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Interview with Will Jones, February 21, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Will Jones, February 21, 2008
February 21, 2008
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Interviewee:  Jones, Will Interviewer:  Rodriguez, Carmen Date of Interview:  2/21/2008 Series:  SENC Writers Length  40 minutes


Rodriguez: This is Carmen Rodriguez. Today is Thursday, February 21st, 2008. I'm at the Randall Library with longtime journalist and copy editor, Will Jones. As a journalist for Wilmington's daily paper, The Star News, Will pens the "Goodwill" column, which chronicles the good deeds of local residents. Welcome, Will.

Jones: Nice to meet you.

Rodriguez: We're going to begin this interview by starting from the beginning, which would be your childhood. You grew up here locally in Wilmington. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like when you were growing up and also some of the books that you were reading as a child?

Jones: Well growing up here was idyllic in a way. It was a small town. I was born December 22, 1954 and Wilmington was still a railroad town. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was headquartered here and as a young boy they announced their move to Jacksonville, Florida, which was really traumatic to the adults but I sort of was over my head. I didn't worry about whether the town was going to dry up or blow away as a lot of people feared. The books I read primarily were young reader books: The Hardy Boys mysteries, books for young readers, Jack London and The Call of the Wild. But I was a voracious reader. I did read quite a few books. As time went on I never lost that love of the library or a bookstore. Typically if I'd earn a few dollars here or there I'd squirrel them away and then buy a nice book, which was distressing to my parents. They probably knew better than anyone that you can't eat books.

Rodriguez: Did your parents read the newspaper when you were growing up? Did they have a paper they would bring home every day or did they get it delivered?

Jones: Yes, the Star News, The Wilmington Morning Star during the week and then The Sunday Star News on Sunday. They were religious newspaper readers but it's sort of funny to think back on what they liked to read. The front page, of course, but then the comics were always up high. My dad always insisted on reading all the good parts that he liked first and then my mom would get the comics and whatever she liked to read after he would go to work, which probably irritated my dad because he knew she was getting a chance to relish the paper while he had to get to work. But they read everything. The newspaper was definitely a big source of information, more so than television in the morning. We'd watch television news in the evenings.

Rodriguez: Did they read out loud to each other or did they read out loud to you from the paper?

Jones: Oh probably mostly the reading, after I was a very small child, would probably be maybe reading some devotionals or poems but my particular household wasn't a great oral storytelling household. I don't know why but there were other parts of both my families, my dad and my mother's families, that were raconteurs but my dad would, as some people might say, had a good filter. He didn't talk at length about things, especially in the morning, and my mom was more concerned about what she was going to get done that day.

Rodriguez: When you were in school and as a child growing up and reading a lot of books and being in school, did you do a lot of writing in let's say grammar school? Was there a lot of writing encouraged in the curriculum?

Jones: Probably most of our writing was of an unexceptional nature. Book reports, things like that. It almost was more of a practice of whether you could write a sentence or not, and of course we all had to learn cursive, which is kind of on the way out now. I drew as much as I wrote probably. Even all the way up through high school I would draw in equal amounts to writing. It was like the two halves of my brain were trying to get in sync and I had the idea I could be a cartoonist.

Rodriguez: So you would create little comics?

Jones: Right.

Rodriguez: Did you share them with anyone?

Jones: Oh yeah. There were people that thought probably when I was in high school that that's how I would make my living one day. But I wasn't truly an artist in the sense of being able to do a painting. Most cartoonists, even the ones that do simple line drawings, almost all of them are skilled artists. They reduce down their art to a simple idea but they have the skill behind it. The great thing about cartooning is it's an exercise in minimalism and I think it helped me with the idea of how to convey a story idea succinctly. Of course the ultimate is the one-frame cartoon like Gary Larson who does The Far Side, where you convey the idea and impose the humor of it all in one frame. You might have multiple concepts but it's in one frame. So I had an idea early on, the idea of boiling down what you write and of course once I read Hemingway, that was the ultimate, but in reductionism, to get the idea across in the most straightforward way possible without wasting the reader's time.

Rodriguez: Did you write for your high school newspaper?

