As a featured contributor for SBNation.com and with regular appearances on ESPN’s “Around the Horn”, media personality Bomani Jones’s versatility crosses all forms of media. Jones started his career in sports journalism at ESPN’s Page 2 before a series of events lead him to build a passionate, loyal following with “The Morning Jones”. His story presents a road map of building an audience in the 21st century. Bomani recently sat down with Atlanta marketing firm, Nao to discuss how he uses social media platforms, economics and sports, and his time spent writing for the now defunct Page 2.
NaoMediaCon: You’ve built a following through social networking platforms, blogs, satellite radio and podcasts. For example, as I’m writing these questions, you’ve posted footage of Kobe playing 1 on 1 vs. Bow Wow on your Google Plus account with the promise that it’ll be a show topic tomorrow morning. Where do you fit in as a 21st century success story?
Bomani Jones: It’s an interesting question. The biggest thing I think I did that would have been unlikely before was do work for a variety of platforms and get them noticed by people in many different genres and walks of life. Further, I was able to build some brand recognition without being attached to a big major brand. Of course, it wasn’t long before I worked with ESPN, which lent me more credibility than I had myself. But three years after working for them, I had a larger profile than I ever did while on the payroll. There’s no way I could have done that without an agent or team behind me even 10 years ago. It’s easier now than ever to self-promote, and I’ve jumped on that.
NMC: Building off the first question, people talk about how the immediacy of Twitter changed the sports experience for the fan. Can you talk about some of the ways that social media platforms, specifically Twitter, helped shape “The Morning Jones” into the show it is?
BJ: The biggest thing was it allowed me to speak directly with my audience. I could take down the wall that’s usually between an on-air personality and listeners, and I could get a very clear idea of who the people were that consumed the project and how to reach them. From there, that connection allowed them to recommend the show with a sincerity they wouldn’t be able to convey if I was just the dude on the radio. Listeners’ word is far more powerful than any slogan I could come up with, and they’re primarily responsible for the growth we’ve seen.
NMC: You have a unique perspective when it comes to not only talking about sports but the topics you cover and the way you cover it. And now you have a tight knit audience who shares this point of view. In a way, is “The Morning Jones” the sports talk show you always wanted to hear? What do you see as your demographic for the show?
BJ: The truth is that I never listened to much sports talk before I started doing it myself. The demographic for most sports talk stations is ages 25-54, and I started doing my own shows at 27. This is the show that I know how to do. I was told early that the show needed to be about me as much as anything else, and I’ve leaned on that. Now, what is the demographic for my show now? I truly have no idea. It’s done with commonality in mind, and I’ve never thought narrowly about who is listening. I think this is something anyone of any age can relate to.
NMC: What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a show based in the South compared to NYC or LA? One advantage that comes to mind is you get to have some sort of perspective on events or athletes instead of getting suffocated by the entire scene.
BJ: Well, one advantage I have is I’m in the nexus of college basketball, and that gives me an interesting perspective on something big that I wouldn’t have if I lived in a bigger place. There is also the benefit of being away from the machine, but the biggest thing is that I’m a Southern guy. This is the world I understand and best relate to. It’s easier to be myself when I’m at home.
NMC: I’m reading a blog post about your writing career and I’m interested in the time from April 2000 to August 2000. You read a lot of books, you got Napster and listened to a lot of music, you decided you wanted to get out of school as soon as possible – it sounds like that was an important time period for you both intellectually and spiritually. Can you talk how these few months influenced you and what epiphanies and lessons from that period you still carry with you?
BJ: Well, that time wasn’t especially happy. I’m not sure I realized anything other than how few things could be worse than grieving after my best friend died my junior year in college. The thing was that my coping mechanism was to work on starting a career, and it locked me into the work ethic that I have now. But somewhere in that time, I realized that this wasn’t going to be a hobby. I had a chance to turn it into something special. At that time, though, I thought I could do that in three years. 11 years later, and we’re still figuring it out.
NMC: Although you dropped out of the PHD program, you say that economics shaped how you see the world. Can you give some recent examples of looking at sports topics from an economic perspective and how that may have given you a different insight?
BJ: Economics, as I’ve studied it, looks at how scare resources are allocated. Economists look at the decisions people make, based on constraints and accessibility to resources. That’s no different than sports. Every interaction has some set of information, some constraints, and some possible outcomes. The thought process I learned in school is remarkably versatile, and it allows me insight that others may not have, even if they’re covering those situations from the ground. To have a scientific approach to lean on makes me feel a lot more comfortable about how many things I can discuss, and it allows me to look at those topics deeply and in terms that everyone can understand.
NMC: The recent launch of Grantland brought up memories of Page 2. Page 2 has a cult following and is remembered as the pinnacle of good sports writing. Can you talk about how that site developed you as a writer?
BJ: It’s the first site I ever read and thought, “maybe I can write about sports.” That was years before I ever actually considered doing it, but the early Page 2 lineup redefined what I thought was possible for sportswriters. I had no idea you could look at games like Ralph Wiley did, or speak as conversationally as Bill Simmons. For a guy like me, who is easily bored by box scores, it mades writing in sports possible. From there, there’s the time I spent there, and all the guys who helped me become a better writer. Thomas Neumann, Michael Philbrick, Patrick Hruby, Jim Caple, Scoop Jackson, Jemele Hill, DJ Gallo…all those people and more have been great to me over the years and help me figured out exactly what the hell I should be doing.
NMC: You’ve had a long journey as a writer with stops at Page 2 and AOL Black Voices. Say it’s 2011 and you’re back at the moment when you drop out of grad school to pursue writing full time. How different is your path?
BJ: I don’t know anyone that’s done it like this. Others have come off the beaten path to get where they are, but I don’t know anyone that’s been able to do almost totally different things from year to year, only to ultimately find the place to put them all together. Plus, getting fired usually doesn’t mean getting better jobs, and that’s been the case for me just about every time I’ve had a setback. And now, sitting with another chance to figure it out and do something new, I’m as confident as ever in what’s coming next. I don’t know how many people say that after finding out their jobs would be gone in a month.
NMC: Lastly, can you talk about your future plans and goals?
BJ: To be honest, I’m not much on goals. My only plan is to keep working hard. Deciding what you want is a great way to wind up in something that isn’t all you thought it would be. I simply want to do good work that I can stand by and, ultimately, will be happy with. There’s not much important beyond that.