When UMass Journalism Alum (’08) Eric Athas came into Steve Fox’s Advanced Multimedia Journalism class on March 8 and discussed his journalistic journey, I nearly fell out of my seat.
Here was this twenty-something journalist sitting right next to me, shouting out a whirlwind of intelligence. I couldn’t believe a journalist so young, more specifically of UMass descent, could ever be so successful in the field
Athas spoke about the current state of journalism, saying that the “The traditional Rite of Passage into journalism is over.” “You all have the chance to do whatever you want whenever you want,” he said.
Athas has been following and covering the mysterious suicide of former UMass Amherst student, Katie Sherman, who died in India in 2008. He said that covering the death hasn’t been easy because of the lack of information. But he also tasked us not to waiver in the field of journalism.
“Never turn down a conversation or an interview and don’t always be discouraged if things don’t work out,” said Athas, a Digital News Specialist at NPR Boston.
At this point I realized that Eric Athas is the real deal. Beyond his accolades, which include three years at the UMass Daily Collegian; one as an editor and a creative hand in launching the student-run news site, AmherstWire.com, he worked as a producer at the Washington Post for three years before landing a sweet job at NPR Boston. He said that his success in the job market is a direct result of the people he knows and the connections he’s made, specifically at the ONA Conference he went to senior year of college.
“Don’t stop being a journalist or reporter when you get out of college,” Athas said. “I never took off my journalist hat, I held it on tighter.”
He recalled a story he covered for the Washington Post late in the spring of 2011 in Bethesda, MD, an affluent suburb in the DC Metro area. Athas sat outside of the Apple store early Saturday morning and witnessed a disturbance at the Lululemon yoga clothing store next door. He said that local police determined the crime scene to be a homicide and sexual assault.
Athas used his iphone that day to take pictures and conduct a video interview with a witness on scene. This was an example of Athas’ journalist hat. Some of his work made the online page.
“Whenever you think there’s something really interesting, just blog about it,” he said. The murder was later discovered to be a murder after two employees argued over a stolen item, which resulted in one death.
Athas is currently developing a project to develop a digital presence at NPR member stations across the state. Geo-targeting software on Facebook allows you to target refined local audiences. He indicated that many more people are seeing global stories as a result of the geo-targeting method.
Athas summed up his visit with a simple message. “Stay in tune to what continues to come up in journalism,” he said. “And acquire technical skills and layer them over your writing skills.”