written by R.L. Bynum
Jonathan Jones’ NFL job at CBS vastly different than his job was at SI
Jonathan Jones had plenty of emotions when TheMaven laid off dozens of Sports Illustrated staffers.
It was all empathy for Jones, then an SI national NFL writer, even though he also got laid off. That’s because he already knew he was leaving to be a senior NFL reporter for CBS Sports.
He got email announcing a noon Oct. 3 meeting and soon deduced that those in the noon meeting were getting laid off and those invited to a 12:30 meeting were keeping their jobs.
“I just felt awful for the place that I grew up loving, that I still love,” said Jones, who still described being laid off as a “holy cow” moment even though he had a soft landing. “I felt awful for my co-workers, first of all, who lost their jobs — who were completely blindsided by this. And then there was part of me that felt bad for the folks who got to keep their jobs because they will be led by a group that I’m not entirely sure has the strongest commitment to journalism and great journalism that I know the people there are capable of and do every day.”
Jones, 29, hated to see “obituaries” for SI, viewing them as unfair to the talented people who survived the purge. When he opted to leave for CBS before the layoffs, it was hard to decide to leave the magazine.
“It’s difficult for a writer who grew up with Sports Illustrated to leave Sports Illustrated,” said Jones, who mostly wrote for the website but had his name on the print-edition cover twice, with stories appearing in print 15 or 20 times in a little more than three years there. “SI, at the time, was not what it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We all understand that. But there was still that hurdle; that was the last hurdle I had to get over.”
The attractiveness of the CBS job made clearing the last hurdle easier for Jones, a Shelby native who went to high school in Gastonia and graduated from UNC. He’s lived in Charlotte since starting at the Charlotte Observer in 2012.
“This is such a better job — such an amazing opportunity, so much room for growth,” he said. “They are looking into the future. They’re investing in you, and it became very clear.”
Jones started talking to CBS in August and knew he’d make the move by September. The SI layoffs happened Oct. 3 and he started at CBS on Nov. 1 (this Cam Newton story was published that day). He never was explicitly told he was laid off because TheMaven knew he was leaving for CBS, but he’s pretty sure that’s the case.
Jones didn’t post anything on social media about his situation until he started at CBS. Since his next job was secured, he wanted the attention on other former SI folks who got laid off and didn’t know what was next.
“I’m not going to take away from them,” he said. “They’re the people who need the attention. They’re the people who need the sports editors reaching out to them, not me.”
Jones joined another N.C. NFL writer at CBS, UNCG graduate and Raleigh resident Will Brinson. Brinson has been with CBS since July 2010. In addition to his writing, Brinson is host for the daily “Pick Six” podcast (sometimes producing two in one day) and appears frequently on WCMC (99.9 The Fan).
Covering the same league but it’s not the same job
He’s still a national NFL writer, but his CBS job is dramatically different from his SI job.
At SI, he spent about 80% of his time writing, 20% doing video and podcasts and rarely was on-site for regular-season games outside of Charlotte or Atlanta. At CBS, only about 20% of his time is spent writing and 80% is devoted to TV, either on the free streaming service CBS Sports HQ or CBS Sports Network. He travels to the most compelling game every weekend.
“The biggest differences is a ton of on-camera stuff, a ton of travel and getting out there and building sources. Becoming more ingratiated in the NFL reporting culture,” Jones said.
When the Panthers were on the road while he was at SI, he would take his laptop to a restaurant with numerous TVs so he could watch as many 1 p.m. games as possible.
There is none of that with CBS. He was in Los Angeles for the Lamar Jackson show that was the Ravens-Rams game in Week 12 and Seattle for Monday’s Seahawks’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
“The thought with this gig is to try to get to what we hope is going to be the best game,” said Jones, who will be in Massachusetts for Chiefs-Patriots on Sunday and in Pittsburgh for Bills-Steelers the Sunday after that. “Even if it doesn’t turn into a nail-biter at the end, whoever wins, it will be a compelling story in their locker room. For the most part, they didn’t have someone that could be at one of the top games week in and week out. That’s sort of a role that I’m filling.”
It can create a hectic schedule. Before heading to L.A. for Monday night’s game in Week 12, he was in New York on Sunday to appear on CBS Sports Network. He did three pregame “hits” before the game and another one 45 minutes after the game. Then he wrote this story on Jackson.