Jones: Yes, in the boys' room, it's at Hoggard. That's probably where I had most of my encouragement towards journalism was from Mildred Modeling [ph?], who was an English teacher there. She pretty much was in charge of the newspaper. But I had several other instructors who said I wrote well and one accused me of actually hiding these to camouflage how much I'd actually studied.

Rodriguez: What did it mean to receive encouragement from your teachers at that early age?

Jones: It was important. I think I had an innate sense that I could write. Also, it wasn't like it was out of the blue that they encouraged me. I think a scary thing--I felt like I had the creative aspects and the tools to convey an idea. The scary part for me was getting out in the real world and digging up something worth the reader's time and that's where journalism is both exhilarating and difficult because it's like sales, it's like what have you done, you did a great thing today, now what are you going to do tomorrow. I think that looking out I wasn't sure that I had the aggressiveness to go out and be an investigative journalist. The other thing that was interesting was some of the people I ran across, one of my relatives had been graduated from UNC and went into broadcast journalism for a while and then she got married in an era where you didn't continue your career generally, and when I told her I was interested in journalism she didn't contradict me or oppose the idea. She didn't say a word in support, and I never understood that and then later I realized that probably she realizes the hardships involved and being a journalist is sort of like almost you're driven to do it whether it's in your best interests or not and you're going to find out and nothing's going to dissuade you. You may get disillusioned and you may burn out but you're going to find out your potential in that field, and she probably realized that people are driven, they're condemned almost to do this in some respects. There was just nothing she could say positive about it. I think her marriage had foundered, her husband was a journalist also, there wasn't much money in it at the time. So I was encouraged on one hand to write and express my creativity and on the other hand I knew that it wasn't the most comfortable of vocations. There wasn't a lot of money in it, the best you could say for it is it's very interesting work and I thought there will always be a market and the sky's the limit sort of for it.

Rodriguez: Was it something that you studied when you attended university?

Jones: Yes. At first I thought that was a real advantage that I knew--instead of just merely majoring in Liberal Arts, English or History, I had a vocation I was majoring in. The funny thing is at the time, I'm not sure if it's still the philosophy, but the journalism department encouraged--deliberately did not set up a course-heavy, major heavy course load. They wanted you to get a liberal arts education and spread yourself out as far as possible instead of being like in business majors. A lot of times business majors would say, "Well I'd like to have taken that class but I didn't have any latitude, once I got me on freshman year and the prerequisites, I had to take business." Journalism wasn't that way. Right up through your senior year you could be taking probably some electives that they would want you to do.

Rodriguez: You said that was deliberately. Why do you think that was deliberate?

Jones: Because they wanted you to have a wide, a well-educated background. They didn't want you narrowly trained where everything you have was just narrowly focused on the writing craft. They wanted you to take some English, take some political science, take some economics.

Rodriguez: So that you could understand your potential subjects when you were out in the field?

Jones: Right. And liberal arts education, I think, I've known a number of people that--I know someone that majored in voice, I know someone that was a Classics major. You'd say, "What in the world can these people do with these majors?" Well a lot of times they went on to some pretty substantial careers but those majors gave them discipline and gave them a number of things that help them later on that are not obvious right away. Of course in some cases they got graduate degrees. In journalism, one of the things I noticed when I was first starting out was I ran across a lot of people who had not had journalism as a primary background in college, if they'd gone to college even. Some writers, longtime writers, have not gone to college.

Rodriguez: What backgrounds are the ones who had gone to college have?

Jones: Well one guy was a drama major. I think he was conservative in temperament but once he got out into the drama community he realized he was sort of a fish out of water, but he had great editorial writing skills and partly I'd say that's from drama, being able to debate or being able to understand the nature of carrying your argument. Another fellow, several were English majors. One was a business major who was doing very well in commercial real estate in Atlanta, was bored with life. He had tickets to all the pro teams. He went back to school and decided to major in journalism and he's working in a bar to pay his bills and he met his future wife, who was a cocktail waitress in the bar. It's like his whole life turned around because he had decided to pursue journalism and to do something interesting, even though he could've stayed in real estate and made multiple times more money. I knew that journalism wasn't required. You didn't have to be a journalism major to go into journalism. That's the thing. It could help you sharpen your talents with no question, but you needed the drive, you needed to know that's what you wanted to do. You wanted to tell the story of what's going on in the world.

