Drew Jones Spotlight - University of Houston
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Valenti student Drew Jones standing in front of the New York Times building.

Drew Jones, Print Journalism

Drew Kendall Jones is as passionate about writing as any storyteller can be and as hardworking as any professional needs to be to succeed. It has been a busy year for Drew: he’s published an article on Houston’s local scene in The Washington Post, and he spent two weeks in May reporting for The New York Times, culminating in a published article about social media’s relation to gardening.

We spoke to Drew behind the scenes about how he landed opportunities to write for some of the nation’s most renowned newspapers, as well as what his future plans are now that he has those experiences in his repertoire.

Drew is currently a print journalism major with a minor in political science and will be graduating Fall 2019.

You can follow Drew on Twitter or Instagram at @drewkjones.

Interview Q&A

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What is it about journalism that attracts you to it? 

The ability to find a story and then explain it from the perspective of the people who are most directly involved. With the speed and connectivity of the Internet, you can learn about other parts of the world in a way that, before, you would have to be looking at the wire to get a dispatch from there. 

Now, you can get an on-the-ground look at what’s happening in certain areas, and even just nationally, you can learn about other cities in a way that has never been done before. It’s easier than ever to find and report stories and get them out there. 

What are some experiences that have shaped you character, both professionally and personally?

I credit a lot of who I am now to working in my early 20s. I wasn’t in school for a while. I spent time working in restaurants and bars. There, you really get a sociological view of people. The long hours and stress of the work definitely built up my ability to be tenacious and put together whatever it is that I’m tasked with. 

However, I believe it’s especially interacting with strangers and confronting differing perspectives that gives me my understanding of people and my empathetic character. This helps build a more rounded experience and view of the world as a journalist. 

How have your articles in The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Houstonia, and Medium shaped your writing voice?

It is always nerve-wracking to put something out into the world. However, I’ve learned from the feedback I’ve been given that my writing is clear and sharp. Having a story out in the open and having editors trust me to churn out stories has given me a degree of authority now. I have more confidence in my writing. Now I trust that I will be able to tell a story in a clear manner and that hopefully my audience will understand the emotion behind it.

“Now I know how to fact-check myself, how to find my own sources—these experiences  have developed my amateur voice into something more.”

Could you see yourself working full-time in any of these publications? 

It has been a whirlwind journey since last summer, but I would like to work at The New York Times , especially after working there at the Student Journalism Institute. It’s a great environment, and they have done a lot to open up a pipeline for younger journalists and journalists of color. 

There is a real understanding that, as the world moves to where there are more diverse voices in the world, they’ve had to adjust accordingly. They’ve picked up young people; for example, one of their national correspondents is a 26-year-old. They’ve really opened the door to people who wouldn’t have been in these spaces 20 or 30 years ago. 

Tell us about your experience applying and writing for The New York Times Student Journalism Institute. 

It was one of the best experiences in my life. Last summer, I won a scholarship through ProPublica to attend the NABJ Conference in Detroit, and through there I got hooked into the NABJ network where I got connected with some reporters from the Times who were recruiting. They were the ones who put it on my radar.

I began researching it, and last fall I applied. I just kind of threw all of what I had written out there. During New Year’s Eve, I got a call from the director telling me I had been accepted. We worked out of The New York Times and CUNY for two weeks. There were 26 people accepted across the country, and they were all part of diversity-focused journalism organizations. I was one of three editors, and our job was to clean up the stories and come up with headlines. 

We were also given the opportunity to write and be published in the Times Student Institute’s newspaper, and what I ended up writing about was very different from what I first imagined writing about. I wanted to do a piece on community gardens, especially in Brooklyn, but I read a New Yorker article talking about gardening influencers famous in YouTube. So I focused on our relationship with gardening and the Internet, and how social media has influenced that field.

We also have a separate newspaper with all of our stories on them, it’s our own little project.

How did you find these great writing opportunities? 

Just Google search, honestly. For the past couple of years, I’ve been applying to everything, so I’m fearless in that regard. It’s also a lot of networking. I worked in The Daily Cougar last year, and our advisor was very active in getting opportunities in front of us. Since then, I feel like it’s been a chain of people telling me about opportunities. I have a strong support network.

“The work that you do matters the most, but having connections who can tell you what opportunities are coming up is so important.”

Ultimately, what is your dream job?

If I could do anything, it would be writing as a national correspondent and investigating trends in different cities. One of the questions that I ask myself the most when I’m writing is, how did this come to be? Being able to look at current events and investigate the history of the place is what I’m most interested in.

Do you think Valenti has helped you get closer to your dream? 

It’s definitely helped me with networking and also with the experience you gain through classes. It’s allowed me to write as effectively as I do. If I hadn’t enrolled in the school, I can’t imagine I would have had the same opportunities I have now. I can’t understate the institutional support, with the hands-on writing exercises in class and the support from the professors.

What are your plans after graduating this semester? 

I want to move to New York. That’s been my goal for a while, and the type of work I want to do as a national correspondent goes well with the city. I want to broaden the sphere of my world and be able to continue to write for national outlets.

Finally, what are some of your favorite topics to cover in a story? 

It’s important to write about what you like to read about, because it gives you the expertise and interest that propels you to better writing. I like to read about weird stuff, which is why I wrote the story for The New York Times, despite the fact that I would never be involved in that community.

As for specific topics, the Internet is a big topic because there are a lot of interesting trends that are happening with the younger generations. Houston, as a topic, looking into the community as a whole and how people live and are impacted by events there is also a big thing for me.

You can find Drew’s stories in The New York Times , The Washington Post , The Houston Chronicle, Houstonia and Medium