Jonathan Haworth '00
“I quickly realized that curating news content for a social media company wasn’t a great fit for me. Traditional news outlets – whether broadcast, print, or digital – have a unique value, and I want to keep on being part of that world.” In all of his roles, Jonathan’s work has had a global reach. The enormity of his audience is staggering to consider, especially for a man who sheepishly recalls a time at Potomac when “I couldn’t get two people to peer-review my paper for class.”
Stories from the Front Lines
Jonathan’s career has given him a front-row seat at some pretty remarkable events. In 2018, Fox News recruited him to field-produce their coverage of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. He recalls, “We were on location at Windsor Castle for more than week, and everything was about the royals. I produced national news pieces on the run-up to the wedding, managed correspondents’ and anchors’ live reports, and basically served as the local ‘fixer’ in London – a job I was positioned to do because I had both knowledge of what American audiences want and enough journalism experience in the UK to help Fox navigate an unfamiliar media landscape.”
He has also covered sports. For four years before the pandemic hit, Jonathan worked with the NFL Network, helping to field-produce the three to four NFL games played each year at Wembley Stadium; Twickenham Stadium; and the new purpose-built facility for Tottenham FC and the NFL, Tottenham Stadium. He recounts, “My job was to gather footage and interviews from people attending the games, as well as key players like Drew Brees, Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp, and even the new Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz. I made sure the NFL Network correspondents had access to players for post-game interviews and made their live hits on time. And then I coordinated with the network’s headquarters back in the U.S., to ensure that they had all the material they needed to put together comprehensive pieces on the games in London.”
Political news is in Jonathan’s wheelhouse, as well. In 2016, Al Jazeera chose him to single-handedly produce their coverage of the UK general election between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Jonathan was responsible for finding government experts, pollsters, constituents, and frontline politicians to tell the stories of the British election to a foreign audience with limited understanding of what it was all about. He was charged with putting together three-minute segments that explained complex developments in an understandable way. Jonathan observes, “This required me to think about news delivery in a very different way from how we cover political news in America. Imagine being asked to explain to Americans the complexity of a Chinese election, including how their political system works, and do that effectively in three minute bites. I learned a lot about editing content – how to drill down to the most important parts of a story and hone in on what a particular audience needs to understand. In a situation like that, everything has to be deliberate and specific. You can’t assume that the viewer knows (or even cares) about the topic; it’s your job to grab their attention and help them become informed in a short amount of time.”
While much of Jonathan’s work takes place behind the camera or on the phone and computer, his professional journey has also given him on-air experience. He says, “One thing I never thought I would do was represent ABC News on Azerbaijan state TV. But I did that numerous times, talking about topics ranging from COVID to international trade agreements, British and American politics, terrorism and security, and even global political issues and how they could affect Azerbaijan. It was an amazing experience. And here’s what I learned: Speaking on air for an extended period like that takes a lot of skill and concentration – not to mention thorough preparation. If the camera is on you for four to five minutes, you need to be clear and concise and deliver information with impact.” He reflects, “That’s a lesson that is applicable to every job a journalist does.”
The Changing Face of Journalism
Jonathan readily acknowledges that the news business is changing, and there is always something new to learn – or contend with. A significant trend in recent years has been the emergence of user-generated content (UGC), such as photos and video clips captured on cell phones and posted to social media by everyday people.
UGC proved its power in 2020 with Darnella Frazier’s recording of the murder of George Floyd. When Frazier published her cell-phone video on Facebook, it went viral almost immediately. The footage put the lie to the accounts by Minneapolis police of how Floyd died, sparking national protests and eventually leading to the imprisonment of the officer who killed him. Frazier received many accolades for her courageous act of “citizen journalism,” including a special award from the Pulitzer Prize board. Jonathan notes that user-generated content has become increasingly important during his time as a journalist, as both recording devices and streaming-video options have matured. What he and other professional editors bring to the process is experience in judging the news value of such content.
A year before George Floyd’s murder, Jonathan was working for Newsweek and was assigned to review a 17-minute Facebook Live video recorded by a man as he shot Muslim worshipers during Friday prayers in New Zealand. Fiftyone people were killed, and 40 more wounded. When his bosses asked, “What can we show?” Jonathan’s answer was, “Nothing. We can’t show any of this, not even a second of it.”