Rodriguez: What type of classes do journalism majors take as far as to focus on the writing portion?

Jones: Well I don't know now, it's been quite a while.

Rodriguez: What classes did you take?

Jones: Sometimes at Chapel Hill I'll go up in the Student Library because it's in the bookstore and look at what's been assigned, try to get a sense of what they're doing. They would have general news writing where it was, you know--you had to go actually to a meeting or something and write something about it and sometimes that would get published in the student paper, you know, one totally just for class. But that's where they would teach you the pyramid or teach you when, where, why, and how. I even took editorial writing, which was fun, and had no conception of blogging back then. Editorial writing was something rarified that you got to do but you had to prove yourself as a writer and prove yourself able to handle complicated subject matter and explain it. You just didn't get handed that job. You had basically to be able to show you could break down the issues for people and I'm afraid that today that's considered not much of a scale anymore because of the internet but, you know. But editorial writing is a particular skill and the average blogger does not hit the mark the way an editorial writer has to function. So it was interesting to see, well this is if you have a point of view and you want to write something, how you would do it is fun because in a regular story you couldn't do that. You had to present the facts. You did have to show editorial judgment in how you organized, how you deciphered what went on and write the story out of it.

Rodriguez: In non-editorial pieces, is it difficult to remove your opinion, even if it's a hidden opinion? Is it really hard to make sure that you keep yourself out of the story entirely?

Jones: If you're good at what you do you balance the story to the point where you could hear the reporter rant maybe after he's written a story about how outrageous something is, but then if you read the story and it doesn't give that sense, in other words the point of view is balanced, then he's done his job. You shouldn't inject yourself and you shouldn't filter it. Some people would. They'd filter or only quote people that supported their idea of what was going on and give short shrift to the other side, or they might put in the lead something or they organize a story in such a way that maybe something that wasn't as important at the meeting is the focus of the story. So you could've been at the meeting and you read the story and you're like, "Well, that wasn't what went on." That's when somebody's injecting and making an editorial decision about something. But if it's well done, you can have an opinion. It's not possible not to have an opinion about something. Well, it is possible, you might not care, but if you're professional and balance it to where the reader really doesn't know that and they have a sense of the counterbalancing arguments in an event which you've read. That's what we call a hole in the story too is if you read it and it's all one side and didn't somebody else talk about this? What about this? All we have is this one guy saying something and one guy's quoted throughout the whole story, we don't have anybody else in it. So if it's well done, as a human being you may have an opinion but you do it balanced and you could say fair, but you start treading into areas that are hard to--what is fair? You try to be balanced and to show the argument 360 degrees of what's going on to where you read it and you have a sense this is a slice of life that I've read.

Rodriguez: Is that where the copyediting portion kicks in where you have to question these things and make sure that there are no holes and this balance has been struck?

Jones: In previous days where we had layers of editing, at least a couple where somebody on what we'd call the city desk would read the story, they're supposed to catch that stuff. They would say, "We need to talk to so-and-so. This involves this," or "This involves this and haven't we written about this before? We need to tell the reader what's going on with this, some background," or "What about this? It seems like this is the important thing that was discussed." That kind of structural argument and where material needs to come and usually would be posed in the newsroom by a city editor and then when we get it, we just make sure that it makes sense, that they've moved stuff around or cut things that have a first reference of somebody by his last name and you don't know anything else. There's always a famous story in print where a paper would come out and there would be a note in bold in the middle of the story, the editor had put in bold, to send the story back to the reporter and somehow it got through, and it would say, "Bob, who is Heaker [ph?] Jenkins? Who is he?" Because something had gotten cut out and lo and behold, it was in the paper because nobody went back and fixed it. But the copy editor mostly is just to see that that kind of thing doesn't happen and that things transition properly and the grammar and spellings, names are consistently spelled throughout. That sort of thing. When you're sort of running short on time as a copyeditor when there are big holes in the story, at some point sometimes you just have to say, "This story can't run." Can't get up with the reporter, this is too important to run as is.

Rodriguez: And so that story becomes pushed to the next day or whenever those issues are--

Jones: Yeah, or rewritten for the next day. That doesn't happen much but it has happened before if it's important enough. Basically we're supposed to make that catch and if the ball rolls between the legs, baseball, line, you know, grounder runs through the legs of the city editor, we're supposed to be back up to catch it. It should be done before we get to it. But the nature of editing and reporting is changing with the Internet and so it's going to be a different ballgame.

