Jason Williams’ career includes five years working as Communications Director for a local not-for-profit. He’s been in our shoes, folks. Jason started in journalism as a sportswriter, but after the newspaper he worked for burned through three different owners in six months, he started to have concerns about the future of the business.
“I didn’t think I would miss it,” said Jason, “And I did, every single day. I missed the adrenaline, the rush of hitting deadlines, talking to sources, of being part of and documenting the history of whatever city you’re in and the camaraderie of the newsroom.”
In 2012, Jason returned to his roots, reporting on transportation and business for The Enquirer, and his role expanded from there. Judging by the candid responses Jason shared with us via email for this interview, as well as this pinned Tweet, expressing opinions for The Enquirer’s popular Politics Extra (PX) column doesn’t always make all his readers happy, but for Jason, it is the fulfillment of a dream.
1. How long have you been a journalist?
I started my career 20 years ago this month. I’ve spent 15 years as a journalist and 5 in public relations.
2. Why politics? How did you fall into this beat?
I spent the first eight years of my career as a sportswriter, with the goal of always transitioning into news to become a columnist focused on politics. I grew up in a politically engaged home and family (my uncle was county commissioner and on the board of elections in my home county in Southeast Ohio for several years). I always felt like my parents looked at both sides of issues and candidates from both parties before forming their decisions, and they’re still that way. It provided me a very balanced, fair, common-sense look at politics, and played a big role in my interest in it. My mom was a high school English teacher (retired now), and that’s where the writing interest came from. I started covering politics full-time in February 2016. I felt like I had hit my ceiling covering transportation and business – which was a great way to transition into politics – and I simply asked our editor at the time, Peter Bhatia, if I could cover politics full-time. He was all for it and knew that my ultimate goal was to be a columnist. My weekly Politics Extra column generated so much interest that he decided to move me to full-time columnist in July 2017.
3. When are you most satisfied with your job?
When I write a column that starts a community conversation. Whether folks agree or disagree, the community’s response to my columns has been nothing short of awesome. I see journalism as a community-service career, and it’s particularly satisfying when readers thank me for having a straightforward, common-sense style.
4. When do you really not like you job?
There really are few times I don’t like the job. Occasionally, someone on social media will make a really nasty personal comment that’ll bug me. Mostly, it’ll bother my wife which in turn makes it bother me. That’s rare, though. I have a pretty thick skin.
5. What is the most significant project or accomplishment of your journalism career and what did you learn from it?
Our staff winning the Pulitzer Prize this year. I had very little to do with the project. (I wrote two paragraphs, literally.) But to see our team win the profession’s top honor after all the layoffs, cuts, deaths of coworkers and criticism of the media, wow, what an accomplishment. To be in the newsroom when the award was announced and seeing the pure joy on my coworkers’ faces is something I’ll never forget. It was likely a once-in-a-lifetime moment that lets the world know we can accomplish big things when we work together, believe in what we’re doing and stay the course no matter the challenges. In terms of an individual story, I’d say working on the CVG board investigation back in 2013 and 2014 was significant. Our work led to a state law change and to people who didn’t have the public’s best interest in mind resigning from the board.
6. What is the worst moment of your career and what did you learn from it?
I’d say the worst moment of my career happened last October, when someone created a fake Facebook account of me that had very vulgar and inappropriate photoshopped images of me. (I won’t go into details, but it was BAD.) Our top-notch staff of digital and social media folks finally convinced Facebook to take it down after a few weeks. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have an impact on me. For a few weeks, I had to do some serious soul-searching about whether or not I wanted to continue in this career field. I didn’t feel like my life was in danger. But I knew as a columnist who puts himself out there every day and calls them like I see them, this is something that could happen again – especially at a time when journalists are under attack as “the enemy of the people.” Nonetheless, I had great support from my coworkers and family, and I decided I wasn’t going to let some anonymous troll deter me from doing what I love.
7. What's the one story you'd most like to cover yourself?
A presidential race from start to finish.
8. What's the biggest change you've seen in journalism over the years?
The dawn of social media and mobile coincided with the decline of print. The 1990s were the heyday for newspapers, and I broke into the business in 1998 when the print edition was still fairly strong. The desktop version was still relatively new, and most everything we did still revolved around the print edition.
9. What type of content do you stop to click on?
Watchdog reporting and commentary on local and national government/politics. I’m a huge college football fan so I click on a lot of stuff about that, too. I consume almost all my news through Twitter.
10. What's your best piece of advice for a PR person?
Build relationships. Get lunch. Get coffee. Knowing each other is so critical, especially when it comes to having to communicate on a sensitive issue or in the heat of deadline. The relationship affords both the PR person and journalist to have an honest discussion up front about a story. We’re both humans. We both have a job to do and knowing each can only help the effort to have the most accurate and fair story. Also, use talking points sparingly. We almost never use them, so why waste each other’s time.
I have the unique opportunity to interview several of our Media Day panelists ahead of this year’s Cincinnati PRSA Media Day. I’ll share some of their most interesting and insightful nuggets over the next few weeks, but better yet, build your own relationships and connections with these same folks by attending Cincinnati PRSA Media Day on Thursday, October 18. Register now.
About Jason Williams
Jason Williams is the Cincinnati Enquirer’s political columnist. He writes the Enquirer’s Politics Extra column and hosts the weekly “That’s So Cincinnati” podcast. In 2018, Jason won first-place for best political reporting by the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. In his 20-year career, Jason has also been a sports and business reporter; an adjunct journalism instructor; and nonprofit communications director. A native of Gallipolis, Ohio, Jason is a UC graduate. Follow him on Twitter @jwilliamscincy.
I have an appetite for getting things done. As an advertising and corporate communications leader, I am experienced in bringing people, as well as animals, together. I have led cross-departmental teams and developed trusted relationships with C-Suite executives. I have 20 years of public relations and marketing communications experience, including providing traditional, digital and social media services to billion-dollar brands. I don’t believe in lengthy processes or convoluted platforms. I believe in hard work, empathy and love.