UMass Journalism Alums Return With A Message: Go Do Journalism!

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Six UMass journalism graduates returned to campus to share their thoughts about how to succeed in the business.

Julie Robenhymer, a senior writer with Hockeybuzz.com, said it best at the end of last week’s “Back from The Front” alumni panel:  “If you’re not a self starter this is not the path for you.”

It’s advice that’s always been true for journalism students but perhaps is even more appropriate today.  Robenhymer, a 2004 Journalism graduate, is an avid hockey fan but was out of sportswriting for a few years before she was offered a job at the popular Web site.


Because she got the attention of the editors at Hockeybuzz.com with e-mail comments about the site.  For several years now, she has gained a following by using Twitter, blogs and video to deliver stories via a powerful personality.

“I always wanted to be the one who stood out,” said Robenhymer.  “For our industry in sports media, I see the future being dependent upon the personalities of who are in it.”

The ‘self-starter’ advice was echoed by several alums, including S.P. Sullivan (’10) and Eric Athas (’08) Thursday night — both of whom spent their “down-time” during their college years learning a variety of multimedia tools, including how to shoot and edit video.  Sullivan also weighed in on the ongoing debate in academia over whether journalism schools should be teaching specific tools, saying instead that professors should focus on storytelling rather than how to shoot photos on a specific camera.

Rather, Sullivan and Athas said it was incumbent upon student journalists to learn multimedia skills on their own.

“Journalists always have to be students and learning,” said Athas, now a producer for The Washington Post’s web site and the founder of AmherstWire.com.   “Learn as much as possible.”

Also returning to UMass for the panel were: Mike LaCrosse (’10, reporter & producer, ABC40), Michael Phillis (’10, staff writer, Lexington Minuteman) and Mary K. Alfieri (’10, advertising & PR, The Loomis Group.)  David Perkins acted as moderator during the 90-minute discussion.

“I couldn’t have been happier to see these six former students–or prouder of them,” said Karen List, director of the Journalism Program.  “They are such bright lights, and I so much appreciate their coming back to share their insights with all of us.”

“I thought I was pretty terrific,” said Perkins.

As for whether they were “doing more with less” in the current journalism environment, Sullivan, a producer with MassLive.com was blunt:  “This is what we all signed up for.”  He blogs, edits text and video, tweets and….writes.

His advice, and the advice from most on the panel:  Learn it all and be ready to do it all.

Yes, There Are Jobs! UMass Journalism’s Alumni Night To Be A Good One!

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Back From The Front:

WHEN:  Thursday, April 21, from 7:30-9 p.m.

WHERE: Bernie Dallas Room, Room 506, Goodell Hall.

WHAT: We’ve invited six recent Journalism graduates for a discussion of their experiences in the shape-shifting journalism market.

WHO:  The panelists are:

Mary Kate Alfieri, ’10, Account Coordinator/ Office Administrator, The Loomis Group, Boston, MA.

* Eric Athas, ’08, Producer, washingtonpost.com, Washington, D.C.

* Mike LaCrosse, ’10, Reporter/Producer, WGGB, ABC40/FOX6, Springfield, MA.

* Michael Phillis, ’10, Staff Writer, Lexington Minuteman, Lexington, MA

* Julie Robenhymer, ’03, Senior Writer for HockeyBuzz.com

* Sean Sullivan, ’10, Associate Producer, MassLive.Com , Springfield, MA

: Before the discussion, we’re having a reception for panelists, faculty, and alumni in the Commonwealth Lounge, Room 504, Goodell, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Feel free to join us for a great night!

Coming to UMass: Documentary Filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist; showing of ‘The Two Escobars’

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Filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist will speak and show his award-winning documentary “The Two Escobars” on Thursday, Feb 24 at 4 p.m. at the Cape Cod Lounge.

This is a phenomenal documentary and a riveting piece of storytelling. It is part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, but it is way more than a film about sports.

Here’s what David Ansen said about it:

Pablo Escobar was the richest, most powerful drug kingpin in the world, ruling the Medelli­n Cartel with an iron fist. Andres Escobar was the biggest soccer star in Colombia. The two were not related, but their fates were inextricably – and fatally – intertwined. Pablo’s drug money had turned Andres’ national team into South American champions, favored to win the 1994 World Cup in Los Angeles. It was there, in a game against the U.S., that Andres committed one of the most shocking mistakes in soccer history, scoring an “own goal” that eliminated his team from the competition and ultimately cost him his life.

THE TWO ESCOBARS is a riveting examination of the intersection of sports, crime, and politics. For Colombians, soccer was far more than a game: their entire national identity rode on the success or failure of their team. Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s fast and furious documentary plays out on an ever-expanding canvas, painting a fascinating portrait of Pablo, Andres, and a country in the grips of a violent, escalating civil war.

