Thursday Q & A: Jason Wilde from ESPNMilwaukee.com
Joining us this week for the Thursday Q & A is a very familiar name and face to Packers fans everywhere, Jason Wilde. Currently covering the Packers for ESPNMilwaukee, Jason is a fan favorite with many for his openness and candid communication across several mediums with Packers fans. We’ll find out how Jason arrived at his current position, his thoughts on social media in today’s sports reporting world, insights on the Packers and what his next daughter won’t be named.
You’ve been a fixture in the Wisconsin Sports landscape, particularly as it relates to the Packers, for some time now. Share with us how you got started in sports reporting and how you got to your current gig at ESPNMilwaukee.com.
I started out like I suppose everyone does … writing for a student paper — in my case, the Badger Herald at the University of Wisconsin. By my sophomore year I’d landed stringing gigs with The Capital Times and the Milwaukee Sentinel’s Badger Plus, then later with Milwaukee Journal and, finally, at the combined Journal Sentinel. The CapTimes was really the best experience I got, covering preps all around Dane County. That led the Wisconsin State Journal to hire me in 1996, and by October of that year, I was helping out on the Packers’ Super Bowl run. I took over the Packers beat full-time in 1999 and held that position through the 2009 preseason, when I accepted a buyout and joined ESPNMilwaukee and ESPNMadison, for whom I’d been doing radio for years.
You’re originally from Wisconsin and also a UW-Madison grad. Were you a Packers/Badgers/Brewers fan growing up and if so, was it difficult to separate or bury that ‘fandom’ when you started covering these teams to remain objective.
I was a Badgers and Brewers fan as a kid, but it was pretty easy for me to leave my fandom behind. I can’t watch baseball like I did as a kid, it bores me. And covering UW as a student taught me how to cover a team objectively. I actually enjoyed Packers games — my family had season tickets at County Stadium — but I was more of a San Diego Chargers fan as a kid than anything. I’d like to think I’m more well-rounded, too, as I’ve gotten older, so my interests away from work trend away from sports. I always say to people that sports are my job, and I don’t see a lot of plumbers under their sinks at home in their free time. My only real “fan” feelings are toward the University of Oregon, and even then, I’m not much of an intense “fan.”
As a reporter who has been at this for some time, are you surprised at the increased role social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) has played in how team & sports news in general is disseminated?
No, I think Twitter has evolved into something very useful in terms of sharing links to your stories and interacting with readers/listeners/fans. My only issue is that I tend to get a lot of people who’d rather get a 140-character answer to their question instead of reading my stories, which usually have already answered said question.
You’re very active on Twitter, often engaging Packers fans in various topics, whereas some of your contemporaries don’t seem to make as much of an effort in the medium. Why do you go to such effort to interact with your followers & what do you think the benefits of doing so are?
The guy who set the bar was the Journal Sentinel’s Greg Bedard. He really engaged fans. I am a little more hot-and-cold. I try to set aside time and reply to questions, but I’ve tried to pull back the amount of time I spend on there. I think when you’re in a job like mine, where I know a lot of people still don’t realize I’m at ESPN Wisconsin and left the WSJ, I need to be engaged with folks so they go to our site. I actually enjoy the back and forth in most cases. Some of the personal attacks you get from angry fans venting can be tiresome, but on balance it’s a good thing.
It would appear that you’re a big fantasy football fan. Have you ever used ‘inside information’ when it comes to drafting or managing your roster in-season?
That’s actually not true at all. I am not big on fantasy football and totally stink at it. My friend Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports got me into a league four years ago with a bunch of high-profile NFL writers — Jim Trotter from SI, Michael Smith of ESPN, etc. — and the only reason I’d been competitive the first three years was because I had productive Packers QBs (Favre, then Rodgers) and RBs/WRs who stayed healthy and played every week. This year, I went 5-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time with Sam Bradford and Brett Favre as my QBs. So there’s not much insider trading going on with me on that front.
The 2010 Packers have had one of the worst years ever with the number of players placed on the injured reserve, but yet still seem to be having a good measure of success. Who gets more credit for that, Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff for getting the players still around to play to the highest level or Ted Thompson for getting those replacement players in place?
I think there’s a lot of credit to be shared there. I love that McCarthy never uses injuries as an excuse. And Thompson has definitely given this team a depth that it didn’t have when he took over. That said, they need to win some big games and some playoff games, and I’m not sure they still have enough depth to win the title. But it’s been impressive that they’ve survived and even thrived despite the catastrophic injury list.
You wrote an excellent piece breaking down the game circumstances related to Aaron Rodgers’ poor record in games decided by 4 points or less. Do you think Rodgers is being unfairly judged by some fans and members of the media and, if so, do you think this is because of a comparison to the guy Rodgers is following.
