Last Thursday Eric Athas, a UMass Amherst alum who is currently a digital news specialist at NPR, visited our class and spoke to us about his experience as an undergraduate at UMass and the success he has achieved as a journalist since graduating. Athas’ story made me optimistic about my aspirations for a career in journalism, and motivates me to do everything I can while in college in order to obtain the type of success he has.
During his discussion Athas stressed the importance of networking. Athas explained that meeting people, making contacts, and keeping in touch with people in the media world has played a major role in his success, and has allowed him to get his foot in the door at many of the jobs he obtained. As an undergraduate, Athas attended the Student Newsroom Online News Association in DC where he met and talked to people at the Washington Post, the company he eventually landed a job with as a producer for the Washington Post online and worked for for three years. Athas spoke about how at the conference he was able to meet people, get to know them, and maintain contact with them. Besides meeting people from the Washington Post Athas met Mark Stencil, the head of digital media at NPR, the company he now works for.
As an undergraduate journalism major, Athas was exceptionally proactive in preparing himself for his career, having been extremely involved with The Daily Collegian, holding multiple internships, and playing a major role launching Amherst Wire with Professor Steve Fox. In my opinion, his hard work has paid off. Within five years, since graduating from UMASS Amherst in 2008, he has been able to work for two major news outlets and achieve success unparalled by most journalists his age.
Athas shared with us the story of him literally stumbling across a crime scene as it was discovered, stressing the importance of “always having your journalist hat on.” Athas got up early one morning to beat the lines at the apple store on the upscale Bethesda Row, and while waiting in his car for the store to open he saw a women run out of the store lululemon looking frazzled and upset. Soon the police arrived a knowing that something serious had occurred Athas alerted the local desk at the Post of what was going on, making them the first ones to break the story. Although Athas has not planned to work that day, he acted as a journalist by taking pictures of the scene as it unfolded and even using his phone to conduct an interview. His experience, which he writes about in the article “Journalist stumbles upon the scene of the Lululemon yoga store killing“, serves as real life lesson that as a journalist you always have to be ready to cover a story.
When I asked Athas what has been his favorite piece, or the one that he is most proud of, it did not take long for him to point out this story “Sand flies infect U.S. forces with parasite that leaves them with ‘Baghdad Boil’” The story, which obviously required extensive research, is an extremely well done multimedia piece that seems made for the web; one which Athas should be proud to call his favorite.