On the one hand, broadcasters face the fundamental challenge of needing to show stories, not just tell them. Without UGC videos, media outlets may decide not to report a story at all, “which is actually a little depressing to think about,” Jonathan says.
Still, his overriding question in such situations remains, “Is it responsible for us to put this out? Because the second we put something out there, people’s lives will change.” Would the footage hinder a police investigation? What circumstances led to its being recorded? Does it conflict with other images that people have submitted? And, fundamentally, is it news? Jonathan reflects, “Journalists have a duty to report the truth, but we also have to look at context. A story doesn’t start and end with a single video.”
With respect to the New Zealand shootings, Jonathan concluded that the video footage brought no new insight to the story. Rather, it dehumanized the victims, he says, as if they were characters in a video game. Newsweek followed his guidance and didn’t use any of the footage. Another factor shaping today’s 24/7 news cycle is the imperative to get stories out fast – ideally, to get them out first. The news editor is a key player in any breaking situation, responsible for quickly determining how and what to report. The circumstances are often murky and fast-changing, and the principled responsibility of “getting it right” battles with the competitive need to be “on top of the story.” Establishing the proper balance from moment to moment takes training and great instincts.
When he worked as an editor at ABC News, Jonathan filed more than 600 stories over the course of two years – better than one each workday. He says, “In that kind of role, I’m paid to make decisions, to make them quickly but also responsibly. Honestly, I can’t make a decision about what to eat for dinner half the time, but when it comes to news, it’s different. I don’t really know why that is.” Yet he’s clear about his guiding priorities: “It’s more important to be right than first. When you’re first that gets you exponentially more viewers, more clicks. But if you get the facts wrong, it damages your credibility. So if there’s ever any question on a story, I will always, always be cautious.”
A Winding Road to News
It’s worth repeating that Jonathan’s wide-ranging career in journalism is only a decade old. And it began in the midst of a full-blown professional identity crisis.
After graduating from Potomac, Jonathan earned degrees from Dickinson College and Goldsmiths, University of London. He stayed in Europe after receiving his master’s degree, but none of the jobs he landed – as an actor, then a publicist – felt right. He recalls, “I didn’t take a lot of pride in where I was at that point.”
Jonathan chose “to push the reset button” and return home to Washington, DC, to explore other opportunities. One of those was teaching; he worked for a while as a substitute at Potomac. But he found that he had a growing interest in another field – journalism. For six months, he persistently nagged ITN, a British broadcaster with a Washington bureau, to give him a shot.
Finally, he was offered a low-level trainee job that came with long hours, lousy pay, and limited prospects. Still, it was a foot in the door.
Jonathan’s natural curiosity and resolve proved a good fit for the demands of journalism. And his gig with ITN allowed him to learn on the job, even if the assignments were less than glamorous. He spent two months, for example, watching every development in a criminal trial that is barely remembered today. He recalls, “My job was to be ITN’s expert on the Conrad Murray trial.” Murray was the doctor prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. Jonathan reflects, “At the time, it felt like I was being punished, having to watch this trial for six hours a day. But when I look back at it, I realize that it taught me how to see the trees beyond the forest, how to identify the details that are important and paint an accurate and compelling picture.” He adds, “I think that’s proved valuable throughout my career.”
Jonathan’s performance prompted an offer to join ITN’s London headquarters in 2012, albeit still in a low-level role. Because he has dual citizenship (Jonathan’s mother is British), he was able to accept the offer and work his way up the professional ladder across the pond. Assignments at NBC, Sky, CBS, Newsweek, and ABC followed in quick succession.
Looking back, Jonathan is struck by how his youth at Potomac – he’s a lifer, having attended from kindergarten through graduation – offered hints about the direction of his adult life. He was a regular reader of The Washington Post as a child, especially the Sports and Style sections, and at school he was more interested in extracurriculars and spending time with classmates than in chasing grades. He says, “It’s funny to look back because it seems so obvious now.
Back then I was just a scatterbrained kid. Now I’m a scatterbrained adult, but it’s easier for me to focus these days. I can hone in on something, finish it, and move on to the next thing.” Which is good, because tomorrow, more news will emerge. And when it does, Jonathan Haworth will be ready to help bring the world the stories it needs to know.