As a young woman looking to pursue a career in the journalism, I was disappointed to see the lack of women in sports writing. After a little digging at the local, regional and national level, I found Lindsay Jones. Lindsay is a national NFL writer for USA Today based in Denver. Along with writing, she finds time to spend with her family and is an advocate for women who are looking to be journalists.
Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado with a family filled with love for sports, her interest in journalism was a natural progression. While reading newspapers or watching SportsCenter or different games on TV, she developed an interest in journalism. Going to college at Emory University in Atlanta, she found her path was not all that she had expected. Her interest in Political Science was met with journalism. She graduated with a dual major in 2003 and her career had already started. The summer before graduation, she landed an internship with the Palm Beach Post and was hired after graduation. Before she got into the sports, she was covering education but worked her way up to cover South Florida High School football and then got into covering SEC action.
Jones knew she wanted to go back to Colorado at some point after living in Florida for 5 years and found an opportunity to apply for a job in Denver. The Denver Post had an opening for a Denver Broncos writer. Although Jones had the experience working in the field and covering high school and college sports, all of her contacts were in the South. But with the help of mentors that had helped her in the past, she had a way to get noticed. In a field that is male-dominated, she got the job and showed that having experience and having people to turn to for help, pays off. After spending a few years at the Denver Post, in 2012 she found herself at USA Today covering all things NFL football. The way Jones has made her way up from high school sports to the NFL is inspiring. Her accomplishments and advocacy to push for young women in journalism inspire me to continue with my goals to make a presence in the male-dominated fields. I hope that anyone female or male is inspired to reach their goals no matter what adversity they are facing.
Below is the full Q & A:
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m an NFL reporter at USA Today Sports. I’m one of four NFL reporters that we have on our staff. We kind of live all across the country and I’ve been at USA Today since 2012, but I’ve been covering the NFL since 2008. I spent the first four and a half years covering the Denver Broncos for the Denver Post and I started my career at the Palm Beach Post in Florida. I worked there for five years before that. I grew up in Colorado. I’m from Fort Collins but I went to college at Emory University in Atlanta and graduated from there in 2003 and then I went and got hired in Florida. I was there, like I said, for five years and then I have been back in Denver for I guess just about 10 years. It’ll be 10 years next week, but so between the two jobs, between Denver Post and USA Today. Personally, I’m married. I’ve been married five years. I’ve got an almost two year old daughter. So that’s, yeah, that’s my life covering the NFL and chasing around a toddler around, that’s pretty much all I do these days.
So how long have you been writing? I know you said you’ve been, you’ve had a couple of different jobs, but did you write in high school or anything previously?
Yeah, I mean I kind of got interested in journalism. I mean I always was interested in journalism and as a consumer, I mean I read newspapers growing up. I always watched a lot of TV news in addition to reading newspapers. I also remember we would watch Sportscenter in the morning instead of cartoons or whatever before school. I’d always watched Sportscenter with my parents and my brother or The Today Show. But we would, we would watch a lot of sports center as well, so I kind of always been interested in journalism and when I was in high school I really liked writing, and so I joined the high school, my high school newspaper, it was called Spilled Ink at Fort Collins High School in Colorado and our paper had a really good reputation. They want a lot of awards and I really liked the journalism teacher.
Once you took the intro to journalism class, you could apply to join the newspaper and then that was its own class. So I did that for us. It was on a two years, junior and senior year. I was a staff writer. I was one of the editors my senior year. And then I did, when I got to college at Emory University in Atlanta, I worked for the campus newspaper called the Emory Wheel and I went right to the sports section, right when I got there. So I started first semester freshman year of college. I was assigned to start covering men’s soccer. I covered women’s basketball, I became an assistant sports editor pretty quickly during my, I believe it was late in my first semester freshman year and held a bunch of different writer and editor roles throughout my four years of college. So yeah, I’ve been writing a long time. I guess dating back to high school now. So more than more than 20 years including. So I guess if you’d go back and include my high school newspaper days.
Was sports a thing that your family enjoyed or did you kind of just grow the love of sports yourself?
Yeah, I mean it was, it was definitely something that we would do as a family. You know, either participating in sports or watching sports. I very much grew up a sports fan. My dad and I would watch Broncos games when I was a kid. NFL Games, I mean it was, this was back before Sunday ticket and any of that stuff, I mean, you really would watch whatever game was on tv where you lived and living in Colorado, you would always watch the Broncos games. So I have memories of being a small child in the eighties watching Broncos games with my dad and he would always fall asleep on the couch in the afternoon while we’d watched the games. I remember kind of always like laying on his stomach while we’d watch games. So it must have been six or seven years old and I remember them hosting Super Bowl parties, there were a couple of super bowls in the eighties, so I must have been mid-elementary school age during those.