He’s not there to write a game story but more of a sidebar digging into a key play or a trend that was important in the game.
“There are some really fantastic national writers who are up there in the press box, who also have their sources and also have their relationships with these coaches and players,” Jones said. “If I write something that’s going to appear on CBSsports.com the next day, I need it to hold up just as well as for those writers and their stories. That’s always a fun challenge. That’s the goal.”
Sometimes with the Observer and nearly every week with SI, he could wait for the mob of reporters to disperse so that he could get 10 minutes with a certain player. He can’t do that with CBS because he must appear on TV 45 minutes after the game ends.
“I need to get you inside the locker room. I need to explain to you what happened on a play because that’s the point of going to the games, right? Otherwise, I’m just watching the game on TV like everybody else. That’s a fun challenge. It’s new to me, and I’m loving it right now.”
— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) November 15, 2019
Jones has an extra room in his Charlotte apartment devoted to work that serves as a home studio. He flips on TV lights when he makes an appearance and just turns on a couple of soft lights when he’s doing other work. He was the first at SI to have a home video setup. At first, though, before SI invested in better equipment, it was just his laptop on a cooler that he placed on top of a barstool.
Quick career rise — but he got an early start
There aren’t many sports writers who cover a major professional sport right out of college. Jones, who was covering the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer as one of his beats a few months after graduating from UNC in 2012, and Chicago Sun-Times Blackhawks beat writer Ben Pope are a couple of exceptions.
What they have in common is that they are North Carolina natives who got experience at an early age and got lots of practical experience in college, including being the sports editor of their schools’ student newspapers.
As early as 4 years old, Jones remembers drinking coffee at his grandparents’ breakfast table and reading the newspaper.
Taller (he’s now 6-foot-3) and faster than a lot of other kids, he was good at recreation basketball. But once everybody else caught up to him when he was 11 or 12, he realized he wasn’t going to be the next Michael Jordan. Jones sent email to the sports editor of the Gaston Gazette before his sophomore year at Ashbrook High School wondering if he needed an intern.
That sports editor, Derick Moss, now an editor at SportsBusiness Journal, asked him to write a game story on a major sporting event. Jones turned in what he now calls a “terrible gamer” on Tiger Woods’ 2005 Masters victory. It was good enough for Moss and, at 15, Jones was taking calls at the office, doing agate and covering middle school and high school sports for three years.
“That was the gig. That was high school. That’s what paid for my car and paid for the dates I went on,” Jones said. “I’m forever gonna be indebted to him for doing that for me.”
That experience led to more opportunities at Chapel Hill, including at The Daily Tar Heel (he was sports editor his junior year), Carolina Blue and The News & Observer, where he covered a lot of non-revenue college sports. He also had had a summer internship with SI in 2011.
“I came into college with three years of legitimate newspaper experience writing on deadlines,” Jones said. “I geared my life to this. I only applied to North Carolina because I wanted to go to the J school at North Carolina. That’s what I wanted to do. By the time I got out of school, at that point, that was seven years of local sports experience. So, yeah, it was quick from college to covering a pro beat. But there were a lot of dues that were paid before that helped me make that jump.”
And, of course, he had to have the talent to go along with the experience.
With only a six-month full-time temporary position, Jones wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be at the Observer in December 2012, and he wondered if there would be the money to keep him around. About that time, legendary sports writer Ron Green Jr. left the Observer for Global Golf Post, which opened up a spot for him.
“The clock was really ticking on me and I was starting to look around, so I was fortunate,” Jones said.
He spent more than four years at the Observer. He also covered Davidson, NASCAR and the NBA, among other beats, for about 18 months before becoming the No. 2 writer on the Panthers beat alongside Joe Person, who now covers the team for The Athletic. He joined the beat full time right after Newton’s rookie-of-the-year season.
“It was a very natural fit,” Jones said. “I think someone that was young, diverse, certainly affordable for this little experiment that they were doing. Someone that they can trust not to screw it up too badly.”
In his last full season as a Panthers beat writer in 2015, the team went 15-1 and lost in the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos.
“Personally, covering that team — that was a lot of fun,” Jones said. “In one sense, this the Observer role was a dream because I grew up reading the Observer.”
He made the transition to SI after covering the Panthers’ 2016 opener against the Denver Broncos on a Thursday night. He dropped off his equipment at the Observer that Friday, drove to Atlanta on Saturday and covered the Falcons-Bucs game that Sunday for SI.
