I've since read other stuff by him, some of it good, but nothing nearly to the level of 'The Things That Carried Him.' And I would bet there is a lot of work in Jones' background that is decent or good but not great.
So I think anyone who dreams about reporting/writing/editing/photographing a truly great story should not be discouraged when they read something like Jones' story or Gene Weingarten's in the Washington Post on children who suffocate when their parents accidentally leave them in the car. There's a thread on Gangrey.com where people are discussing why a story like Weingarten's makes them feel inadequate; i.e., I'll never be able to write that, so why bother?
To which I'd say:
It may be true; you may never be as good as Weingarten or Jones, never good enough to pull off that kind of a story.
But I guarantee you that all of the stories that Weingarten and Jones did before they reported and wrote those stories prepared them to report and write those stories. (Not to mention all of the life experience). Neither went to sleep one night as idiots and awoke the next morning as terrific observers, interviewers, fact-finders and writers.
Every time we report and write, or edit, or shoot, we're creating something, and trying to make it as good as it can be. But we're also preparing ourselves for the next story. We're learning something we can take with us down the road and put to work on a story we don't even know exists yet.
That's why you bother -- because it's how you get better. That's how you prepare yourself to do something great.
It's OK to be in awe of Jones and Weingarten after you read their stories. Just turn that awe into a tool, and use it to focus on what you can bring to, and take from, your next story.