So yeah, we kind of always watched sports. I was active in playing, you know, playing sports from when I was pretty little. You know, I got really involved. I was in year-round swimming. I ran track. I would always read the sports section of the newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, the Fort Collins, Colorado and then, but I didn’t really think like, oh, I want to be a sports journalist. That was never kind of my career path when I was a teenager and even when I started at college I knew I wanted to work for the newspaper, but I didn’t show up to the first meeting for the Emory Wheel and say, okay, this is my dream goal or my dream job is to work for USA today or to work at ESPN. It was something that I like to do and I thought it was something that would be a good way to get involved on a college campus. And then it becoming what I wanted to do as a career kind of evolved over those four years that I was at college.
Did you have an idea of something you really wanted to do in college instead of just something that you liked?
Yeah, I thought I was going to go to law school and I kind of thought that I would work somehow and in law or politics. I never really wanted to be a politician necessarily, but I was very interested in government and in policy and kind of how the country runs and that stuff. I kind of thought that I would probably end up going into law school or some sort of Grad school. I was a political science major and I did get a dual major in journalism, but political science was my main major so I kind of thought that that would be the way that my career was going to take me and you know, I still kind of wonder about sometimes, but yeah, so I kind of thought that I would probably end up being some sort of lawyer or policymaker government, if that makes sense.
So you said you lived in Fort Collins and then you went to college. How did you end up back in Denver?
Yeah, I was in college in Atlanta and then while I was in college I did a couple internships and one of those internships was at the Palm Beach Post, which at the time this was back in the early 2000’s. The Palm beach post was owned by Cox Communications and Cox, who was based in Atlanta. They helped endow the journalism program at my school, so that kind of facilitated that internship there. I got hired by the Palm Beach Post after my internship. I did that internship in between my junior and senior year of college and stayed in touch with them and as I was getting close to graduation, they offered me a job to come back. It was actually a new side of covered education, worked for the bureau for the city section of the newspaper but kind of the whole time I was there, I ended up moving into sports.
I covered high school sports in South Florida. I moved up to Gainesville. I covered the University of Florida sports football, basketball, mostly football, basketball. I would do some other stuff here and there, but those were the main two beats and I just really kind of in the back of my head knew that I wanted to come out to Colorado at some point and it was just a matter of trying to figure out how to make that happen. And in 2008, the Denver Post had an opening for a number two Broncos writer. And at that point, I mean I had been living in South Florida for five years. All my college contacts were from the southeast. All my journalism context, kind of from the southeast I covered the SEC. So most of the journalists I knew from around there and it was, it was kind of a long shot, you know.
Even though I was from Colorado, I didn’t know anybody who currently worked at the Denver Post. Just people, you know, other than that, I had read them for a long time and luckily I had a woman who’s been a mentor to me that I met through the Association for Women in Sports Media. A woman named Vicki Michaelis who lives in Denver. She worked at USA Today and had previously worked at the Denver Post. And I reached out to her and I said, hey, I’m applying for this job. Do you know anybody there that could, you know, that you’ve talked to? And she sent a message to a guy who was an editor there who she had worked for and I didn’t even know Vicki that well at this time, and we kind of casually knew each other and she said that she knew my work. She knew the people that I worked for in Florida and said, hey, just give this girl a chance, you know, take a look at a resume. Just make sure you give it a read and look at her clips and everything. And I really think that was kind of my foot in the door. That if there had been 100 applications and at least got mine to the very top of the pile and made sure that they read it and that was in 2008 and they brought me in for an interview and offered me the job and it was really a dream come true to come back and work at the Denver Post and especially kind of just getting the opportunity to come home to live where I really wanted to live and kind of make my life here.
So you talked a little bit about basketball, covering basketball and football. When you were looking for those different jobs. Did you want to go into the NFL side of writing or was it just something that you, like if you got the job you would do?
Yeah, I mean I think there was kind of a natural progression of when I was in my early twenties I was covering high school sports and so you kind of cover everything but it was south Florida where football is huge. And so I just kind of covered a lot of high school football and you kind of just looked at it as a progression as you cover college sports, high school sports, and then the next step is to get promoted to cover college sports. And that was always like the college football beat. And then it was well what comes next after that? And I always kind of thought, oh, you know, it’d be great to cover the NFL. I didn’t necessarily say I have the NFL is my only my only goal. I mean if the Denver post had been looking for Nuggets writer, I’m sure I would have applied for that and gone after that.
But you know, I think it did make sense. I’d covered a lot of football at that point from high school to college football, you know, a lot of the sources are the same, you know, or at least kind of in the same network in terms of agents and coaches and those sorts of scouts and all that sort of stuff. There’s a lot of carry over from college football to the NFL, so there a lot of that. I did talking to other journalists who are older than me and people that I looked up to a lot. There’s a lot to like about covering the NFL in terms of lifestyle and access, the type of access you get to players, coaches and that sort of stuff. And you know, it’s a manageable travel schedule. When I was a beat writer for the Denver post covering the Denver Broncos, you would look at the schedule and you know, I’m traveling these eight weekends a year. It was a Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon come home Monday morning. You kind of knew a couple other trips here and there, you know, it was a very manageable kind of lifestyle that I really liked. So if there were other sports that I like and I’m interested and I get the chance from time to time to dabble in other sports, you know, I’ve covered the women’s Final Four a bunch of times, I’ the men’s Final Four , I went to the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and wrote about snowboarding and extreme sports and that was really exciting and I’m really nice change of pace. So there’s other stuff that I’m definitely interested in, but didn’t necessarily intend to cover the NFL when I was first starting out. I really liked that career path. I think it’s very good fit to my interests and also my lifestyle as well because it is somewhat manageable. Especially right now with a young child.
So what has been your overall greatest accomplishment? You’ve seemed like you’ve covered it all and had a pretty good career so far. So what do you think is one of your best accomplishments?
Yeah, there’s a number of stories I’ve written that I’m really proud of. I think probably my favorite story that I ever wrote, and I’ve written a lot of stories, but back in 2011, I wrote a story about the Broncos for the first-round draft pick. His name was Demaryius Thomas and his story now has been told a lot of times, you know, he’s been in the NFL now for eight years or something like that. But at the time I was the first one who really told his story. So his mother and his grandmother were both in jail. His mom was arrested when he was eight or nine years old. She basically put them on a school bus while the cops were there waiting after they did a drug bust at their house. And so she kind of put her kids on the bus to go to school, say goodbye to them, and got arrested and she didn’t come home until she actually got pardoned by President Obama two years ago. So I went to the jail down in Tallahassee where his mother and grandmother had been incarcerated since the early 2000’s or late 90’s, whatever the years were. But yeah, I met with both of the women in jail. I went to his house in the really small town in Georgia where he lived. So I was really proud of that story, just in terms of the reporting that I did, the way it was written. I really liked reading that story and I think I’m probably one of the first, maybe the thing that I’m most proud of isn’t necessarily like it. This is directly journalism related, but this is a notoriously difficult business for women and very male-dominated. So I’m just, I’m very proud of the career path that I’ve taken, that I’ve moved into a national role where I can kind of use my voice and now I’ve been able to do it as a mother and I look around and there’s not first few women as there are, you know, in the business, especially kind of at a national level covering pro sports. There’s even fewer moms and I mean my daughter’s only, almost two. So it hasn’t, it’s not like I’ve been doing it for a long time. But, I think I’m figuring out that you can do both, that you can be a professional sports writer and a mom. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. I breastfed for 18 months, which was very difficult to do with all of the travel. I didn’t have to sacrifice a lot of the things that were really important to me as a mother to keep my career going. And it’s hard. It’s hard all the time, but I’m just, I’m, I’m very proud that I’m able to do both and kind of maintain my career and, and my family life.
When I was looking for people to write, to write my profile about, I wanted to look for women who stood out and I found you as one of the only women sports writers and I didn’t really know how to take that. So how do you handle that?
I take it pretty seriously kind of fact that there are. Thank you so much for reaching out to me it means a lot that you are looking. I talked to women, young women probably, especially in college a lot. I know I take that very seriously, that, you know, I remember what it was like being in college. Very early in my career right after college and I was looking for mentors and women who could kind of show me how did they do this. I just think that while this is a really, really competitive business and its constant state of the journalism business is constantly evolving as there’s downsizing and layoffs and all of the stuff that, you know, while it is really competitive, I just think that there’s room for women to help women and I think we have to and there were women who were so tremendously supportive to me when I was young that I want to make sure that I’m doing the same.
So I think that it’s, you know, it’s a lot of, it’s having conversations and being accessible on Twitter and email. I’ve been very active in the Association for Women in Sports Media. We’re well over 10 years, probably 15 years now. I was on the board for a while. I’m helping run the scholarship and internship program, which is one of the most important things that I think awesome does, is helping place college-age women into internships, paid internships all around the country. At a big outlet for Sports Illustrated, MLB.com, USA Today we’ve had awesome interns recently, the Denver Post has awesome interns while I was there. So I think those are ways that I think are important. Hopefully, my social media presence is helpful. I try to keep it fairly straight in terms of like political stuff, but when there’s stuff that involves women and what’s good for women, what’s important for women in this business.
Standing up for one another when there are issues that go on, whether it’s, you know, last year with this Cam Newton trying to make a joke or whatever it was about a, a female reporter asking a question, a strictly football question, you know, just to stick up for the other women and call out the misogyny when you see it. I think that’s really important to do as well. And so I think those are some of the ways that I do it. And then I guess one of the other way, one of the new things that I’m doing is trying to take a larger role in the Pro Football Writers Association of America, there are some other women who have been involved but it’s been a very male organization for a long time just because the beat, you know, pro football writers are by large white men. So I’m hoping that by kind of taking on a larger role there and maybe be able to do some outreach and get more women, NFL writers involved in kind of expanding the platform on that arena.
What advice do you have for high school or college students who are looking to be journalists in the future?
Yeah, I mean it’s just crazy because I have no idea what the business is gonna look like. You’re a junior, so I mean even five years from now when you’ll be graduating college, which probably sounds kind of crazy. It’s like what journalism is going to look like five years compared to what it looked like five years ago. But I think that they say the most important things aren’t gonna change and that’s putting it a lot of work. It’s putting in a lot of extra work, getting as much experience, real-life experience in journalism as you can. So that’s, you know, reading a lot, you know, finding writers and outlets that you really are interested in, whether that’s, you know, the MMQB and reading Jenny Vrentes at the MMQB who I think is one of the best.
She’s in her early thirties, so young female, right? I mean, she’s amazing. She’s so good at her job. So whether it’s, you know, reading the MMQB or you know, reading our staff that USA Today and reading our NFL coverage regularly or our columnist Nancy Armour is fantastic. So, you know, reading a lot and just finding, learning how people do this business and just kind of find what kind of stories do you like, and what things you’re interested in. Then it’s getting the experience, whether it’s when you’re in high school, it’s our high school newspaper that you can work for, or your TV station or a website. Is it starting your own blog? You know, where you’re covering stuff. Unfortunately newspapers are shrinking lot. The staff that I used to always tell high school and college students call up your local newspaper and say, hey, can I come in and can I shadow, if there’s a reporter that you like and you like their work, hey, can I come shadow you for a day or do you need help on your, in the summer or copy desk at night. Even can I plug in scores or help you update the website? Anything that you can get that’s tangible, real-life experience because that’s what’s gonna make you stand out from the other people when you’re trying to get jobs. It’s I’ve actually done this already. It’s not just I want to do this. Then when you get to college, it’s finding experiences and it in addition to what you’ll get the classroom, journalism classes are really important and you can learn a lot just in terms of the basics of reporting of fact-checking of story structure, how to ask questions, all of those sorts of things really, really important. But also learning to write on deadline and all of these things that you’re not going to, that you need to get kind of in real life experiences. So, right now, you know, if this is something that you really, this is what you want to do as a career, I would look to look, start looking at schools that have a well rounded curriculum, but also going to give you a lot of those kind of real life, real game experiences and being able to cover beats.
And I mean I went to a division three school and I covered sports. You know, I didn’t go to one of the big, you know, I didn’t go to Missouri, Northwestern Syracuse, but you know, we got a lot of real hands-on, real-life experience and I think that was really important. So there’s a lot of journalism schools that are doing it great right now. Vicki Michaelis for women I mentioned earlier who helped me kind of was my end in Denver. She runs the sports journalism school now at the University of Georgia and has really overhauled their curriculum and what they do for sports journalism and her students are doing. They’re covering beats. They’re covering games there. I mean they are so prepared now for the workforce and for getting jobs, but she’s been doing it for about five or six years now that really we’re starting to see some of her graduate students who have graduated from the program getting great jobs, you know, not just entry-level jobs, but we’re working their way up really quickly. So you can just see how the real-life hands-on experience pays off pretty quickly.
Well, that’s all I had for you unless you want to add anything else.
It is a, it is a fun career and exciting stuff. It’s, it’s tough. It’s going to be and I think it’s going to get more difficult as the business keeps changing just in terms of where the jobs are at, who’s paying for journalism. I think there are so many more places that you can right now and that you can do work. It’s just finding the right places, you know, where you can make a living doing it. I am hopeful. I like saying like the Athletic and some of these other sites that are starting, that are investing in journalism and hopefully, that’ll open up new avenues for kind of your generation of journalists.
Thank you to Lindsay Jones for allowing me the chance to interview her.
Photo credits to CBS 13 Sacramento