Media Musings: Pope Christened As Next Wolfpack Beat Writer

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written by R.L. Bynum

Pope embraces challenge of following Giglio on N.C. State beat

A milestone that most News & Observer readers probably didn’t notice was a proud one for two HBCU graduates.

During the 2018 football season, Jonas Pope IV covered a Duke game on the same day that Jonathan Alexander reported from a UNC game in his first season on the Tar Heels beat.

They both looked above the fold at the front sports page of the Sunday N&O print edition the next day and saw something they had never seen: bylines from two HBCU graduates displayed prominently on an N&O sports cover. 

“I remember my girlfriend, now my wife, said, ‘that’s pretty cool,’ ” said Pope, a 2002 Elizabeth City State University English and mass communications graduate. “I don’t think people realize how big of a moment it was. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. I remember it was a real big moment. It was huge to me.”

With Pope promoted to the N.C. State beat last month and Alexander, an N.C. Central University graduate, now on the Carolina Panthers beat, that might be a routine occurrence. It’s happened more times since then.

Pope and Alexander shared a 2018 second-place North Carolina Press Association award for sports news reporting for a story about UNC players selling shoes, which led to suspensions.

“That’s probably a bigger highlight than the day that both of us were on the cover,” Pope said.

This isn’t to suggest it’s that rare for HBCU graduates to gain prominent roles as newspaper sports writers. One North Carolina example is Winston-Salem State graduate Stephen A. Smith, now with ESPN, who wrote for the Winston-Salem Journal and the News & Record of Greensboro before becoming a beat writer and then a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer

Other HBCU alums who became sports journalists include Charlie Mickens (Hampton), William Rhoden (Morgan State); Bomani Jones (Clark Atlanta University); Sam Lacy, Stan Verrett, Gus Johnson and Karintha Styles (Howard); Bill Nunn (West Virginia State College); and Tony Paige (Florida A&M).

Jonas Pope IV interviews N.C. Central football coach Trei Oliver at 2019 MEAC media day.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kyle Serba

It’s all about getting a chance to prove yourself. Pope says that it doesn’t come as easily at an HBCU as it might for a UNC journalism graduate or somebody with The Daily Tar Heel, The Chronicle (Duke’s student newspaper) or the Technician (N.C. State’s student paper) clips.

“I just think we don’t like the same opportunities while we’re in school,” said Pope, who was honored in ECSU’s 2019 40 Under 40 class. “While we’re in school, obviously we can get clips. We can write about our teams. But we don’t get the benefit of traveling to the ACC tournament or ACC media days or traveling to away games. They get a lot more exposure and more opportunities to perfect their craft. For us, it just feels like an uphill battle.”

That battle for Pope to become a Power 5 beat writer didn’t start until he’d been out of college for four years, after taking various jobs including teacher and social worker. He spent seven years at The Daily Herald of Roanoke Rapids, mostly covering high school sports, and wrote for various websites before joining The Herald-Sun in 2016. His path on the consolidated N&O/H-S sports staff took a turn that was frustrating for him when high school sports reporter J. Mike Blake left the newspaper in August 2018.

Pope had nothing against covering preps. But it was what he “wanted to get away from” and shifting to covering high school sports created a detour for the career path he desired. He credits his editors for reassuring him about that assignment.

“I told them what my ultimate goal was and they were like, ‘OK, we’ll make sure that you can still go to college games,’ ” Pope said. “They kept my faith in the place and they made sure I got my reps.”

While covering high school sports, Pope started the video series “Riding With Recruits,” which he plans to continue for N.C. State signees or targets. Wolfpack linebacker Drake Thomas, who appeared in the first episode, and defensive end Savion Jackson both have been featured.

Last week, Pope concluded the nine-episode first season of his Instagram show “Show Me Your Credentials” in which he interviews other sports reporters or sports administrators. He’s not sure when the second season will start.

While some reporters might prefer covering the NFL or the NBA, Pope has always been a bigger college sports fan, particularly college football.

“I’ve always had a passion for college athletics,” he said. “I love being around college sports. Once I realized that there were people being paid just to cover college athletics, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

The news of his promotion came shortly after he revealed that he and his wife are expecting a baby in January.

“Despite what’s going on around the world, I’m having a pretty good year. I can’t complain,” Pope said.

While high school sports were his primary focus before his promotion, Pope has been The N&O’s version of Kordell Stewart, known as “Slash” because of his many roles. In addition to covering recruiting, which he added to his duties when Alexander shifted to the Duke beat in December 2017, and frequent ACC contributions, he’s covered practically everything sports-related at some point, including the Carolina Hurricanes. And, like many sports writers, he’s also written about COVID-19 and protests during the pandemic.