Jeff Zimbalist is the son of Andy Zimbalist who teaches economics at Smith, and he’ll be here to speak about the making of this film.

This event is being funded by Elisa Thomas, who is a journalism alum.

Transparency and Gene Weingarten’s Visit


During his recent visit to UMass, Pulitzer prize-winner Gene Weingarten told a few stories.  One of them involved an exchange with Bob Kaiser — one of my favorite editors from my time at The Washington Post.

The story was an amusing one and involved an effort by Weingarten and one of his reporters to construct a profile on a person who made a living off of writing term papers for college students.  After the interview turned out not to be the best, the reporter jokingly suggested they have the term-paper writer write the story, put it under the reporter’s byline and wait until the kicker at the end of the story to let the reader know they had been duped.

As with most of Weingarten’s story, there were chuckles from the crowd when Weingarten decided to go ahead with the idea.

But Weingarten continued and said that Kaiser, then the managing editor at The Post, said that while he liked the story, misleading the reader violated the contract of trust that journalists have with their audience.

“We don’t lie to our readers,” Kaiser told Weingarten.

The story was from the pre-Web days but even then Kaiser seemed ahead of his time with his notions of transparency.

Weingarten also gave some old-school stories about getting information and interviews through some questionable means early in his career — including hiding behind a curtain during a city council meeting.

Finally, Weingarten spoke about the stories surrounding both of his Pulitzer Prizes, including “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car is a Horrifying Mistake. Is it a Crime?” In describing how he was able to get people to talk to him about this difficult topic, Weingarten said he related his own story to interview subjects, sharing how he almost killed his daughter, Molly, the same way.

To a near-quiet audience of a couple of hundred people, Weingarten related how one day in the early 1980s he was taking his daughter to daycare, made a wrong turn and ended up in parking lot of The Miami Herald.  He was about to get out of his car when his daughter saved a tragedy from occurring.

“As I was about to get out, Molly said something and that’s the only reason she’s a veterinarian today,” recalled Weingarten.

It was a moving story, especially since it was delivered to a room filled with budding journalists.  Yet, the admission is not found anywhere in the narrative of the Pulitzer prize-winning story.  In an online discussion after the story was published in The Post, Weingarten told his story. So, while there was transparency, it was transparency after the fact.  Since Weingarten’s visit, I’ve had several class discussions on Weingarten’s appearance and what it means to be transparent in today’s 24-hour news cycle.

And, after reading the online discussion, some students felt angry, almost emotionally manipulated by the story he wrote.  Would readers’ opinions on the topic have been different if Weingarten had been transparent within the story?


For me, I remember the huge discussion that happened after the story was originally published.  As a father of three, I have a built-in bias.  I was repulsed by the headline and the attempt to classify these deaths as “mistakes.”

Being transparent would have provided Weingarten with a different approach to the story and perhaps swayed those holding my opinion.  But, most importantly, Weingarten would have been honest with the reader.  Letting the reader know you have an emotional investment in the story is one of the main arguments for being transparent.

MassLive’s Kubosiak, Sullivan to visit UMass Journalism

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MassLive’s S.P. Sullivan and Ed Kubosiak will visit Mary Carey’s Journalism 201 class on Oct. 18, at 5 p.m. in Bartlett 212. We have room for more, so please consider coming! Ed and Sean are doing some exciting things, including liveblogging/livestreaming and “reverse publishing.”

The 5 W’s of a Story Pitch

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Brad Tuttle recently came to Bartlett Hall to deliver a talk about how students can make it in the world of freelance journalism.  Part of his presentation included an examination of how students can get their work published as freelance journalists.  His presentation was titled:

The 5 W’s of a Story Pitch:

Why this story? – Is it narrative, first person?   Show a little bit of your story and how it might be put together.

•    Why this publication? What else is out there; why are you pitching here?  Know what they’ve done in this area and in the magazine you’re pitching to:  “What has it done and will do?”  Browse through a year’s worth of stories/issues of a publication, it shows editors that you care.    Draw parallels between what they’ve done and what you hope to do.

•    Why now? Mostly for magazines, but can translate across mediums.  Travel – get a lot of pitches for the “I’m just back from story” ….but a lot has been covered elsewhere.  What is now, what is a trend?  Neighborhood in Barcelona with four  new chefs…places with an actual story.    This is why we need to do this right now.  Plan 6-8 months ahead.

•    Why in a particular format? Make the case for why the format is the perfect format – 500 word first person essay – why?  List of tips, infographic, photo essay – why one or the other – make your argument.  Editors want you to care.

