At a time when other journalists his age were busy climbing the ladder, jumping to one higher-circulation newspaper after the other for more money and more self-acclaim, Justin Jarrett made a bet on the Lowcountry.
To be sure, Jarrett came to The Island Packet in 2005 as a University of Missouri Journalism School graduate in large part because of the paper’s alumni pipeline and strong reputation of training reporters to make that next jump. But he quickly fell in love with the area and saw an opportunity to truly give Lowcountry youth athletes the attention and platform they deserve.
He was the cornerstone of an award-winning local sports writers team that was the envy of newspapers three times its size. Sadly, the Packet was a cliched tale of the fall of the daily newspaper industry, and its sports staff was among the first to go.
Jarrett moved on to be the sports information director at USCB, but his passion for covering youth sports never waned.
So, in July 2017, he stepped out on his own and created LowcoSports.com, a site dedicated to covering high school and collegiate sports across the region. As he built the platform into the region’s premier sports site, he realized he didn’t just love covering youth athletics; he also saw the opportunity to train the next generation of sports journalists at the same time.
“Growing up on a farm in Southeast Kansas and going to a rural school, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of different things and opportunities. When I got to Mizzou Journalism School as a non-traditional student after ‘taking a semester off’ for 3 1/2 years, I realized that a lot of these students had been dreaming about this for years and preparing for it,” Jarrett said. “I want students here who are interested in careers in sports media to start getting the hands-on experience now, no matter where they are in their journey, and see where it takes them.
“I want them to have fun learning how to do it. And not just students, either. I have buddies who say how much fun it looks like my job is, and I tell them to come on,” he said. “Take your kid to a game and write a recap about it after. I’ll edit it and make you look good. It is fun, and just about anyone can do it on some level and add something of value to the community and to the student-athletes’ experience.”
The model is working. His first high school intern, Brooke Simons, is now finishing her freshman year studying photography and broadcasting at Syracuse, and was producing multimedia content for the sports department from her first day on campus.
His first graduate intern followed him from USCB and later landed a full-time job at WTOC-TV before going back to get his Ph.D.
“The only limit is the capacity,” he said. “If we can just scale it up, we can help more students get on their way in media careers.”
Jarrett has bootstrapped the operation for the past few years, with a steady flow of sponsors keeping the site thriving. But he has taken a step back to evaluate how to take the steps he wants to grow the Lowco brand.
He has cut back on writing coverage this spring to launch a daily video recap, “Last Night in the Lowco.” The feature has become so popular so quickly that he has partnered with WHHI-TV to provide their new daily newscast the local sports content they were missing.
Jarrett has also launched a series of podcasts, including a soccer-focused broadcast and a basketball broadcast with co-host Tony Bruin, a Bluffton native and Syracuse hoops legend.
The latter broadcast launched before March Madness this spring and featured a slew of big-name guests, as well as friends and fans of Bruin.
Lowcountry athletes have historically suffered from underexposure, victims of being in a media market sandwiched between Savannah and Charleston. Jarrett has changed that, garnering more attention and college recruiting possibilities for schools north and south of the Broad.
“I want to get even more in the dirt with these kids and help connect them to the resources they need to reach their full potential, not only in athletics, but also in academics and the arts,” he said. “I want to help athletes gain the most name, image and likeness (NIL) deals as collegiate rules change to let them capitalize on that.”
And as much as he wants to help them achieve their dreams, Jarrett also has a big-picture dream he is striving toward – a nonprofit that ties his past 20 years of work together.
“I’m talking about starting the One Lowco Foundation and making its first major program centered around the Lowco Student Media Initiative,” he said. “The idea is raising funds to secure a newsroom-type space for students to work in and outfit it with furniture, computers and basic camera kits that students can take out to report on events and come back to produce content or check out laptops to work on content at home or at school.”
He envisions partnerships with all area public, private and collegiate schools, to work with mentors within the schools to give students the best, most productive and real-world educational internship opportunities possible.
“I want to raise funds to pay stipends to interns so marginalized students can have more access,” he said. He wants to bring all local media outlets into the fold.
“My favorite saying is, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ and I truly believe it. We can do so much more when we work together for common goals or to address glaring needs in our community,” he said. “I believe this area will pay for truly local journalism produced by and for members of the community.”
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.