Rodriguez: We'll talk about that in a few minutes. I wanted to clarify, the university that you attended, was it Chapel Hill?

Jones: That's right.

Rodriguez: Did you also take copyediting courses there? Is that where you learned this skill or is that something you pick up along the way?

Jones: I pretty much picked it up along the way. I didn't take any copyediting courses. I really sort of only had a vague notion of deskwork when I was at school. We were trained as reporters primarily. And we were trained--I'll take it back, I did have one copyediting class before graduating where the main emphasis was layout and deadline. I have to say that was one of the toughest courses I had and probably the closest to real life, because if you didn't make deadline you flunked and then you had to make it, and then you weren't allowed but X amount of mistakes. Two mistakes was a letter grade down. You know, typos, whatever. Well that was under the future Dean, Richard Cole. He's retired now. But mostly it was on writing skills and reporting skills. We did have an editor from Greensboro come by, The Greensboro News and Record and he said, "You're all dreaming of being reporters. But what we need are copyeditors." These people were like, "What? Copyeditors? That's what middle-aged people do, you know, I don't want to do that." So it was always in demand. The thing about copyediting is it's sort of a devil's deal. You get a regular schedule, or did, doing that sort of work, deskwork, whereas a reporter had a chaotic schedule, really could be tough socially in every other way because of meetings and things they had to do at night, long days, just whatever would come up. You might have a weekend off as a reporter but if something big happens on your beat and you come in and spend the weekend writing about it. As a desk person you came and went pretty much contained. The job was contained in the hours that you were (inaudible). You didn't have to worry about something happening. You didn't have to be thinking about the job all the time like a reporter does even on your time off, but your hours were terrible, uniformly terrible because you'd go in late afternoon, work until the bars were about to close and you would a lot of times work weekends. So you're working weekends and nights and can be terribly socially isolating. So a lot of times you'd see some really eccentric folks doing deskwork. They weren't when they started out, they became that way.

Rodriguez: What was your first writing job outside of college once you graduated?

Jones: Okay, this is where local interest comes in. I worked for The Hanover Sun. It was really more like a hobby doing that than an actual job because it paid so little. But I was living here, still living at home, and what I found out was I went on a job hunt and went all the way to Houston, Texas, where I had family and friends along the way and interviewed in Atlanta, not with The Atlanta Journal Constitution but some of the smaller papers in the area, and I went to Houston and that was my first encounter with big-time personnel department and what I didn't realize was that you couldn't get a job in journalism going through the front door like that. You had to know somebody. You had to have a connection with an editor or somebody had to know you. But I remember Houston, I guess it was The Chronicle. They had a glass wall with an automatic door. The people behind the desk were dressed to the nines, very fancy, it was a big city. I could've gotten a job there with one of the suburban papers or with a technical writer probably. But I found Houston overwhelming as a city and it was probably a good thing I didn't get a job there because it wasn't too long after that, this was '78, that the whole economy just crashed there. Of course, journalism is affected before anything else is usually when the economy crashes. So I came back here and I took this job. The Star News at the time didn't have any openings and I took a job at The Hanover Sun, which was a weekly, family-owned, and had sort of an unfortunate history in the Civil Rights Movement in Wilmington. It was a conservative paper and was formed about the era that the schools were integrated and when The Wilmington Ten came out they would have front-page editorial diatribes. This was before I started work for them. I think one of their famous headlines was in response to Ben Chavez for The Wilmington Ten who said he was going to sue them over something and they said, "Sue, Baby, Sue" in a giant headline on the front page. But it was still interesting to work for a paper in my backyard that was not corporate. It was just a start-up and when I went to work for them it was their third and final gasp of air. They pretty much had toned down their outrageousness. I was able to cartoon for them and write. I did that for a while and then they went under for the final time, which paychecks started bouncing. It was an interesting experience.

