Front Row Seat
As Senior Editor of The Wolverine Magazine, John Borton Covers All Things Michigan
If you are a serious fan of the University of Michigan athletics, you probably have heard of John Borton ’81.
As senior editor of The Wolverine Magazine, a multimedia publication that covers the University of Michigan athletic program, the Siena Heights graduate has had a front row seat reporting all things Michigan for the past 25 years. From the Bo Schembechler era of Wolverine football to the present-day College World Series appearance by the softball team, Borton has seen—and reported—on it all.
Anyone familiar with Michigan athletics knows some of their most well-known figures. Names like Schembechler, Tom Brady, Charles Woodson, Chris Webber, Michael Phelps and Jim Harbaugh are all people Borton has gotten to know professionally, some even personally. But he said some of his most memorable interviews are also from some lesser-known sources.
One of those is former UM wide receiver Jason Avant, who Borton called one of his favorites. A drug dealer in the seventh grade while living in the Chicago area, Avant turned his life around and became a leader both on the field and off.
“He was a powerful man of faith and witness to his teammates,” said Borton of Avant, who went on to play in the NFL. “Those stories are just incredible to be able to tell. It’s been great to be able to tell different stories in different ways that go far beyond a football game or a basketball game.”
Borton, who turned an English degree and a newspaper internship into a career in sports journalism, credits Siena Heights for sparking his career path. As the editor of the Spectra student newspaper while in college, he was able to secure an internship writing locally for the Adrian Daily Telegram.
“The genesis of that came from (Siena Heights),” he said. “I remember having so many English classes that the Sisters had me using active voice (in his writing). To this day, I think about it.”
When he graduated, the newspaper hired him as a reporter, and he spent several years honing his craft until the opportunity with the magazine came along.
“A deskmate of mine was doing freelance articles for a new publication in Ann Arbor,” Borton recalled. “He says to me, ‘This would be right up your alley.’”
He applied for the job with the then-fledgling The Wolverine Magazine and was hired. Now, more than 20 football bowl games later, he is in charge of the news operation that has the task of covering UM’s multitude of athletic programs—and personalities—on a daily basis.
“I was a fanatical Michigan fan,” Borton said when he started with the magazine. “I was well-grounded in that area before I went up there. … It’s tough to stay unbiased. We try not to be ad-versarial, and we’ve never tried to make it personal.”
However, Borton realizes that while most of his readers want to read about the “good news” of the athletic program, they also want the details when the news isn’t so positive.
“I remember having so many English classes that the Sisters had me using active voice (in his writing). To this day, I think about it.”
“You can walk a fine line,” he said. “It’s always interesting and always that tension. That’s part of learning to navigate.”
Borton said establishing trust and good relationships with the coaches, administration and the student-athletes is a key part of his job. But keeping his credibility with his readers is equally as important.
“You have to build a reputation of honesty and integrity so people know you’re going to do your homework,” he said. “What you put out there (needs) to be trustworthy. People want to know they are getting a fair shake.”
Borton said the Jim Harbaugh era has ushered in new enthusiasm at Michigan, but also has its challenges.
“You want pressure? It’s sitting there in a Jim Harbaugh press conference and making sure you don’t ask a question that is going to get you ‘Harb-ed,’” Borton said of the term that means asking a dumb question. “He’s an intense character. He’s a winner.”
Although the focuses is primarily on football and men’s basketball—which drives subscriptions—he said he makes a point to try to cover other Michigan athletic programs fairly.
“We try to reach out and cover other things,” he said. “Our readers consider football steak and the others are vege-
tables, I guess. That’s a tough balance. They’re not any less important in a sense that they work just as hard.”
Borton’s job has evolved with the technology as well. No longer a “traditional” editor reading and editing copy, he has learned how to take and edit video and audio, and also keep up in social media circles.
“I actually do less editing now than I used to,” he said. “These days, I’m running around with a monopod and my phone camera shooting press conferences or shooting the NCAA tournament. I never thought I’d tweet in my life. Now I tweet every day. That’s just part of the deal.”
From sitting in Schembechler’s office listening to old football stories to shadowing student-athletes who visit children in Mott Children’s Hospital, Borton said he is living out his dream job.
“It’s been a great experience,” Borton said. “I’ve gotten to know so many people up there (at Michigan), and enjoyed so many aspects of that world.”