Remembering Distinguished Service Award Winner Meg Jones ’84

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Jones is shown with the Wisconsin Alumni band before their game against Western Illinois Saturday, September 6, 2014 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. MHOFFMAN@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

By Stacy Forster

Longtime Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Jones received a Distinguished Service Award Friday from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication for her career devoted to telling the stories of the people of Wisconsin.  

Jones, who was described as “the heart and soul of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s newsroom for more than two decades,” died in December 2020 at age 58 of pancreatic cancer. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984 with degrees in journalism and history. In her time at UW, she wrote for the Daily Cardinal, rowed with the crew team and played drums in the marching band. Jones’ mother, Carole, says Jones always wanted to be a reporter, showing her ability to tell stories from a young age, even documenting a family trip to Guatemala with a diary written in hieroglyphics.

“She was just endlessly fascinated in the best way with any number of topics and stories that the rest of us might look past, but she saw some magic in,” says Jennifer Amur, a former Journal Sentinel colleague now at the Washington Post. “She had such a good eye, she was dogged — and she made it look easy.”

Jones spent her entire career in Wisconsin, reporting in Marinette, Shawano and Wausau before joining the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1993. She spent her time there following her boundless curiosity, covering whatever came her way. She could write an irreverent story one day and a serious one the next. If there was news happening about Wisconsin, Jones likely covered it, from tornadoes to the Milwaukee Bucks’ playing in Paris, from U.S. service members donating organs in Germany to a snake escaping from a high school science classroom in Fond du Lac. 

“She was up for anything,” says Milwaukee Journal Sentinel visual journalist Mark Hoffman, who often partnered with Jones on stories.

Jones’ longtime editor Gary Krentz says there are still stories that cross his desk several times a week that he wishes he could assign to Jones.

“She was of this place,” Krentz says of Jones’ Wisconsin roots.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Jones rides along the Hank Aaron Trail with Dean Martell, an Army Vietnam era veteran from Whitefish Bay in Milwaukee on Monday, May 13, 2019. Patients at the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury Clinic ride bicycles on the Hank Aaron State Trail next to the hospital Monday mornings as part of the Milwaukee Veterans Cycling Club. Some of the patients are amputees, some are paralyzed or have neurological disorders. ARTWORK Photo by Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ORG XMIT: DBY1

Jones was perhaps best known for her work covering military and veterans issues, documenting the contributions of Wisconsin service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. She took eight reporting trips to those regions, connecting with the service members and their families in Wisconsin before and after her visits. When her editors cautioned her about the risks involved in that work, Krentz says Jones told him, “These are cheeseheads risking their lives,” and insisted that she continue to make the trips.

Jones wrote the book “World War II Milwaukee,” telling the stories of Wisconsin’s contributions to the war, and taught journalism at Marquette University. She was an avid traveler — she took a ride across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway and journeyed to South America to see an eclipse — gathering friends and material for stories wherever she went.

Jones was also known as a master of keeping in touch with people she met, often sending long letters recounting her travels and reporting adventures. “Holiday greetings from Wisconsin, where this year we somehow dodged hurricanes, wildfires, floods and the snapping of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone by some oaf wearing a Minnesota Vikings uniform,” Jones wrote in her 2017 holiday letter (which this writer found in a file in her basement). 

She gained friends quickly, and drew new reporters at the paper into her circle by providing advice and inviting them to lunch. 

“In those lunches, somehow she got my whole life story out of me,” Amur says.