In the wake of that I found a job at a weekly in Mullins, South Carolina, a little tobacco town. There was another Carolina grad there that was an editor. One of the things that's interesting about this period was in the late 70s, Watergate had had a huge effect on recruitment for journalism schools. Everybody wanted to be a reporter. It was glamorous. Woodward and Bernstein and they had Dustin Hoffman and I can't think of his name, anyway the famous actors playing Woodward and Bernstein and thousands of people turn out to journalism school and there were so many people that had come out of school as majors that they filtered all the way down to the rural weeklies. There just weren't enough jobs for all of them in the bigger markets. Some of these little weekly papers in the country in that period of time won so many press awards from their state, press councils. We'd go on some of these little weeklies and there would be just a wall full of certificates and it's from that group that came out of journalism school and were serious about doing something, making their mark, and dug up all kinds of things.

These poor little towns, you know, public officials never used to any scrutiny. People were combing through the budgets and finding no big contracts. People were using county equipment for private projects and a lot of muckraking, a lot of interesting stuff. Of course it didn't last. Most of those people moved on up or they got out of the field and they realized hey, this is crazy, why am I doing this for nothing, you know. There's so little money. So anyway that was part of that wave that I was in. I went to Mullins. I remember my first impression was I got out of my car and I looked and there was a tobacco juice streak on the side that somebody spit going down the road. It was a tobacco town, warehouses, auctions. Tobacco was on its way out but it had not died, it was still a big deal once a year though.

Rodriguez: Did you find that town to be more Southern than the one you had just left?

Jones: Oh yes. Wilmington, even as a different as it was then than now, Mullins was Old South and you had people that had been there their whole lives. Their kids would go off to college and come back and wait for the parents to die so they could inherit their real estate or whatever. Very clannish in the sense of people with connections to other people. But a wealth of material there. There's a country song, I think the group is Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and the lyric, the refrain in one song was "One stoplight blinking on and off, everyone knows when the neighbors cough, sidewalks roll up when the sun goes down, Lord get me out of this one-horse town." Well that was sort of the way it was there. Everybody knew when the neighbors coughed. It was like no secrets. Everybody's up near everybody else's business, but even so in that environment the papers would sell out when it came out. Everybody would buy one.

Rodriguez: Was there a daily there or was it only weekly?

Jones: It was just the weekly. Everybody read what you wrote and you were likely to run into that person on the street when you wrote something. That was an experience that most people didn't have that worked for the larger papers. In a sense they were kind of cut off from their subject.

Rodriguez: Did it make it more difficult to write controversial stories in a town where you knew you would encounter the person on the street?

Jones: It would come down to having your life threatened sometimes or fisticuffs. It happened to me before I left. Not Mullins, but I was in a different town. I did some investigating work. Basically I showed up on a tip somewhere where somebody was using county equipment on a farm, a bulldozer that cost probably $100,000 a year, the previous year to maintain. They were using it on of the councilman's farms to push up stumps. I was trying to take a picture and basically I had my life threatened at that point and had to pursue a case in court. I was asked to by the editor because it was for the next person coming after me. Like you can't let somebody get away with threatening your life and grabbing your camera. I got my camera back that time from the county supervisor, the top official. It was the only time he had ever set foot in the newspaper. He came and brought my camera, because I had told him, I said it's my personal property, it's not the newspaper's. If it had been the newspaper's, I doubt we'd ever seen anything of it.

Rodriguez: Was the film still in the camera?

Jones: No. Another thing, journalism test, there's a famous test where a journalist starts talking and he gets shot. Somebody comes in and fires a blank at him during the lecture and then squishes a ketchup pack and he falls over and everybody's screaming in class and the instructor gets up and says, "All right, that was just for show. Now everybody sit down and write what you saw." And then you get 30 different accounts. What was the gunman wearing, what happened, A to B, and I went through that situation myself in that case because when you're terrified and you think you're going to get throttled, there are details I remember, like a couple of little kids staring, like grandchildren. This is the lesson they're getting in American Civics. And yet I couldn't remember what, well there was a little boy and a little girl or two little boys and it was like when it came up to (inaudible) case they made a whole big deal out of the bystanders not being able to describe them and they weren't being consistent. So evidently I made this whole thing up. Then the county attorney's the one that prosecutes the defendant, the official involvement. He said, "Even if you believe this guy, this reporter, everything he says, he was on this property. A man has the right to defend his castle." So it was interesting to actually experience that classroom lesson in the field. Always be observant. And when you're in an accident or anything, I try to train myself. As a writer you need to pay attention to what's going on around you and not get lost in your thoughts and always pay attention to quantify what's--because you never know when something life changing's going to happen and then you're a witness and you feel an even higher responsibility because you're trained to describe these things and if you don't remember who was driving what model vehicle came across the road in the wreck, or if you're in an accident, if you can't accurately reconstruct what happened, then what kind of journalist are you? You have to pay attention and develop your mind to record what's going on around you so that when unexpected things happen, you can chronicle it.

