By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
Back in December, I read about the Washington Times’ decision to get rid of its sports department as part of an overall plan to restructure and become a politically based, online-only publication. One of the people affected by the move was 10-year veteran sportswriter Mike Jones, the Times’ Washington Wizards beat writer. On Dec. 31, 2009, Jones unveiled his blog – Mike Jones Sports – designed to keep his writing skills sharp and serve as a showcase for potential employers.
NABJDigital: Why did you feel it was important to start your blog after being laid off from the Washington Times?
Mike Jones: Because of the fact that during this time in our industry, jobs are hard to come by. I needed a way to keep my voice and my following out there. In the past, my work got picked up by outlets including ESPN.com., Yahoo Sports and Hoops Hype. If I can keep writing, I can keep my voice and continue to break news. Maybe a potential employer will see the blog and offer me a job.
ND: How often do you blog?
MJ: When I first started, I did it every single day. The blog started around the time news came out about Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas and his handgun, and I was able to break news. I’m most comfortable writing about the Wizards. But I’m now doing freelance writing, so I might post to the blog two or three times a week.
ND: Why do you think the Times felt it no longer needed to do local coverage?
MJ: I don’t understand the decision to scrap local coverage. If there’s no local newspaper, and no voice for citizens, how will they know what’s going on? I started out in community newspapers. The role of being that voice, providing information for people, is important. There are so many national outlets out there already. The local aspect is being increasingly overlooked. I know newspapers need to adapt, but local coverage is still very important.
ND: We see stories every day about issues including convergence, the move to online publications and the need for journalists to develop their multimedia skills. What are your thoughts about these changes?
MJ: It’s good in a way, because it makes you more diverse. But it’s also sad, because you can’t spend more time on your craft. The emphasis is less on the quality of content but more on getting content out there. But things like videos and blogs lend themselves to more creativity. But I do miss wearing out my shoe leather for good reporting and writing.
ND: Besides the blog, what else are you doing to get your name out there?
MJ: When I first got laid off, I emailed every single person I knew and asked them to pass out my contact information. I’m now freelancing for Comcast at CSNWashington.com, covering the Wizards and writing news stories two-three times a week. I also do video to break things down. I appear on an information show for Washington Post Live. I also freelance for Japan’s Dunk Shoot magazine. Between those things, that’s what I’m doing now. I want to keep writing in addition to my blog and hope to get something full-time.
ND: In your Dec. 31 inaugural blog post, you wrote “My new beginning isn’t likely to be in newspapers, but that’s fine.” What do you see as your new beginning?
MJ: Everything moving online. It’s sad, because I like flipping through the newspaper. But that’s changing. I will not be surprised when everything goes online. But the good news is you will always need writing to fill for content. So we’ll always have jobs, but we must be more flexible. We have to do things like do video and write opinion pieces – anything to think outside the box.
ND: What advice would you give to print journalists who may be in a position similar to yours?
MJ: Try to make yourself versatile and find as many opportunities as possible to write. I originally had an issue with bloggers. I worked hard to get where I was, but they just threw up a blog and jumped in. But I enjoy blogging. I now have some job prospects and two companies have offered me jobs, based on my blog. Keep your name out there and keep writing; it will give you an extra edge over another person. Keep your tools in use and you won’t be rusty when the time comes. You can make a seamless transition.