Cedar Attanasio while at Middlebury (left) and currently (right)
NER winter intern Regina Fontanelli ’22 talks to Cedar Attanasio ’11.5, former NER intern and current Associated Press reporter, about becoming a reporter and his advice for budding journalists.
Regina Fontanelli: Tell us briefly, where are you now, both geographically and professionally?
Cedar Attanasio: I cover education for the Associated Press out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s a hybrid role in two ways. It’s a local reporting job where we try to find news our readers can use in the state. It’s also a national reporting job where we look for ways that the Southwest is informing conversations on education and poverty across the country. It’s a text-focused position, but I’ve carved out a place for still photography and video journalism in the role as well.
RF: What was your road to becoming a reporter at AP? Have you always wanted to be a journalist?
CA: I couldn’t get a journalism job straight out of Middlebury so I focused on the skills that set me apart from my competition. I learned photography (from friends) and Portuguese (at MLS), flew myself to Brazil on a credit card in 2014, and got my first bylines freelancing coverage of the soccer World Cup.
RF: I’ve noticed you’ve worked for a few different publications in the past and reported on a variety of stories. Is there anything you’ve learned that you would want to share with budding journalists?
CA: Unless you are so incredibly talented that your favorite job opportunities are dropping in your lap, don’t be afraid to write at a level that is below your tastes and not perfectly aligned with your values. Ghost writing. Blogging. All writing is good experience. Paid writing with an audience is better experience.
The same is true editorially. I wrote for left-leaning and right-leaning news organizations. It helped me find my true calling, which is the AP’s culture of advancing the power of facts. If that sounds boring or cliche to you it’s okay—many partisans or activists of all political stripes are contributing to the national conversation in their own way.
RF: How long does it take you to research for a piece and what is your writing process like?
CA: My enterprise stories take between four days and four months to execute. There are always a few in the pipeline and some fall through. My writing process is a painful mess that starts with pages of notes distilled into graphs and broken up by diversions: walks, video games, etc. One of the most important parts of my writing process is to figure out what images will complement a story. Multimedia is central to my process, and iterates into the color and quotes that end up in the text.
RF: Do you feel like going to Middlebury has contributed to who you are as a writer?
CA: I came to Middlebury wanting to become a geography professor. The appreciation for data, mapping, and migration I gained there inform my work every day. By my super-senior semester I had found another calling. I studied with now-retired professor Chris Shaw, worked at the Middlebury Campus, and read Ted Connover’s work. I abandoned my geography thesis to do an internship at National Geographic. Interning at the New England Review was an extension of that and allowed me to deepen my interest in storytelling, the art of the pitch, and the reality of the slush pile.
RF: Thank you so much for your time and wisdom, Cedar!