It's much tougher when you're worried about your own safety. There's no way to really prepare for that. You accept just to mentally train yourself and the memory is so fallible too, so it's good to always write down and if you chronicle something that happened that day or record it, and then you didn't think about it for a month or two months or six months and you went back, you'd say, "Well that's funny. I don't remember it like I wrote it down exactly." So journalism skills are things that you have to develop and train yourself for. But that was a long answer to where I started out, but I started out essentially it was the small, lowest level you could possibly start out, unless it would be a neighborhood newsletter. There are papers that have started out that way.

Rodriguez: You started out with these weeklies and then eventually you made your way to working at The Star News, which is a daily. How did that come about? How did you end up back in Wilmington?

Jones: Like a lot of people that come back home, eventually you do it for reasons involving family a lot of times. My mom's health had deteriorated and it was too much to manage where I was. I was in South Carolina, Buford, South Carolina. I was working for The Hilton Head Paper. So I came back here in 1995 to help her in her last years living at home and help her transition to assisted living and on from there, and The Star News always has had some turnover, especially in the copy desk, something like that. If an opening occurs they would try to fill it as fast as possible and I was experienced and available and they took me right on. I just was lucky and they were lucky I was there when they needed somebody. I was lucky they had an opening.

Rodriguez: Was that the beginning of the copyediting portion of your career or you had been doing that as well?

Jones: I had been doing that for a while. I started work for a daily in 1982 after a string of weeklies and semi-weeklies, of which I was editor of the last one, and then I went in as news editor in Buford, South Carolina, for The Buford Gazette. It was a PM daily, which I'm glad I had the chance to work for an afternoon paper because they pretty much disappeared from the landscape.

Rodriguez: Would they put it out at what time?

Jones: At lunchtime. I don't miss having to be at work at 5:30 in the morning. But it was nice because I had more chances to write there because of the schedule. I could write things and then also report a little bit. Also you could take night classes or go to concerts or cultural events or whatever. I had nights off. Granted I didn't want to stay up too late. We also were a small daily and we didn't actually have a weekend edition. So Friday afternoon was really Friday afternoon. A lot of times staff would just take off and have a long lunch, hash out things, which was great rapport for developing inter-staff cooperation and strength to be able to meet as a group. Not everyone but a lot of us could meet in a relaxed social setting, bond, which is almost impossible with a morning because everyone goes off their own way. You have the daytime staff and the night staff. But it was tough work because you had to do about eight hours of work in about four hours and we used our schedule. You could say well, it was all old news by the time people got it because you know it was the previous day. PMs, they'd had the previous day's news that the morning papers would have had. People would have been reading it when they got home from work, but what we did is we updated everything, we got local input on wire stories. If it was an Associated Press health story, we'd call somebody at the hospital and talk to them, you know, do we do this here or simple locations where people are going to have this procedure here, blah, blah, blah, or any story you plug in that local. So still we had fresh content but it's very hectic doing that but adrenaline kind of brush job. You'd be starving by the time lunch got there. But then we switched over to mornings and then went to work for The Hilton Head Paper and they went from being semi-weekly to eventually seven days a week, mornings. So I was firmly entrenched as a morning cycle copy editor by the time I came back here.

Rodriguez: What does a writer learn going from first being that reporter and then moving into the copyediting portion and then going back to writing? What does a writer learn from being a copy editor?

