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.