the masses, and individual emails wouldn’t have done any good. I made a folder specifically for messages regarding that column — it has 103 messages, some of which are still unread.
Q. You are active on Twitter. What is the role of social media in sports journalism?
A. When I was the sports editor of the DTH, I had everyone on my staff get a Twitter. Some of them hated it because of the notion that Twitter is all about quick status updates on your day/life.
Twitter is an incredible tool for sports journalists. I’m about to go on vacation, and every time I get away, I tell myself I’ll stay off Twitter. But it’s so difficult because once you get invested, you feel like you’re so far behind when you miss a day.
So much content is shared via Twitter (if you follow the right people). Those I follow are mainly sports journalists in the ACC, but I also follow plenty of national writers who create and share interesting articles, YouTube links, pop culture commentary, etc.
But as a sports journalist, you have to find the right balance. I’ve tweeted less than 10,000 times, and I’ve had my account for three years now. If you factor in my live-tweeting during games, you’ll find that I appear on your timeline a lot less than people I follow.
Just like with the print product, I try to place a premium on my tweets. When I live-tweet football or basketball games, I try not to inundate followers with up-to-the-second stats. Instead, I try to look go inside the game, add an anecdote from an interview with a player earlier in the week or just try to be funny (that fails sometimes). After the games, I like to tweet some interesting quotes from the coach and players while saving some info (things I see, 1-on-1 interviews, etc.) for my story.
Q. Many students at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill have an interest in sports reporting and editing. What advice do you have for them?
A. This isn’t new advice, but it’s advice that should always be repeated: read. Read newspapers, read Sports Illustrated, read Mark Twain — just read good writing. The more you read and understand other writers’ styles, the more you can develop your own.
In that same thought, sports writing isn’t just about game stories. Anyone can write a game story, and in fact, even computers now can write game stories. When I crank out what I believe to be a good profile of a player or a team, that means more to me than a handful of front-page game stories.
That said, everyone has a story. That’s what I’ve told my staffers for years. And if you’re just starting out and you’re covering a non-revenue sport, don’t get discouraged. There are X players on that team, and each one has a story worth telling — and it may be a story that someone has yet to tell.
UPDATE: In August 2012, Jones accepted a reporting position at The Charlotte Observer, covering the Carolina Panthers football team.