Nearly one year ago, Chris Jones joined ESPN The Magazine as its columnist for the back page, The Fix.
Jones’ latest piece reflects on another, more somber one-year anniversary — the tragic death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon.
Front Row caught up with Jones (who also contributes to Esquire Magazine) to discuss how this column, entitled Twist of Fate in The Mag’s “D.C. Issue” currently on newsstands, came to be, his experience with The Mag thus far and how he keeps it all together.
For more on the “D.C. Issue” click here:
How did the idea of your latest column regarding Dan Wheldon come about?
I’ve been waiting to write this story for a while. The accident and Ann Babenco’s terrible view of it stuck in my head from the moment it happened. With the anniversary approaching, I gave her a call, and she felt ready to talk. She was very kind and generous with me.
What kind of challenges were involved in writing the column?
First, it’s just a very sad story. There isn’t a silver lining, except that Dan Wheldon had been lovely with Ann — but even that makes his death only more heartbreaking. The second challenge (and this is always a challenge for me) was fitting that story on a single page. I had to think pretty hard about the most essential details.
How far in advance do you plan your column topics?
I keep a file of ideas, and this one, for instance, went on that list probably 9 or 10 months ago. But other columns happen quickly. The universe of sports is so dynamic, sometimes it’s hard to plan things out, but I like reporting my columns pretty intensely, so it’s nice when I know what’s coming.
What have been your favorite ESPN columns so far?
My favorite experience was when the NHL let me have the Stanley Cup for a day. It was one of the great days of my life. I’m proud of the column I wrote on Joe Paterno’s statue. And I like columns like this one on Wheldon. At my best, my job is to write those little stories that fell through the cracks for whatever reason and lift them into the light.
How do you balance working for ESPN and Esquire?
Well, I’m busy, but luckily I love to write. With ESPN, I have an intimidating piece of real estate to fill, but it’s a small, confined space. I view each column as this little opportunity to get a story absolutely right. I haven’t achieved it yet, but I feel like writing to fit just a single page, I have the chance to be perfect.