GR US

Baltimore Sun Publisher Loves His Hometown, His Chosen Profession – and His Rich Greek Heritage

The National Herald

It was the magical intersectionality of food, family, and an unquenchable curiosity – plus a dash of stardust known as location, location, location – that informed the career path of Triffon `Trif’ Alatazas would take.

As a youngster, Alatzas worked in his parents’ busy restaurant in Baltimore. It was there he wisely applied his keen observational skills that continue to serve him as a reporter. “I got to know some of the journalists,” he recalled, since many of them worked across the street at what was then the headquarters of the Baltimore Sun. “Some of them had papers from Richmond, Washington, New York. I was always fascinated by that. And when they’d leave them behind, I’d dig in.”

It wasn’t long before his personal excavation project hit pay dirt. In 2016, he was named publisher and editor-in-chief of the Sun, one of America’s most distinguished daily papers. His journey included undergraduate and grad school before honing his reportorial skills in Rochester, NY, and Wilmington, DE.

When Alatzas returned to Baltimore and the Sun, he began his rhythmic rise through the editorial ranks. The company also turns out two smaller dailies, magazines, and a chain of popular community weeklies.

Alatzas, 54, is married to his Greek-American college sweetheart from Milwaukee and they are parents to two children. His grandfather was born in Argos, in the Peloponnese and his other grandfather hails from the Aegean island of Chios. At home, he recalled “the radio was always on in the house” to programs like the Greek American Radio Hour. “We talked about politics. My parents made my sister and I watch “60 Minutes.” (His sister, Michele, is married to Reverend Father Christ Kontos, who pastors the St. Luke Greek Orthodox church near Philadelphia.)

One of the darkest days, he said, occurred in 2018, when a lone gunman burst into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis before shooting and killing five beloved staffers. Alatzas, who was in his office 30 miles north, gathered his staff, while doing his best to separate his emotions long enough to tend to the business of providing an objective, factual account of the tragedy. “I said, ’hey, we need to cover this story like we cover anything else.’ I got in my car and went to Annapolis. I wanted to be with my staff and the families of the victims.”

During these uncertain times, when the pandemic continues to claim American lives daily, the decision was made by the parent company to close newsrooms it owned and convert to remote spaces. While the lifeblood of journalism at its core is collegiality, the health risk involved made it impossible to continue with the age-old formula of reporters and editors working under the same roof.

“We’re like every other newsroom in the country, working virtually,” he remarked, his likable, outsize personality holding sway. “You work with people who are so incredibly committed to what they do. It’s a tough job, like any job. Technology is a great opportunity to not miss a beat.”

Under Alatzas’ leadership, the Sun staff won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. “illuminating” and” impactful” are adjectives used by the judges to describe how reporters exposed a windfall deal between the former mayor, Catherine Pugh, and the public hospital system that landed Pugh behind bars for three years. In an era where the media is the subject of unprecedented scrutiny, the core mission hasn’t wavered. “We have to push through all of these times when there is a real concern about trusted information,” he asserted passionately.  Whether it’s in print or via digital platforms, he added, “it’s an incredible responsibility to provide information people can’t find anywhere else.” 

Recognizing the growing overlap in commuting patterns, the Census Bureau combined Baltimore and Washington. The official designation created the fourth largest metro area in the country. But Alatzas, forever steeped in his Charm City roots, acknowledges the changes. “Baltimore has always had a chip on its shoulder that it’s not Washington. And it’s not. We have our own teams and our own identity. The cities are so different, but as the world has changed, we’ve got people who live between the two.”    

While he’s justifiably proud of his stellar accomplishments, including designing a newsroom structure that became a model for other papers across the country, Alatzas circled back to his Greek upbringing and how it has shaped who he is. “I was very active in the parish,” referring to St. Demetrios in Baltimore County. “I was an altar boy, president of the Junior GOYA, the dance troupe. I made lifelong friends there. It holds a special place in my life.”

While success can play mind games, that’s hardly the case with Alatzas, assured his brother-in-law, the Rev. Pastor Christ Kontos. “He keeps it real. He’s as humble as pie. “When the editor and publisher hat comes off, he’s a loving father, big brother, and a very caring son to his parents.” He added: “Trif never misses family vacations. They’re always a priority.”