Justin Morris: How to Navigate the Journalism Industry at a Young Age

Justin Morris, who graduated from Seton Hall University, has written for numerous outlets including SBNation’s Blogging the Boys and BrightSideSun, FanSided’s HoopsHabit, Our Daily Bread, Blacque Magazine and currently covers high school sports for NJ.com.

Jorie Mickens: What was the moment or when was the moment you knew you wanted to become a journalist?

Justin Morris: I would say high school. I’ve always had a passion for writing, but it really depended on what they allowed us to write about. If it was for a gigantic novel, you already know that’s tedious stuff. But I was in a sports broadcasting class my senior year of high school, and that was dope. It was essentially the same thing as WSOU, just announcing games at a high school level. That was my first introduction to the industry. I also remember that my high school had a dude who played professional football in Germany and my teacher was asking who in the class wanted to interview him and I took it. He actually had a tryout for the Denver Broncos, his name is John Tidwell. I got an interview with him on the phone and wrote the story and it ended up being pretty good because my teacher got back to me and was saying how I needed to be working for the school’s newspaper. He basically recruited me like a high school athlete. But just figuring out that I can have a substantial income, feed myself and feed my family and still enjoy myself and my life doing something I love, I told myself I was going to put everything into this because that’s what I wanted to do.

Mickens: You mentioned that you like sports journalism, is that what you prefer over all other forms of journalism?

Morris: I would say yes. I prefer sports journalism because I’m always paying attention to it. I probably wouldn’t be paying attention as much if I wasn’t working in the industry, but I remember getting up and watching old NBA highlights on ESPN classics before they took it off. I watched NBATV and every day after school I’d watch “Around the Horn” and “Pardon the Interruption.” So sports is what I prefer, but I’ve gotten the chance to branch out and do other things. I’m going to stay far away from politics, I don’t want to mess up my morale or mental or anything like that. But I’ve been able to do some spiritual writing that I believe can help people. I’m not going to push any type of religion on anybody, but I have a viewpoint and being able to express that in my words is really cool. I can focus primarily on sports journalism while at the same time be able to branch out and talk about other stuff. Sports journalists have a lot they can bring to the table.

Mickens: Do you think it is important for journalists to be multi-faceted?

Morris: It definitely helps. Even within sports, I’ve traveled down a lot of avenues and a lot of people have told me that doing a lot will stick out more than doing just one thing. By branching yourself out whether it be television, radio, podcasting, writing, those are all things that will help you get your foot in the door and make you stand out among everyone else. But you have to find your niche, find what you’re good at and what you like to do and then go from there. But I would definitely say try not to be one-dimensional.

Mickens: You worked at WSOU, The Setonian and Pirate TV, if you had to pick a favorite, do you have one?

Morris: Who’s going to hear this interview? Hahaha! But I’d probably have to say WSOU because the community and the familial bond that exists there. I think they do a really good job of keeping people ingratiated. Before COVID-19, people would go to the station just to hang out all the time. Pirate TV was cool, but a lot of those people worked at WSOU as well. But I would say WSOU because of the family-type vibes that they try and keep and at the end of the day, the people that I met there are going to be a part of my life for the remainder of my life.

Mickens: Do you have a favorite assignment or story that you worked on during your time at Seton Hall?

Morris: Yeah, when I got to interview Stephen A. Smith that was really cool. I always wondered, and I feel like a lot of people do, if that’s really him on TV. If he’s really that flamboyant and brash and bold and everything. He’s pretty much like that. But being able to pick his brain and see how he got to where he is and also the fact that he is Black, he’s notorious for his work with HBCUs and uplifting Black people. He’s not a person that got his platform and said, ‘I’m just going to keep this for myself.’ You can tell he loves to give back. But he gave me some advice and elaborated on what it took for him to get to that point.

Mickens: I think if I’m remembering correctly, that was the first story of yours that I ever read. It might’ve been two years ago, around the time he got his big contract with ESPN. That was a nice piece you did. But you recently joined NJ.com as a sports reporter, is that right?

Morris: Yeah.

Mickens: Could you elaborate on that hiring process and how you intend to continue building on your career?

Morris: The hiring process was submitting the application and a cover letter. The cover letter obviously has to be good, but it should be yourself. I think you should be yourself when you’re writing. Inserting your own vibe into it. But I also sent in some samples and they got back to me and told me they were interested. I had to take a writing test and they gave me like an hour and a prompt to write a story and I guess they liked that. They told me in 2020 I was going to get the job, but they wanted to wait until some more sports seasons started up because they didn’t have any work to give people and they weren’t going to pay me for nothing. But that was really cool, I felt really blessed to get that. I talked to a lot of people who said it took them a long time to get a job after college, and with COVID and the way the environment is now, I just felt really blessed. And going forward, I think it’s really important to embellish yourself in the moment and be appreciative of what’s going on. I’m trying to do my best at NJ.com, reporting on everything that’s happening sports-wise, for them I’m doing a lot of high school sports and there are a lot of teams here. And I’ve realized that there are a lot of die-hard people in terms of high school sports. But I’m always looking for my next step so I’m trying to find a balance of working at NJ.com and going toward that next level. I want to get to the top of the sports journalism game so that might be CBS or Fox or whatever, so I’m going to do what I can here because dominating and trying to be the best that I can be here will help me get there.

Mickens: Last question, I know you’re still young yourself, but do you have any advice for aspiring journalists and finding their way in the industry.

Morris: I think being at Seton Hall has helped me connect with a lot of people, and that’s what I would say, build up your network. The old adage of ‘It’s not what you know but who you know,’ but obviously you can’t have an empty brain, you have to know some things. But try and build your network up and make connections because that’s really important. Also be yourself. At the end of the day, you have to know there are a lot of talented people in this industry and you shouldn’t try and compete with other people but rather hone in on what your craft is and that’s what will get you places at the end of the day. We all have our own styles, so I think trying to perfect who you are in your own craft is really important. Also you have to keep at it. You have to be patient because you’re not going to get to wherever you’re going to go overnight. Put your all into everything you do whether that be a podcast, an article, a broadcast, don’t take that lightly because you never know who’s going to be listening. But yeah I would say those three things: connections, being yourself and then making sure whatever you do from a work standpoint, you’re doing your best.