By MELISA FINK ’14

“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