Pope said taking on anything that comes his way goes back to when he did so much at The Daily Herald.

“When I speak to kids or speak to college classes or high school classes, I say no is not in my vocabulary,” Pope said. “If someone asked me to cover something, I don’t think about it. ‘Yeah, I’ll cover it.’ If I don’t know about it in great detail, I figure it out. But I’ll take the assignment. I’m not going to say no.”

Taking over for a legend, sans yellow pad

Being the writer to replace a longtime popular writer is a challenge. In his 23 years at The N&O, Joe Giglio ruffled feathers now and then while gaining the respect of colleagues and Wolfpack fans for his excellent coverage. He left the newspaper in March for Capitol Broadcasting Company, where he writes for WRALSportsFan.com and is co-host for “The OG,” the afternoon drive-time show on WCMC (99.9 The Fan).

Pope understands he’s filling some big shoes.

“Absolutely. He was popular. We all saw it when he was briefly off the beat and how people reacted,” Pope said of Giglio’s stint as the UNC beat writer for the 2017–18 basketball season. “Yeah, it’s a challenge. This is something that some people might not want. I embrace it. I welcome it with open arms. I understand who I’m replacing and how good he was at his job. It’s not lost on me who I’m coming behind.”

Since Giglio announced his departure, a lot of people advocated for Pope to succeed him, including Giglio. After a staff meeting announcing his departure, Pope said that Giglio told him he was going to suggest that Pope get his spot.

Pope said that he’s learned from Giglio since they had nearby desks in the newsroom and he covered games with him. He also learned by working alongside longtime Duke beat writer Steve Wiseman, longtime sports writer Andrew Carter and columnist Luke DeCock.

Pope, who first covered N.C. State extensively while stringing for the former CBC website Raleigh & Company, said he noticed how good Giglio is at building relationships.

“I noticed him standing off to the side talking to someone that everybody wasn’t surrounding. Sometimes, he won’t even have a tape recorder out,” Pope said. “You can tell he’s just having a casual conversation with the athlete and I think, in that way, you get to know them a little bit better. You get them open up a little bit more. I want to be able to build a better relationship with the guys in the locker room. I’ve seen guys who didn’t even play anymore come to the office for various reasons and talk to Joe. So, he built those long, long relationships with guys and that’s what I hope to do with N.C. State.”

Even before Pope became the Wolfpack beat writer, he had written the bulk of the stories about N.C. State athletics since Giglio left. 

Pope won’t continue one signature part of Giglio’s coverage. Giglio’s tweets of images showing interesting statistics or lists written on a yellow pad became popular.

“I won’t do yellow pad tweets. That was Joe’s thing,” Pope said. “I would be dumb to try to copycat what he did with it. He was so creative. I’m going to stay away from the yellow pad. I’ll honor him by writing on yellow pads at games but try to think of something on my own to do. You can’t recreate that magic, so I’m not even going to try.”

Loving sports in a small town

Growing up in Rich Square, a two-stoplight town about 90 minutes east of Raleigh and about an hour from the Virginia border, Pope always loved sports and played wide receiver and defensive back at Class 1-A Northampton County East High School. 

He always read newspapers and magazines when he was in high school. But it wasn’t until his sophomore year when Mike Cochran, a teacher at the school, asked if he had thought about going into sports journalism that this became a goal.

“So, ever since I was 15, I knew I wanted to go into journalism to cover sports,” Pope said.

As an Elizabeth City State freshman, he expected to be a sports announcer. To that end, he handled the play by play on campus radio station WRVS for all Vikings football and basketball games all four years. Later, he took a TV production class and more journalism classes and wrote for The Compass, ECSU’s student newspaper.

“I’d be in the radio booth while calling the game and taking notes for my story that I had to write once I got back to my dorm,” said Pope, who interned with WTVD in fall 2002 before graduating from ECSU that December.

It was the guidance of journalism professor Kip Branch, now retired, that directed him to focus on writing. Branch also taught ESPN Radio producer Shannon Penn.

A large pay cut to pursue a dream

Working at social services was paying the bills but it wasn’t fulfilling. 

In fall 2006, he started stringing football games for The Daily Herald, which made sense considering he’d probably go to a high school game on Friday nights anyway. Why not get paid, although it was only $30 a story?

In October of that season, a full-time sports writer left the newspaper and he quickly said yes when the editor asked him to come on full time.

