Eric Athas: NPR Digital News Specialist

13 Mar

Time in Amherst

As Eric Athas sat down with our class last Thursday, he joked that he was a new student. Athas graduated from the University of Massachusetts Journalism Department in 2008. In the four years since his graduation, he has worked for two very reputable news outlets. His mainstream success can be attributed to an informal ‘mantra’ he delivered at the beginning of his presentation, “Never turn down a conversation or interview, and don’t be discouraged if you get let down.”

Athas spent his time at UMass “living” at the Daily Collegian office, the University’s daily newspaper. He started there as a freshman and rose to Editor in Chief by his junior year. During his final year in Amherst, he decided to leave the paper to pursue a new project, AmherstWire.com. Athas founded that online news magazine, as well as the UMass 101 Blog for MassLive.com.

 

Memorable Stories

During his senior year he reported on the death of UMass student Katherine Sherman who was studying abroad in India. Athas spoke for a long time about this story which he covered on and off for two years. He described this story as “following him” into his post-graduate career. He explained the saga of reporting on such a tenuous issue in such depth. When he first broke the story he was met with an outcry of negative criticism from friends of Sherman who felt he was invading her privacy. He told our class that by the end of the two years reporting on Katie Sherman, he knew everything about the case. He had spoken to her parents, friends, University officials, even to the FBI who were reporting on her mysterious death. Even in the end, the circumstances of the story seemed foggy.

Athas spoke in depth about a number of memorable stories he has covered throughout his career, aside from the Katherine Sherman story.

  • He told us about accidentally stumbling upon a gruesome murder scene at a upscale Maryland yoga store. That story developed with a dramatic and unlikely twist.
  • He explained that he was very proud of a piece he wrote about the “Baghdad Boil“, a story he spent six months on.
  • He gave an anecdote about lamenting on “the lack of news” the evening before Senator Gabrielle Gifford was shot in Tuscon.
  • He told us the details of working in the Washington Post newsroom the night that President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden.

 

Multimedia and the New World of Journalism

In Athas’s time at the Washington Post he was able to experience what he called a “journalism buffet”. He worked in all different kinds of social and web media as a reporter and the homepage editor. When asked about career opportunities, he emphasized that most important skill to build is the ability to multi-task. He explained that the industry is “redefining the way news works, people are hiring more than ever.”

Athas talked about the ‘old story’ vs. the ‘new story’. In the old story, a journalist must go through the right of Passage. A new reporter gets a job at a small town newspaper, then a slightly larger one, then a slightly larger one, and so on and so forth. In the new story, he said, we “all have the chance to do whatever we want wherever we want.”

He described the naysayers calling journalism dead as “a negative cloud over the industry”. According the Eric Athas, this is a very exciting time.

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One Response to “Eric Athas: NPR Digital News Specialist”

  1. stevejfox March 31, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    Remy —

    Nice post, good use of voice. Unfortunately you have two factual errors with the spelling of Giffords and Tucson.

    Steve

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