•    Why  you? Why of all the writers in the world should I give this to you?    “You prove it all the time in everything you do – when you are a journalist you are selling yourself all the time, you are the product.  You are constantly making an impression on people.”

Other Tips:
•    Every rewrite that you are asked to do proves you can work with an editor and an editor can work with you…..be casual and friendly.   Find ways to work with editors.
•    “My personal work ethic comes knowing that I can be replaced;  I don’t take anything for granted….nobody is safe, there is very little stability in the industry.”
•    “Everyone needs an editor; you can’t be thin-skinned about it; you won’t last if you’re thin-skinned…instead of digging your heels and cursing your editors, think about how you can learn and get better.”
•    “Writers and editors and professors have same goal; not to make your life easy but to produce the best story; at the heart of true pros out there is the desire to produce the best stuff.”


David Maraniss to Visit UMass Journalism

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A huge coup for Journalism, courtesy of Maddy Blais:

Just so you all know and in case you want to tweak your syllabi when there is still plenty of time to do so, I am arranging for David Maraniss to come to our campus on Monday September 22nd, perhaps spilling into the 23rd. His major talk will be late afternoon on the 22nd: exact time and place to be determined with Barbara’s help. His talk comes early in the semester, but not so early, I trust, that at the very least you can offer extra credit to students who attend. He is a big deal: Pulitzer winner, Pulitzer finalist (for his work on 9/11) and has written the first Clinton biography as well as books about Gore, Vince Lombardi, Viet Nam (“They Marched into Sunlight”) and currently, “Rome” about the 1960 Olympics. He is so the real deal.

In an era where long-form is under challenge, Maraniss has a style unequalled in the business. Every time he writes, I read from beginning to end, completely taken in by his writing. As you can see from his Virginia Tech piece, he has the ability to weave a narrative filled with details, facts, emotion. More than 20 reporters and researchers contributed to Maraniss on the Virginia Tech piece — quite an amazing feat.

But, it was his piece on the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (co-authored by Anne Hull and Paul Schwartzman) that really put Maraniss into another stratosphere for me. The link I just gave you doesn’t have the entire piece, so I’ll paste the entire story here. It’s 8,000 words and you won’t leave your seat until you’re done.



Published on: Sunday, 12/09/2001, A section,
edition, zone, A01

Aftermath For Those Whose Lives Were Changed September 11, the Contrast
Between the Mythology Surrounding That Day and Their Own Reality Keeps
By David Maraniss, Anne Hull and Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writers


At the Fresh Kills wasteland, on a man-made moonscape high above the western
shore of Staten Island, the air smells sweet and rotten. The ground bubbles,
generators hum, cranes creak and roar, their giant claws loosening mangled
loads in earthshaking thuds. Detectives in white Tyvek suits breathe through
gas masks as they move amid squashed firetrucks and piles of steel twisted
into 21st century sculptures of horror.

The word landfill fails to convey this otherworldly place. Fresh Kills is
officially an NYPD crime scene, a fenced encampment of 175 acres guarded at
three checkpoints. More than that, it is an archaeological phenomenon —
most of what’s left of the lost civilization that until September 11 existed
across the bay at the World Trade Center.

Here are the remains of one devastating day, more than 650,000 tons already
and much more on the way, hauled by mud-scarred dump trucks and heaving
barges, all to be disentangled, spread out and examined. Mechanical sifters
and sorters separate detritus large from small, sending humble little bits
hurtling down conveyor belts that roll from dawn to long after nightfall.
The river of debris flows relentlessly and is mesmerizing, chunks of rock
mostly, dark and indistinguishable, but then every few seconds an object
with an unknown story attached: a tube of lipstick, a torn concert ticket, a
Snapple lid, a piece of human bone, a Port Authority badge, a padlock,
moisturizer, a torn hairnet.

Hour after hour, week upon week, the trade center reminders keep coming,
even as the nation has moved on to war and other things.

September 11, nearly three months gone, is now a shared American narrative,
a communal myth, based largely on fact, that tries to make sense of what
seems unexplainable. A cast of everyday heroes. Pure good versus satanic
evil. Common purpose and resolve. The myth comes wrapped in a neat package
and is sold on the street. The coffee table photo books rushed for Christmas
sales, the flag lapel pins, the tourists buying their FDNY caps in Times
Square, these are for the outside consumers of legend. But those on the
inside know harder truths that accompany and at times collide with the myth.
They are real people facing the rawness of what happened and what it did to
them. The debris of September 11 keeps rolling through their lives with the
same ceaseless rhythm as the conveyor belts on Staten Island.