As a kick-off to my AEJMC panel Wednesday (and, I hope, several days of conversations on the topic) I asked one of my former students, Eric Athas to weigh in on the value of partnering with professional news organizations.  Eric, one of the founders of amherstwire.com is now a news producer at washingtonpost.com.

I’ve added his comments in their entirety here.  They point to a new kind of student, those with an entrepreneurial flair who are willing to strike out and experiment on their own:

My first three years of college life at UMass were spent at the campus newspaper. The experience was wonderful and convinced me of what I wanted to do in life. But after spending my junior year as editor of the Daily Collegian, I decided to step down so my final year in college could be spend doing something else.

I wasn’t sure what “something else” was, but I knew before I graduated, I wanted to broaden my body of work to include more industry-based work.

That summer I reached out to The Springfield Republican, a local newspaper that covered UMass, about doing some freelance work for them. I met with the managing editor and news editor and began formulating pitches.

It was easy to come up with story ideas (I lived the beat, afterall) and it was great to work with people who were already in the profession, rather than preparing for the profession. And a class assignment to keep a blog allowed me to have an outlet for the multimedia I produced while reporting.

My work with The Republican and on my blog caught the eye of MassLive.com editor Ed Kubosiak. We met in January and came up with an idea for a MassLive blog entirely devoted to UMass. Not long after, UMass 101 was born.

The idea was for it to be multimedia-based and cover everything and anything UMass. In the end, the blog honed a lot of my online skills and was an excellent precursor to the professional world. Additionally, because I was covering the very school I was attending, the blog served as a bridge from my academic life to the outside world.

I found that as a student, I had access to a lot of information a regular beat reporter/blogger never would — campus events, internal e-mails, and good old word of mouth.

When a student studying abroad suddenly died in Spring 2008, I broke the news on UMass 101 and covered it far more extensively than any other news organization. Reason being — I had access to campus chatter and quickly got the idea that there was more to the story than the official report. I also went to academic mentors for advice as I blogged.

As it turns out, this story resulted in a couple of long-form investigative pieces that stretched over two years.

I showcased the blog when applying for jobs, including the one I currently hold. Future employers were pleased with the fact that I was connecting with the industry while in school.

Most importantly to me, the blog still lives. I passed it to another student, who has now passed it to a third student blogger. Hopefully this will continue to give students a platform for years to come.

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