Ohio University

Alumnus Spotlight - Jon Greenberg, BSJ '01

Alumnus Spotlight - Jon Greenberg, BSJ '01

Hometown: Steubenville, Ohio

Year Graduated: 2001

School: E.W. Scripps School of Journalism

Major: Journalism (News writing and editing)

Current job title and location: Editor-in-chief, The Athletic, Chicago(land)

What do you do? I’m an editor and columnist/feature writer for our subscription sports website. I’m actually the first editorial employee of the company, as we launched in Chicago in January 2016. Now we have more than 400 full-time writers in the U.S., Canada and Europe. 

What made you come to Ohio University? Were there other places you considered? The journalism school and in-state tuition. I didn’t really have much of a choice. I only applied to four schools because I was pretty sure I had to stay in-state. Since I paid my own way through student loans, my parents were right in pushing me this way.

How did the Scripps College of Communication equip you with the skills you needed to succeed? Like a lot of hard-core news and TV students, most of my education came outside of the classroom. I worked at The Post for two-plus years and spent my senior year at The Athens Messenger as the OHIO beat writer for football, men’s basketball and baseball. 

Some of the fundamentals I learned in my news writing and editing classes have stuck with me to this day. There are little style rules that my colleagues don’t follow and it drives me crazy! With that in mind, I wish I had spent more time enjoying the classes Scripps had to offer and talking to professors.

What about your experiences here was so memorable? Shortly after I graduated, I was in New York to go to a banquet honoring the family that funded my fellowship to intern with the AP in Israel. I stayed a night with a friend and his roommate’s girlfriend told me her mom also went to OHIO. “She said she made new friends every day there,” the girlfriend told me. That was so spot-on. I had so many groups of friends during my four years. OHIO was just such a friendly place. I still have regrets about things I didn’t do there, or decisions I wish I had handled differently. But by the end of my senior year, I was already missing Athens. I still do, to this day.

Tell us about your career path. After my post-grad internship with the AP, I got a newspaper job in Yuma, Ariz., stayed there for 13 months and wanted to live in a big city. So I cobbled together freelance work in Chicago and worked at a sports business publishing company called Team Marketing Report. I stayed there, in various roles, for more than a decade, while I freelanced for various outlets on the side.

In 2009, when I was 30, ESPN took a chance on me to write for their fledging city website. I turned that original freelance gig into a columnist job that lasted until 2015. That was when The Athletic came calling with an idea about a subscription sports news site. When we started in January 2016, it was just the founders, me and two writers I hired. Now it’s the biggest, best sports website in the world.

How has your work life and or focus changed due to the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. and resulting precautionary measures? I mostly work for home regardless, so that part hasn’t changed. What’s different is my wife and two kids are home all day, every day, with me, so it’s been a bit challenging for all of us to get our work done.

As for The Athletic, we’re lucky that we’re a subscription-based business, so advertising (which is only present on our podcast side) is a small part of our revenue stream. Honestly, I’m busier than ever as we’re being aggressive and proactive with feature ideas and “remember when” content to keep our subscribers happy. I’m definitely more stressed than ever as we grapple with a present and near future with no live sports. We’re reporting on the current situation, and, while it’s tough to be hopeful right now, I’m trying to stay present as we muddle through it all.

What advice do you have for current students? Right now, my advice is to be flexible. You can’t control what’s happening in the world and you should not be stressed about finding a job in your field for the next year. Find some way to improve yourself, whether it’s taking an online class in something that interests you, learning a skill like photography or just doing something that makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to take a “gap year” from journalism if the jobs and internships are scarce (as I think they will be). Get a job that will teach you about people, about how society works. Get a job where you can overhear interesting conversations. Anything you do, as long as you do something, will make you a better journalist, I promise you.