PV graduate continues journalism career at Penn State


Contributed by Jake Aferiat

PV graduate Jake Aferiat started his journalism career with The Smoke Signal, and now holds the position of Features and Investigations editor for Penn State’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. He is also the publication’s primary wrestling reporter.

Willy Higgins, Sports Writer

As Jake Aferiat’s freshman year came to a close, he received an email from his English teacher, Bill Rawson, who was looking for people to join Pascack Valley’s student news publication, The Smoke Signal

“I remember meeting with him at the Hillsdale Library and talking to him about [The Smoke Signal] for a while and explaining my vision for The Smoke Signal and how he would fit into that,” Rawson said. “I distinctly remember standing outside the Hillsdale library as we were about to part ways and I asked him ‘so what do you think’, and he looked me in the eye and said ‘I’ll think about it.’”

Although Aferiat hadn’t had much experience in journalism, he joined The Smoke Signal in his sophomore year at PV as a sports writer: a decision that sparked his love for reporting. From that point on, he knew that even after his days of writing for the student publication, journalism would continue to be a big part of his life.  

“Because of The Smoke Signal and because of [Smoke Signal adviser Bill] Rawson,” Aferiat said, “I knew that journalism was something I really wanted to pursue and something I think would be beneficial for me.”

In addition to introducing Aferiat to sports journalism, Aferiat said that working on The Smoke Signal also provided him with the skills he would need to write for a college publication that’s producing online content every day. Currently, Aferiat — now a junior at Penn State — is the Features and Investigations editor for the school’s student publication, The Daily Collegian.

The Smoke Signal was the best experience anyone could’ve gotten,” Aferiat said. “ When Rawson took over The Smoke Signal my sophomore year, [producing daily content] was something we really strove to accomplish. Early on, I got that sense of urgency in the online age of needing to get articles written quickly, but also in a quality manner.”

Although Aferiat was the assistant sports editor and wrestling beat editor last year, he has started to shift his focus to opinion-based journalism and politics. This change hasn’t been a challenge for Aferiat, though, as he always has been interested in both.

“Sports and politics are the two things I eat, sleep, and breathe,” Aferiat said. “I love sports, I made my niche in sports, and I got my start in sports, but I also want to pursue the political aspect of reporting.”

However, while many aspects of all fields of journalism are one and the same, the potential magnitude and feedback of a controversial opinion piece are different from that of a sports article. Aferiat found this out quickly when he published  “Marie Hardin is right, Barstool has a culture problem and this latest attack proves why.”

In this article, Aferiat sides with Marie Hardin, the Dean of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State, who expressed her discontent with Barstool Sports in an NBC News story. Although he addressed the situation without bias, his light criticism was enough to anger many Barstool supporters, as well as the president of the company, Dave Portnoy.

Aferiat had expected a reaction, but the mob of hate that his article generated caught him by surprise.

At first I laughed about it and it kind of just rolled off my back,” Aferiat said. “[But] after seeing hundreds of comments, it does get to you.”

While the bombardment of hateful tweets was overwhelming at the time, his team of editors at The Daily Collegian knew that it was something he would be able to get through.

“Nobody wants to be dragged through the mud like he was, but at the same time, he believes in what he believes in,” assistant sports editor Matt Lingerman said. “He wasn’t going to back down from that just because people were saying things on Twitter.”

Roughly three and a half months since the incident occurred, Aferiat views it as a learning experience and does not regret writing the article.

“I now look back on it as definitely a good thing that happened,” Aferiat said. “It helped me develop a thick skin.”  

After he graduates from Penn State, Aferiat is looking to pursue a career in journalism, while also running for public office in the future. He sees similarities in both fields and believes that through journalism, he will one day be able to hold a position in some form of government.

“I see a natural connection between journalism and politics,” Aferiat said. “I always told people that as a good journalist, you hold people accountable, you speak truth to power, and you shed light on issues that need light shed on them. Those are all the hallmarks of a good public servant and a good politician.”

Aferiat has come a long way since his days with The Smoke Signal and has put himself on the map during his time at Penn State with his sports reporting and opinion pieces. While his career path is not yet determined, he has the opportunity to make a name for himself and it all started from his days as a PV sportswriter. 

“The work that I put in to hone my craft while I was in high school prepared me for college,” Aferiat said. “It’s the work I’ve done in college– stories I’ve written, people I’ve interviewed, and the sources and relationships I’ve developed– that will prepare me for the real world.”