Welcome back to our 2020 Columbus Blue Jackets Q&A series. In this series, we are going to talk with different members of the Blue Jackets’ community about hockey, their jobs, how they’re handling things today and much more. Today in part four, Jackets Insider Jeff Svoboda stopped by. We talk everything from how they are still producing content despite there not being any games to how one becomes Jackets Insider. We also talk about his job and some of his favorites.
- Part 1: Leo Welsh (CBJ Anthem Singer)
- Part 2: Mike Todd (CBJ Game Night Host)
- Part 3: Todd Sharrock (CBJ VP of Communications)
There may not be hockey on right now, but that isn’t stopping the Columbus Blue Jackets from engaging with their fans and producing top-notch content. Whether it’s replaying the Tampa sweep on Fox Sports Ohio or bluejackets.com producing high-quality writing, the team remains committed to their fans and partners.
In the middle of bluejackets.com is Jackets Insider and Team Reporter Jeff Svoboda. He and his team have been tasked with finding ways to produce creative and exciting content during the pause. But instead of doing this from his office at Nationwide Arena, Svoboda has had to do this from home just like all Blue Jackets’ staff. That has to create a unique challenge for him. It’s a change from the norm. And who knows how long this will be the new normal?
We asked Svoboda what the biggest changes to this routine were today.
“I just miss the people,” Svoboda said. “I like going to the office and seeing everyone. What’s weird for me is that a lot of journalists work from home traditionally. Even when I worked at the (Toledo) Blade, most of the sportswriters worked from home. When I worked at the Buckeye Sports Bulletin, we had to go into an office. For me, I’ve spent every professional day of my life from age 21 until four weeks ago getting up every morning and getting ready to go to the office. Now we look at Slack to see what we’re talking about. I’m not used to spending this much time at home. And from the aspect of there not being hockey, that changes everything to not have the product to write about. It’s like the offseason but we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Svoboda might not have the current product to write about, but there’s other things they’ve been able to do. He shares what they’ve done to keep the content flowing and the fans engaged.
“I work pretty closely with the social media team. You see the videos and stuff online that are still being produced. Some of it was stuff we already had planned. Now we have the time to work on those things. We talk everyday to come up with ideas to get this going. With the offseason, you got the draft and you got free agency. There’s still an NHL clock you can follow to know what to write about. But this is such a unique scenario not only with hockey but with society.”
Svoboda was always thinking ahead even during the season. He had an idea for offseason content but found himself having a lot more time on his hands. It was now a good time to put his idea into motion.
“We did a series last week with the Building Blocks,” Svoboda said. “I had that idea during the season and wanted to do it in the offseason. So when the pause hit, it was a good idea to do it now. We took this to the video crew and they’ve been fantastic with it. They were able to produce the highlight videos of each guy. You’ll see more video and audio with these and what I’m doing because we have the time to collaborate more. We all had more time to say ‘I want to do this. How do we make it as good as possible?'”
No matter how long this pause goes, just know the team is working around the clock to find different ideas to keep the fans engaged and involved. Time seems to be on their side at the moment so that does allow for more creativity and more things to happen that may not have been possible before.
How Jackets Insider Came To Be
I know in my personal travels, I have had fans ask me about “Jackets Insider” and the job he does. Over and over again, they’ve expressed how cool it is to have a job like his. He gets to watch hockey and write about it for a living. He gets to cover all aspects of the Blue Jackets. He gets to travel with the team and cover them for every game.
Many fans often wonder how does one go about getting into a position like Svoboda’s? What advice would he give to those looking to follow a similar career path? He shared his both his rise and the advice he has for those interested in this kind of work.
“I’m not going to lie. This is fantastically fun,” Svoboda said laughing. “It’s a little bit of a lot of things. I followed a somewhat traditional path to get into journalism. I attended Ohio State as a journalism major. I worked for the school newspaper and did student radio and was as active as I could be. The first piece of advice I would give is to do as many things as possible. I got my first full-time job at age 21 covering Ohio State football for Buckeye Sports Bulletin. I got that job because I was around a lot. I met the editor of Buckeye Sports Bulletin. When I graduated they had an opening and I got a job. Who you know gets you to the next point. When I moved from Buckeye Sports Bulletin to the (Toledo) Blade, I got that job because I knew two people who worked there and they recommended me. It was the same for the Blue Jackets. I knew enough people around the organization when I was looking to get back into Columbus. Enough people went to bat for me to land an interview and I got to show them I knew what I was doing. Then I got that job. The more you do and the more people you know, that’s how you get ahead.”
This is definitely sound advice. Anymore it’s about who you know. Familiarity is your best friend. But Svoboda does give a little bit of caution about the field. It’s not easy to break into.
“For every person like me who’s gotten into a cool job, I’ve seen three, four or five friends that have gotten out of the business and gone on to do something else. It’s long hours and not tremendously great pay. Newspapers aren’t flying off shelves these days. It’s not only a difficult field to get into, it’s a difficult field to stay in also. I was lucky in a lot of ways where timing worked out for me. If you want to do it and you have a passion for it, you just have to do it. You have to develop a voice and you have to work at it. There’s a certain amount of natural talent you have to have. I think of some of the best writers out there and they started from humble beginnings.”