I think fans have high expectations, and I get that. I just think there’s too much of the blame game played with sports. I mentioned earlier that I like Twitter. I enjoy engaging fans. But I tire of the “fire the coach!” or “this guy sucks!” mentality. I never understood why people get so pissed off about certain things. I don’t know if they are searching for an outlet for frustrations in other areas of their lives or what. I think Rodgers is a very good quarterback who needs to win some big games to become a great one. Winning a playoff game or two would do that. In the long run, I believe his close-games record will even out.
Do you think there are any Packers assistant coaches who may be making the jump to pro or college head coaching spots next year?
I think they have two very good young coaches on their staff — safeties coach Darren Perry, who I think would be a phenomenal coordinator and eventual head coach, and Winston Moss, who has interviewed for NFL head jobs in Oakland and St. Louis. I don’t know if either one will move on after the season but I expect they will someday. I also think that Joe Philbin is extremely intelligent and would be a very good head coach. But I don’t expect him to get his opportunity. Dom Capers is, in my opinion, brilliant, but he had two chances (with expansion teams) and I think with the trend toward younger coaches, his time has unfairly passed.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming game in Foxboro against the Patriots? Can the Packers keep up with one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses in this game?
Boy, the Patriots have been impressive the last two weeks, first against the Jets and then blowing out the Bears in the snow in Chicago while the Packers were losing to the lowly Lions — a killer loss in terms of playoff tiebreakers. The idea of the Packers going into Foxborough with Aaron Rodgers winning a shootout with Tom Brady — winner of 26 in a row at home — seemed unlikely. If it’s Matt Flynn? Ugh. I still think if they can win the last two, against the Giants and Bears, they’ll somehow get into the playoffs. But I must admit it’s going to be harder than I expected.
To date, who’s the one player this season that is excelling who you had pegged during Training Camp to be a non-factor.
I had an inkling about Sam Shields, similar to the feeling I had about Tramon Williams in ’07. I was right on both. I did not see Starks being a factor at all this year after starting on PUP. Looks like I was wrong about him.
What advice would you give to aspiring sports reporters out there on how best to succeed and prosper in this new digital age of reporting?
I think writing is an incredibly valuable skill and will always be so. I will never forget being a junior in high school and the Milwaukee Sentinel sports editor at the time, Terry Galvin, telling me not to go into the business when I wrote my career paper and interviewed him for my English class. I didn’t listen, even though I briefly considered actuarial science by freshman first semester at UW. I always believed that this was what I was meant to do, from my first SI subscription as a 4th grader at St. Paul’s West Allis. So I would never discourage anyone who wanted to do this. That said, the times, they are a’changing. So we have to change with them. I don’t know what will happen 5, 10, 20 years from now. So we have to be ready for a new frontier.
…and now for the lighting round.
Your all-time favorite professional athlete is:
Robin Yount. Not even close.
Your favorite Packers blog/site to read that is not ESPNMilwaukee.com/Wilde/ is:
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel crew of Tom Silverstein, Bob McGinn and Lori Nickel — and now Gary D’Amato — is second-to-none. I hold Tom (“Spoon”) in particularly high regard. I think he’s the best guy on our beat. He just doesn’t get the credit for what he does. As for fan blogs, I read CheeseheadTV.com a lot but also visit the other prominent ones. It keeps me in the loop on what fans are thinking/talking about.
If there were no sports to report, you would be doing:
I would love to work with my friend John Cary, the executive director of the MACC Fund, or do other non-profit charity work. I’d also love to be a 2nd grade teacher.
If you were a professional athlete, your sport & position would be:
I was not blessed with that kind of talent. I love playing basketball but other than being able to shoot the 3, I’m not very good. Can’t guard a folding chair. I always tell people I was a 20-20-20 guy — I played when we were up 20, down 20 or there were 20 seconds left.
I know from following you on Twitter that you don’t drink, so instead of my normal ‘what should I buy you in a bar’ question I’ll go with this one instead: Your wife Paula & you are expecting another baby girl coming up. You named your first child Madison so will you be sticking with a state theme for this one as well or venturing into other territory, perhaps invoking your love of the Oregon Ducks for your new daughter?
Maddie’s sister, who will be arriving in March, will have a city name, but it’s a coincidence more than anything. It’s not a Wisconsin city, so Oconomowoc (“Connie”) is out. We want a big family someday, but if we have a boy, we won’t name him “Eugene,” and if we have twin girls, they won’t be “Neenah” and “Menasha.” That I can promise you.
Thank you to Jason for taking the time to answer these questions. If you’re not already reading & listening to Jason’s work, head over to ESPNMilwaukee right now and get the page bookmarked. You can also follow Jason on twitter at http://twitter.com/jasonjwilde .
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