“I left my job with social services and took a huge, huge, huge pay cut to become a journalist in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina,” Pope said. “I remember the editor wrote a number on a slip of paper and slid it over to me and I remember thinking I don’t care what the paper says, I’m going to say yes. So, I did.”

He was familiar with The Daily Herald because it was his hometown paper growing up. But he had no experience laying out pages, which was a big part of the job.

“I never learned how to do layout in college,” Pope said. “My editor helped me out. But most of it was trial and error, self-taught to figure out how to do it. Because if I don’t know how to do it, they could easily get rid of me and bring in somebody else to do it. So I said I better make myself valuable to make sure they want to keep me around.”

When he started at the paper, there were two full-time sports writers, a full-time photographer and two stringers to cover nine high schools. He was sports editor for the last four years there. When he left, it was a one-man sports staff with one stringer and a part-time photographer. He did everything, including writing, laying out pages and taking photos.

After he put out the sports section each day, The N&O was part of his daily news consumption, reading the work of many people who are now his colleagues.

“Meeting them was like meeting celebrities,” Pope said.

He left The Daily Herald to write for Tar Heel Illustrated for the 2014–15 school year. Before joining The Herald-Sun to cover North Carolina Central, he worked with various online outlets, including HighSchoolOT.com, Carolina Blitz and Raleigh & Company. Later, his office shifted to Raleigh when McClatchy bought The Herald-Sun in December 2016 and Pope became part of the consolidated sports staff. Two of the three ACC beat writers on the staff are the last members of the former Herald-Sun sports staff still on the staff in Wiseman and Pope.

The H-S job was his first time writing for a newspaper when he could focus on one beat. It was good timing because the Eagles won MEAC titles in football (with a heartbreaking Celebration Bowl loss) and men’s basketball (with an NCAA tournament berth).

“I hadn’t had as much fun being around a team,” Pope said of that NCCU football team that went 8–0 in the MEAC, also crediting the access he got from SID Kyle Serba. “That whole year was very memorable.”

Now, he hopes for another interesting first football season on beat, this time covering N.C. State.

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An arrival and a departure at WRAL
Mary Dunleavy has left WRAL after three years as a sports anchor/reporter, replaced by Kacy Hintz, who was a weekend sports anchor and reporter at WPDE in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for two years.

Dunleavy, a Virginia Tech graduate whose last day was July 26, came to the station in July 2017 from KTHV in Little Rock, Ark. Dunleavy hasn’t publicly revealed what’s next for her and she didn’t return a text asking about her future.

“Mary Dunleavy decided to leave and is pursuing other opportunities,” Rick Gall, WRAL’s news director, said via email. “Mary most certainly had the option to stay.”

Hintz, who started at WRAL last week, will fill Dunleavy’s previous duties as a sports anchor and reporter. Hintz will anchor sports on weekends, be the host for “Sports Xtra” Sunday nights on WRAZ when it returns and will also be a sports reporter. Jared Fialko filled in last weekend as the sports anchor.

Her first WRAL story, an interview with NBC hockey host  Kathryn Tappen (left in above photo), aired Friday night and she will anchor her first sportscast at WRAL on Saturday.

Hintz grew up in Washington state and is a 2015 graduate of Columbia College Chicago, with a degree in sports broadcasting. Before WPDE, she was sports director at KTBY and KYUR in Anchorage, Alaska, for more than two years. 

While in college, she had internships with Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WWSB in Chicago. She also worked for two months in December 2015 and January 2016 at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Helsinki, Finland, for the International Ice Hockey Federation. She was a digital content producer during the event and did interviews.

Hintz has gone from the No. 151 market in Anchorage to the No. 97 market in Myrtle Beach-Florence to No. 27 in the Raleigh-Durham market.

She isn’t the first reporter to make a move from WPDE to WRAL. The late Stuart Scott made the same move in 1988, but as a news reporter. 

UNC alum caught in middle of messy Pac-12, L.A. Times story

A story The Oregonian published Thursday reported that the Pac-12 Conference signed an agreement with the Los Angeles Times to steer advertising to the newspaper in exchange for expanded coverage of the league with better access.

The agreement was for six months but ended after only four.

Caught in the middle of this story is 2018 UNC journalism graduate and former N&O intern Blake Richardson. An L.A. Times co-worker anonymously quoted in the story said, “Blake was put in a bad spot by no fault of her own. She was a hard worker and was well-liked by the staff. The whole thing was messy.”

As part of the league’s deal with the newspaper, according to The Oregonian, then-LAT sports editor Angel Rodriguez said that Richardson’s internship was extended six months thanks to the advertising commitment.