Stories From the Road & More
Let’s face it. Svoboda has a really cool job. There’s no denying that. From talking and developing relationships with the players to travelling on the road, he gets to experience the NHL in a way very few can. Along the way, many things happen that become stories to tell later. We asked him if there was a story or two from the road that he will cherish.
He Missed Practice?!
“The one that will always stick out was last season when we were on the Western Canada trip,” Svoboda recalled. “The first game was in Calgary. It was a Monday practice. (Fox Sports Ohio’s) Dave Maetzold was saying he was going to go to Lake Louise the next day. He was trying to see who wanted to go. I’m like ‘I can’t go. I’ve got to cover practice.’ Somehow I ended up talking to Kenny McCudden right by the elevators (at the hotel.) I mentioned to Kenny that Maetz is going to Lake Louise tomorrow but I can’t go. He just look at me and goes ‘Jeff! Have you every been to the Canadian Rockies?’ I said Kenny, I have not. He then goes, ‘Jeff, you gotta go. You’ll never forget it. You have to go.’ So we jumped in a minivan and went. McCudden was right. It’s beyond gorgeous. Lake Louise is unbelievable. We got to skate on it. We got to do some hiking. Then we stopped in Banff for dinner afterwards. It’s just one of those days where you look and go I can’t believe we got to do that. That might be the only practice I’ve ever missed for the Blue Jackets.” Svoboda has had other fun too, such as a trip to Boston’s Fenway Park.
Riding the Team Plane
One of the neat things Svoboda get to do is ride on the team plane for every road trip. Talk about getting unprecedented access to the team in a way fans rarely see. It’s no wonder some want to do this kind of job simply because of that. We asked Svoboda to talk about that experience and just how neat that is.
“It’s one of those things that I never imagined doing,” Svoboda said. “It was certainly a different experience when I first got to the Blue Jackets because I had never done anything like that before. That was almost the most concerning part about taking the job. I don’t want to go on there and embarrass myself not knowing the protocol. That’s where Tanner Smith (their former video guy) was so good. He showed me the ropes. He showed me how to handle things. It turns out it’s not difficult at all. When it comes to the road, the thing that’s fun is that the people you travel with kind of become your family for the month. It’s weird when the season ends. The people you were with for the last seven months are suddenly no longer there. It’s a little bit of a jarring thing. With there being turnover in sports, you knew that group wasn’t going to get back together again. The first year, I sat next to Tanner on the plane. Then he leaves and there’s a new video guy so it’s a new person I sit next to. It’s not like we’re going to dinner with the players or coaches or anything like that. For those of us that do get to travel though, the perks are certainly unbelievable. The travel itself is about as comfortable as can be. The hotels are great. There are no complaints about the food. They take care of us well.”
Svoboda says he has a few favorite Blue Jackets when it comes to interviews. Markus Nutivaara sticks out for him because of his dry sense of humor. Scott Harrington is another because he’s one of the nicest guys in the world. Nick Foligno comes to mind for him because of how he handles the media as the team’s captain.
But in the end, Svoboda’s favorite interview is Pierre-Luc Dubois. “He’s your average 21-year old kid who happens to be unbelievably good at hockey. He loves music and he loves TV. He’s not a super serious guy at this point yet. He’s just fun to talk to.”
Personally I couldn’t agree with this more. Dubois is lots of fun to talk to and usually has a smile on his face. He cares about hockey but keeps things light. There’s never a dull moment being around him.
Excitement For The Future
Finally we asked Svoboda for his take on the future of the team in terms of the prospects. He says he’s aware of what some are saying about their prospect pool being among the worst in the league. But with that said, there is still plenty to be excited for as a fan.
“(The lower rankings) is more a function of depth than high-end talent,” Svoboda said. “The high-end talent is there. I think this front office has really proven based on the number of guys they’ve hit on in the draft, I would take this front office’s evaluation when it comes to draft and develop with anybody in the NHL. Liam Foudy looks like he can be an NHL player next year. The guys at the World Juniors (Kirill) Marchenko and (Dmitri) Voronkov were excellent as well. Voronkov impressed scouts more than anyone on that Russian team. Eric Hjorth and Tyler Angle are guys being developed but have shown some good skills. The goaltender pipeline is really good. Andrew Peeke is something where if things work out, you can pencil him in for the next 10 years. By and large I think there are some really interesting players in there.”
As you can see, Svoboda is very busy being Jackets Insider but he loves his job. We still don’t know what the immediate future holds for hockey. But the uncertainty won’t stop Svoboda and his team from finding ways to continue producing quality work for the fans. You can tell he has a passion for this and it shows in his writing. He fits exactly what the Blue Jackets were looking for when there was an opening for this position.
We thank Jeff for taking the time to speak with us. When will we see him and Stinger together again for his next preview piece? Hopefully sooner rather than later.