Jones: Well I don't know that it gives you any lofty, you know, you can put on a pointy wizard's hat. What I've seen is that most copy editor's write pretty well. When you see a copy editor that actually sits down and covers something or writes something, they do a pretty fair job of it and I attribute that to the fact that they have read so much and have seen what effective writing is. The main thing is you've learned how to trim things down, to get to the point or bring the point up that you have an anecdotal lead or something, bring what we call a nut graph up high in the story within the first couple of paragraphs or three paragraphs, put it in, like, okay, this is interesting what you described but now why does it matter, and you put up there why this matters and then you can get back to the story of the individual or whatever. Organization, trimming down, not repeating yourself, not using an inexact word or an unnecessary word. Basically getting the story to move along. Those are the things that you learn as a copy editor and when you sit down and write you just don't waste a lot of time. The other thing I'd like to think that we learn is to try to keep a fresh eye on your subject. A reporter that spends a lot of time on a subject he might start suffering a syndrome where they think the reader knows everything they do and they start out writing, and if you were reading it for the first time it would be, like, what's this about? This doesn't make sense to me. And try to keep your writing fresh and lean is the main thing I think we bring to it. Of course the writers can chafe, you know. The other thing is writers that have a lot of experience tend to not chafe as much when somebody pares down a little bit what they're saying, and that's the other thing is that everything you write, I don't know how it is for fiction, but if you're trying to be descriptive or achieve something more than just bare bones coverage of something or trying to do something with your writing, sometimes you feel like you're wearing your heart on your sleeve and somebody comes in there and messes it all up. There'll be some hidden grudges.

Early on though I learned that you can't feel that way because as long as somebody doesn't go behind you and make it wrong. And that's the other thing, as a copy editor I learned going back and forth early on I learned that you can make something read a lot better but it can absolutely be wrong if you don't watch what you're doing. You've got to understand what the reporter's talking about or what's going on there. You might rearrange what's there and it's a lot more elegant but it's not right. That's where the understanding between the two roles comes in the most, I think, is understanding. Don't tinker with something if it doesn't need it. Ideally you get the writer right there with you where you talk with the writer and you say, "Wouldn't it be better if we said this?"

Rodriguez: Do you prefer one occupation over the other, a reporter versus being a copy editor, or do you enjoy them equally?

Jones: I would say I enjoy them equally. I would like to have the freedom of reporting with the stability of the copyediting, and you can't have one without the other. If you're going to be in the copy editing part you're going to have the stability but you're going to be cut off from the world that the reporter experiences. If you're going to be the reporter you're going to experience the world and have the freedom to pursue what you want to write about in many cases, but you're going to be at the mercy of his schedule and not know what one day is going to, you know, is going to happen the next day. And then you say well, what I'd like to be is a freelancer but then you don't get a steady paycheck. There's no free lunch.

Rodriguez: We are actually coming to a close with our time. I just wanted to ask you a question that I ask many of the writers that we speak with. The first part of the question is what is the best writing advice you've ever received, and then the second is what is the advice you might give to a young writer or an up-and-coming journalist?

Jones: The best writing advice I've ever received was tell the story in a way that is involved, engages the reader. I don't have a seminal moment or a quote from any one person but probably as a reporter the best compliment that was ever paid to me was a lawyer told me one time that had been in court for a murder case and I wrote the story up, it was an interesting trial testimony, he said, "I don't think I've ever read a better balanced account of what went on in a courtroom than what your story did." which I thought that was high praise to hear that from a lawyer. It wasn't his case. And then as a writer, to have somebody just volunteer that they really enjoyed reading something that they didn't have any idea about, that you just brought this whole story matter up that riveted them mean a lot to me because that meant the material was interesting and the way you wrote about it was interesting, it involved the reader. So if you can involve the reader and also give a fair or an accurate depiction of the world that you're in for someone who's seen a part of what you are talking about feels that you have a high standard of accuracy then you have done your job, and the second part was what? The advice I would give?

Rodriguez: Mm-hmm.

Jones: I think the same thing. It would be use the tools that God gave you to bring the story to life, create an image in the reader's mind. Because even with the internet, writing will always have the power to create a mental interior, the hidden message in someone's mind about a world that is that they haven't been exposed to. The internet can convey images and it can convey information, but writing will still have its unique power to involve the reader with the written word, I think, and if it ever loses that, if we ever lose the ability to write then it'll be a sad day because it's the forge of creativity. The gift of writing is the forge of creativity that transforms us as artists and as individuals and we don't want to lose that connection.

Rodriguez: Well I want to thank you for your time today. It's been a great interview and I look forward to continuing to read your column in the paper. Thank you, Will.

Jones: Alright.

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