Being a beat writer for a team is quite different than being a national NFL writer. As a beat writer, he needed to know everything — even the identity of the Panthers’ emergency third right tackle. He no longer needs to know that, but he needs to know a lot about all 32 teams.
The pace for the newspaper beat writer is different as well. Jones says he was mad at himself if his byline wasn’t in the Observer every day.
“I took a lot of pride in that,” Jones said. “I know Joe took a lot of pride in that. We wanted to give folks the best coverage day in, day out and always be there. And sometimes that was difficult. Writing that Saturday story when they had a Monday night game, and then you still had to write a Sunday story and then you still had to write something for Monday.”
A reporter and not a fan
Many fans don’t realize (or don’t believe) that many sports writers don’t care who wins. Jones says that’s absolutely the case for him.
“Everyone told me, ‘You’ve got to be impartial and can’t have a team,’ ” Jones says of the advice he got as a kid. “And so, I never had a professional team after age 10. I loved Steve McNair and Eddie George with the Titans. I know the last game that I ever rooted super-hard for a team was that Super Bowl against the Rams. Since then, I was like, all right, ‘no, this is what it’s got to be, and I have to be impartial.’ ”
He says was never a Panthers fan and, during his days covering Carolina basketball for the DTH and non-revenue college sports for The N&O, he didn’t care if the Tar Heels won.
“I wasn’t mad in my two and a half years of covering a team they went to those Elite Eights and lost to Kentucky and Kansas,” Jones said. “I wasn’t mad that they lost. I was just mad that I didn’t get to go cover the Final Four.”
His favorite team to cover was Coach Anson Dorrance’s 2009 national champion UNC women’s soccer team — with Casey Nogueira, Tobin Heath and Ashlyn Harris — that went 23-3-1.
“Anson is a dream for a young reporter,” Jones said. “He just wrote your story for you, and that was always fun traveling around and seeing greatness up close and understanding what team chemistry was and what greatness really is. It was neat to have that measuring stick that I could take into the future.”
He’s just happy to be part of the CBS team now.
“This is a garden spot right now and it is it’s absolutely what I want,” Jones said. “It’s probably something that, a year ago I didn’t know I wanted. Now, I get it. It’s been great. This is a great group to work for.”
N&O, Observer Saturday print editions end March 7
There’s never a good time to end Saturday print editions. But the timing for The N&O and the Charlotte Observer seems particularly bad.
The first Saturday without print editions of both newspapers will be March 7, which is in the middle of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. With its later deadline, adjustments might have been possible to get both Friday semifinals into Observer print editions and adjustments possibly could have allowed the first semifinal to make The N&O print edition.
Currently, 12 newspapers in The McClatchy Company chain don’t publish print editions on Saturdays, including The Herald-Sun, which last published a Saturday print edition June 29. The chain announced that Saturday print editions would end for all its newspapers in 2020.
This could be just a start. McClatchy CEO Craig Forman told Bloomberg, in a story published Thursday, that the chain’s goal is to complete a digital transformation that shifts from relying primarily on advertising to one that relies mainly on digital subscriptions.
Changes, layoffs in sports at Triad BH Media newspapers
BH Media Group layoffs Monday included two preps writers and an editor.
At the Winston-Salem Journal, assistant sports editor Adam Houston and preps reporter Jay Spivey were laid off, as was part-time preps writer and general assignment reporter Spencer Turkin at the News & Record of Greensboro.
The Journal hasn’t had a sports editor since Jewell Walston was one of the victims of the layoffs at the paper in April 2017 (third item in this notebook). Eddie Wooten, the sports editor of the News & Record, is now sports editor for both newspapers and has an office in both cities.
Houston, a 2006 Auburn graduate, had been at the Journal as ASE since August 2015. His previous jobs include freelance sports producer for the NBC News Channel, sports editor of The Salisbury Post and sports editor of The Observer News Enterprise in Newton.
Spivey, a 1995 Appalachian State graduate, had been with the Journal at some level for 28.5 years. Spivey, who was laid off the day before his birthday, became full time in 2015.
Turkin, a 2012 Illinois graduate, is the play-by-play announcer for N.C. A&T men’s basketball and baseball and does play-by-play for non-revenue sports for FloSports, ESPN3, ESPN+ and the SOCON Digital Network.
