To produce a 100-page magazine on the Broadway musical Hamilton, it helps to have backstage passes.
“It’s the closest to the stage I’ve ever been, and that includes plays I’ve acted in,” says Jeff Ashworth ’04, editor-in-chief at Topix Media Lab.
Ashworth was an actor at Wofford during the transition from Dr. J.R. Gross to Dr. Mark Ferguson ’94, and he remains a fan of the type of theatre he studied there: work that’s as challenging as it is entertaining.
“What J.R. brought to Wofford, and really Upstate South Carolina — what he dared to do — took courage,” says Ashworth. “He created a space for the communication and exploration of radical ideas in a region of the country where radical ideas are often not well received. And Mark has done an incredible job carrying that mantle forward.”
After graduation, Ashworth worked at the Warehouse Theater in Greenville, S.C., where he met a group of actors who decided to move to New York together. They shared a small apartment and waited tables or took odd jobs between gigs. “Pretty cliché, actor-y stuff,” says Ashworth.
To add diversity to his acting resume, Ashworth began pursuing stand-up comedy, which in turn helped him discover a skill he’d never considered using to pay his bills: writing. “I was working freelance revising emails for Harvard Business grads, which was enlightening,” says Ashworth. “I’d assumed everyone knew how to write.”
Ashworth’s hodgepodge of experiences helped him land a job with World Wrestling Entertainment, writing for WWE Magazine. “I had no publishing experience and very little pro wrestling knowledge, but the guy in charge took a chance on me,” says Ashworth. “Plus, I was willing to work for practically nothing, which was viewed as an asset.” After two years at the magazine, Ashworth joined WWE’s creative writing team.
“Twitter had just become a thing, and most businesses didn’t understand it,” says Ashworth, who used a pitch meeting to propose using the social media platform to enhance storylines. “WWE is a live soap opera. So my job became connecting characters on television to their social media accounts in real time.” Things escalated quickly. “I went from composing a few random tweets to traveling the globe producing TMZ-style ambush videos for WWE.com and orchestrating stunts at Comic-Con. It was a weird job.”
A few years later Ashworth was recruited by his former boss at “WWE Magazine,” the founder of Topix Media Lab, to become the company’s editor-in-chief, where he oversees the production of upwards of 100 magazines and books per year for Disney, Marvel, Hasbro and several other brands — Newsweek and WWE included. “I’ve edited stories about John Wayne, marijuana and My Little Pony — often in the same day. It’s another weird job.”
Ashworth credits his experiences at Wofford with preparing him for the multidisciplinary nature of his current career. “The greatest takeaway from my liberal arts education was learning the value of pursuing knowledge for its own sake,” he says. “It just took me a while to learn how to turn that into a marketable skill.”
When they aren’t enjoying New York’s “unrivaled arts and cultural scene,” Ashworth and his wife, Lindsey, enjoy taking their dog, Zelda, to Prospect Park (“So she can experience what life is like in a world with grass”) or spending time with their surrogate New York family.
“We have a great support system here,” says Ashworth. “It’s a big city, but your neighborhood — and the relationships you build within it — make it feel as intimate as Wofford College.”
By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89