Richardson’s internship ran from August 2018 until June 2019. 

The story also reports that conference vice president Andrew Walker sent Richardson email in October 2018 that said, “I can make sure you have all the access and info to become the best Pac-12 reporter out there.”

The story said that Richardson didn’t reply to interview requests but that she “told colleagues that she was put off by the cavalier nature of Walker’s introductory approach and his initial attempts to steer her coverage.”

UNC beat writer hiring process ongoing

The N&O hopes to wrap up the hiring process for a UNC beat writer soon, said Sports Editor Todd Adams via text.

The newspaper’s summer intern, Emily Leiker, has written several stories about the Tar Heels but her internship ends Friday. Leiker will be a junior at the University of Missouri this school year.

There is no movement on a high school sports/recruiting writer to fill Pope’s spot but Adams hopes the position will be approved so a hire can be made.

“Optimistic it will be but could be a little bit. How long might depend some on how long it takes high school sports to return,” Adams said.

Relief at McClatchy

There was good news for the McClatchy Company late last month from hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, which submitted the winning bid for the chain that includes The N&O, The Herald-Sun and The Charlotte Observer.

Chatham pledged to keep all 30 newspapers open and to offer the existing workforce continued employment at their current salaries.

The other part of the good news is what Alden Global Capital reportedly planned to do had it won the bid. According to a filing, Alden planned to cut between 1,000 and 2,800 jobs.

UNC alum Douglas sports anchor/reporter in Orlando

Since May, Kendra Douglas, a 2016 UNC broadcast journalism graduate, has been a sports anchor/reporter at WESH in Orlando, Fla.

Douglas, who ran track for the Tar Heels, shifted to WESH from KSNW in Wichita, Kansas, after two years (going from the No. 72 market to the No. 18 market). She spent more than 18 months ending in 2018 as a general assignment reporter in Wilmington for what now is called Spectrum News.

While at Carolina, she was an intern at WTVD and was part of a diversity fellowship at WRAL.

Love’s broadcasting career with CBS short

The CBS broadcast career of Davis Love III, a Charlotte native and three-time All-American at UNC, is over after only a few months. He announced last week that he was leaving CBS Sports. It’s been a challenging year for Love. Fire destroyed his 12,000-square-foot, three-story house in St. Simons Island, Ga., in March.

CBS announced in October that Love would be part of its 2020 golf coverage.

Three of Love’s 21 career victories came in Greensboro, including his last in 2015.

City of Burlington honored Bob Sutton

Any newspaper, particularly smaller ones, would covet a sports writer who is embraced by the community they serve.  Last month it was confirmed that Gannett lost that exact quality when it laid off Bob Sutton in April after nearly 25 years as sports editor of the Times-News of Burlington.

July 22 was declared Bob Sutton Day in the City of Burlington for being “an important part of the fabric of our community.”

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North Carolina-related sports stories of note

Former star UNC pitcher Daniel Bard has made a remarkable return to Major League Baseball after a 7-year absence this season as a reliever for the Colorado Rockies. To get there, he had to figure out how to lose “the yips.” In Sports Illustrated, Stephanie Apstein wrote about his long journey.

Ahead of the first Carolina Hurricanes broadcast of a game in the Toronto bubble, The Athletic’s Sara Civian talked to the announcers who face the challenge of doing the broadcast from Raleigh and also how it’s been quite a season for Mike Maniscalco.

In The N&O, DeCock wrote (accompanied by Travis Long photos) about how the pandemic hasn’t stopped amateur youth baseball, including travel teams, from participating in many big tournaments, including events in the Triangle area. They may be amateur sports but plenty of money is being made.

In The Athletic, Jordan Bianchi wrote about how Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s president, guided the sport through dealing with COVID-19 and racial turbulence. One important milestone regarding the former was when Gov. Roy Cooper allowed teams to return to their shops, then allowed Charlotte races to proceed.

In The Charlotte Observer, Alexander wrote about the career of Carolina Panthers rookie cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver, who changed his name after his mother married the man he views as his real father.

In The Athletic, Joseph Person wrote that if the Carolina Panthers were going to have a fire sale, dump salary and struggle on the field, this is the time to do it.

In The Athletic, Brendan Marks wrote about how he projects the men’s basketball rotations at Duke and North Carolina to play out.

On the Buffalo Ramblings SB Nation site, Matt Warren wrote about how The Buffalo News lost half of its sports staff in a month. Hopefully, this isn’t related to North Carolina newspapers. But Lee Enterprises owns the newspaper as well as eight N.C. newspapers, including the News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal.