ESPN.com’s Justin Verrier ’09: ‘You’ll never be more valuable than you are right now’

ESPN.com’s Justin Verrier ’09: ‘You’ll never be more valuable than you are right now’

“Read every­thing. If you don’t
read, you’re not a writer,” advis­es ’09 UConn grad and cur­rent ESPN.com NBA edi­tor Justin Ver­ri­er. (Pho­to cour­tesy of Justin Verrier)

Justin Ver­ri­er grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut in 2009 with a dou­ble major in Jour­nal­ism and Eng­lish. He cur­rent­ly serves as the con­tribut­ing NBA edi­tor for ESPN.com.

Ver­ri­er is respon­si­ble for orga­niz­ing the Nation­al Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion edi­to­r­i­al con­tent on the sports web­site while also con­tribut­ing to blogs, columns and fea­tures. In the Q&A below, he talks about his job, his expe­ri­ence as an under­grad at UConn and his advice for aspir­ing sports journalists.

Describe your typ­i­cal work day as an NBA edi­tor for ESPN.com.
A day’s work, for exam­ple, might con­sist of line-edit­ing copy, cre­at­ing dis­play pack­ages (teasers, pho­tos, cut­lines), plan­ning and orga­niz­ing week­ly fea­tures and long-term projects, writ­ing com­men­tary pieces, attend­ing games, etc.

Where else have you worked as a pro­fes­sion­al journalist?
I became the lead edi­tor for ESPN.com’s NBA night-side cov­er­age at the age of 23. I was also a sports reporter for the Hart­ford Courant.

How did the con­nec­tions you made at UConn help your career?
Well, it cer­tain­ly helped that [UConn is] locat­ed so close to the biggest sports media com­pa­ny in the world. A friend I worked with at the The Dai­ly Cam­pus interned at ESPN.com for its copy desk, and I slid into that posi­tion once his intern­ship end­ed. Then, after he left the com­pa­ny, I slid into his temp posi­tion with the NBA group and they nev­er kicked me out.

Hav­ing a dai­ly news­pa­per [The Dai­ly Cam­pus] was big, too. Real-world expe­ri­ence is every­thing in this pro­fes­sion, and by my junior year I was cov­er­ing a nation­al cham­pi­onship-con­tend­ing bas­ket­ball pro­gram on a dai­ly basis.

Why did you choose to major in journalism?
Writ­ing was real­ly the only thing I was ever good at; I’m bor­der­line reme­di­al in math­e­mat­ics (seri­ous­ly, I had to repeat Alge­bra). So when the time came in high school to start think­ing about a career path, writ­ing and sports didn’t sound so bad. I haven’t done any­thing else professionally.

Did you have a favorite UConn professor?
Not real­ly. Though I do remem­ber [Prof.] Tim Ken­ny once telling me and some of my sports-writ­ing cohorts that we’d even­tu­al­ly get sick of sports. Guess not.

What was the most valu­able skill you gained from UConn?
Prob­a­bly the work eth­ic. All of the edi­tors at the school paper my junior year were real­ly ded­i­cat­ed and real­ly proud of what we were doing. We stayed up way too late and cared wayyyy too much; it’s a lit­tle embar­rass­ing, know­ing what I know now, to look back on some of the things that we argued about or the sto­ries that I thought were it. But all that time, all that effort, all that car­ing — it mat­ters. If you care about what you’re doing, it’s going to show and peo­ple are going to notice.

Is there any­thing you wish you accom­plished while you were still at UConn?
I might’ve focused more on a few big­ger projects. There’s cer­tain­ly val­ue in doing good work con­sis­tent­ly, but those fea­tures and enter­prise pieces are the ones that’ll real­ly make a splash and get you noticed. I prob­a­bly should’ve stopped and smelled the ros­es a bit more, too.

What’s your advice for cur­rent UConn jour­nal­ism majors?
The indus­try is in flux right now. News­pa­pers are strug­gling. Mobile is becom­ing more impor­tant, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the sports world. I don’t even know what to say about ethics and objec­tiv­i­ty any more. Every­thing is a mov­ing tar­get, and all of us are try­ing to keep up with it and fig­ure it out on the fly. So I can’t tell you “Do this, do that” and you’ll be all right. No one can. But keep these things in mind:

• You’ll nev­er be more valu­able than you are right now. You always want to keep in mind the thing(s) you have or do that no one else has or can do, and right now that’s the abil­i­ty to work for cheap. Every com­pa­ny in the coun­try is look­ing for it. Use that to your advan­tage — do an intern­ship every year.

• Twit­ter isn’t every­thing. Yes, you’ll need to be famil­iar with social media, but you’re prob­a­bly already doing that. The tents of the indus­try – being able to devel­op sources, being able to write well and com­pre­hend quick­ly, being accu­rate, being informed, being able to put togeth­er great sen­tences, being able to see sto­ry­lines and trends — are still what mat­ter most. Very few peo­ple have made mon­ey off their Twit­ter feeds.

• Net­work as much as pos­si­ble. I learned this one the hard way. You can be the best writer in the world, but it doesn’t mat­ter if you don’t know the right peo­ple or you don’t treat peo­ple well.

• Read every­thing. If you don’t read, you’re not a writer.

• And for the aspir­ing sports writ­ers: You’re not Bill Sim­mons. Be your­self.

Fol­low Justin on Twit­ter: @JustinVerrier