If you missed it earlier today, check out Randy Yale’s reader article that lists his top 5 plays of the 2016-17 season and the optimism each provides for 2017-18
About the Author
Ben Pope (Twitter=@CanesReport) is a former Hurricanes columnist and beat reporter for the News & Observer, Today’s Slapshot and Bleacher Report. He is now a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and the summer editor-in-chief of The Daily Northwestern student newspaper.
The story of Mark Jones
One of the best compliments I’ve ever received came while standing at a urinal in the United Center in Chicago.
It was January 6th, 2017, moments after the Blackhawks had defeated the Hurricanes 2-1 in a game that, as the Chicago postgame radio commentators openly acknowledged to the crowds as they ventured into the 10-degree night, the Hurricanes deserved to win.
A drunken man peeing next to me noticed my extremely out-of-place Carolina jersey and asked why I had left the warm weather.
I said I went to Northwestern. He replied, slurring, “Oh, so you’re one of those smart motherf**kers.”
I, admittedly, left out one key detail — urinal talk and details, after all, don’t often mix.
I left out that the only reason I was at smart, motherf**king Northwestern was because of the team he had just watched his Blackhawks beat.
(I also left out that the only reason I did not buy the fifth-row seat I sat in, but rather maneuvered there through careful Stubhub monitoring, evasion of ushers and ignoring a very urgent need to visit a urinal, was because of the exponential, motherf**king Northwestern tuition, but that’s another story altogether.)
My former “Mark Jones” pen name was born when I joined a then-unknown website called Bleacher Report at the age of 12 and, not wanting the fact I was a 12-year-old to be traceable, wrote down the most generic name I could imagine.
The incredible growth Bleacher Report subsequently underwent and my improvement as a writer — an inevitability, given that I was writing two to three columns a week from that age on — pushed Mark into surprising notability.
He had nearly a thousand Hurricanes fans following him on Twitter and literally millions, cumulatively, of readers on Bleacher Report.
He was cited as the source for rumors by hockey rumor-aggregating blogs. He was given full-season press credentials by the Carolina RailHawks. He once received a slight lawsuit threat from a sports agency after mistakenly writing that Frederik Andersen’s agent, Ritch Winter, was still a part of the agency (he had left).
Given the relative dearth of Hurricanes’ media coverage — and the subsequent lack of competition for “jobs” covering the team for Bleacher Report and, later, the now-defunct Today’s Slapshot — as well as his detachment from the Hurricanes’ public relations staff (on account of never actually applying for or obtaining media credentials), Mark enjoyed essentially unlimited journalistic freedom. He was able to ravage Paul Maurice in a column calling for his firing one day, then analyze Jeff Skinner’s heat maps and advanced stats the next (those articles were actually written three years apart, but you get the point).
When Mark did receive assignments, however, they were often memorable if only for their insanity. After Jim Rutherford signed Alex Semin in 2012, I was asked to write a column on “Why the Hurricanes are Cup Contenders.” I declined. When Justin Faulk’s name was making its first unfounded trip through the rumor mill, I was asked to write why he’d be a good fit for the Rangers. I declined that too.
Mark was never paid by Bleacher Report — not because of that pattern of assignment-declining, and not even because of the website’s controversial unpaid writer program (which was thoroughly lambasted across the web before being discontinued in 2015), but rather because he had no social security number that I could write on a W9 form.
He had no social security number … because he did not exist.
But he made for a good story, whether at campfires or urinals or, in one particular case, college application essays.
Northwestern, ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in most journalism school rankings (depending on which ones you read), was enamored by the story of a non-breathing hockey columnist to admit me. In a weird, completely unplanned way, a half-baked preteen idea and a passionate obsession with the Hurricanes ended up translating into a life-changing and career path-identifying adventure.
After moving to Today’s Slapshot in Summer 2015, around the time I moved to Northwestern, I admitted to my new employer that Mark was a pen name in order to fix the W9 form conundrum.
And a year later, Mark’s brand finally met its end. My actual name was starting to get some bylines — covering the Hurricanes’ offseason during a News & Observer internship, as well as for The Daily Northwestern student newspaper here in Chicagoland — and it seemed prudent to maximize on the following and recognition of my @CanesReport Twitter handle.
I was reluctant when first approached about writing this personal narrative, and at several times while writing it considered changing the topic, because in my opinion, the story isn’t that noteworthy: pen names are a frequent thing, Mark Jones was hardly a national media icon, and this isn’t a Disney Channel TV show.
But for any especially loyal readers wondering what happened to Mark, or any fans bored enough by the offseason to bother reading this, consider it a final obituary for a Hurricanes reporter who existed rather notably in cyberspace and not at all in real life.