Turkin started at the N&R as a freelancer in 2012 and had been part time the past 3.5 years. A 2018 story by Turkin and Joe Sirera on helmet safety won an AP Sports Editors top 10 investigative award earlier this year.
Inside Carolina only non-student N.C. media in the Bahamas to cover UNC
When UNC won two of three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, the only North Carolina media — other than The Daily Tar Heel — there to cover the Tar Heels were four journalists from Inside Carolina, the 247 Sports site that covers Tar Heels sports.
At Paradise Island from IC were Greg Barnes, Ross Martin, Tommy Ashley and photographer Jim Hawkins.
N.C.-based Associated Press sports reporter Aaron Beard was there, but not specifically to cover UNC. In three days, he covered all 12 games for the wire service for the third consecutive season.
Former Dash play-by-play announcer gets Triple-A job
Winston-Salem resident Jake Eisenberg’s ascent up the minor-league baseball broadcasting ladder continued this week.
Eisenberg, who did play-by-play for the high Class A Carolina League’s Winston-Salem Dash in 2018 and the Double-A Eastern League’s Richmond Flying Squirrels in 2019, will call games next season for the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s Omaha Storm Chasers. The Kansas City Royals affiliate announced the move on Wednesday.
His first minor-league broadcasting job was in 2017 with the Brooklyn Cyclones of the short-season New York-Penn League.
During the school year, the 2017 Maryland graduate calls select Wake Forest games (including men’s basketball) on ACC Network Extra and select Davidson games (including football and men’s basketball) for ESPN+. He also is a studio host and producer for Learfield IMG College.
Cooper co-host for new SB Nation show
Former UNC swimmer Candace Cooper will be the co-host of a weekday 10 a.m.–1 p.m. show on SB Nation Radio that will debut Jan. 6 called “Above it All with Candace Cooper and Tiffany Marshall.”
Marshall, Cooper’s co-host, has worked in sports management and marketing, most recently with the Houston Rockets.
“The time is now for strong, female-driven shows and I’m eager to begin this new adventure,” Cooper said.
For about 15 months (minus a hiatus during the summer), Cooper has been a co-host of the weekly Capitol Broadcasting Company podcast “Out of My League” with Brenden Whitted. Since Whitted now lives in Savannah, Ga., when Cooper moves to Houston, Cooper said that nobody will be in Raleigh to record it. That means that the last episode of that podcast will be released Dec. 18.
— Brad Johansen (@bradjohansen) December 1, 2019
Former WRAL anchor calling college basketball games
Brad Johansen left his job as a WRAL news anchor in April after about a year amid what the station called “a personnel matter.” You won’t see him on WRAL, but you might see him calling college basketball games.
Most recently, Johansen called games for CBS Sports Network at the Emerald Coast Classic.
He became sports director at Cincinnati’s WKRC-TV from 1996, then shifted to news anchor at that station in 2014 before joining WRAL in April 2018. During his stint in Cincinnati, he called Cincinnati Bengals exhibition games and did play-by-play for CBS Sports Network.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
In The Athletic, Jourdan Rodrigue wrote a good story looking back at Ron Rivera’s years as the Carolina Panthers coach.
In The N&O and Herald-Sun, after UNC completed its second consecutive undefeated national-championship field hockey season, Andrew Carter wrote about the program and its modest beginning. Coach Karen Shelton has the stadium named after her. But in the early years of the program, she was driving the team to games in vans.
On Heels Maven, Brant Wilkerson-New wrote about UNC linebacker Jake Lawler, who is headed to Hollywood to pursue a film career and is excited about life. Not long ago, though, he was in a dark place and contemplating suicide.
In The N&O/H-S, Chip Alexander wrote about how Rod Brind’Amour hasn’t changed much in his second season as Carolina Hurricanes coach, and that the players appreciate his approach.
Being on point with a strong opinion and insight when big news happens is important for a newspaper sports columnist. As with many other times, Luke DeCock in The N&O/H-S did that in the wake of accusations of abuse against Bill Peters while he was the Carolina Hurricanes’ coach.
In The Athletic, Roderick Boone profiled Gerry Vaillancourt, who has spent years as a basketball coach, has diverse media experience and now holds court weekdays on his afternoon drive-time sports talk show on WZGV in Charlotte.