Annie Burris describes herself as “nosy” — a perfect trait for any journalist.
“I want to know what’s going on before anyone else,” she says.
Burris is finally in the position where she can make a living being nosy and knowing what’s going on — but for this 22-year-old Biola alumna, it didn’t come easily.
Journalism first interested Burris in high school, when she read a series of books about a news correspondent in World War II. The adventures he had, the pressures he faced and the successes he found struck a chord with Burris. When it came time to choose a college, she enrolled at Biola — where both her parents, two of her grandparents and her older brother had also gone to school — and started in on journalism classes. She also became an editor for the school’s weekly newspaper, The Chimes.
“Student media gives you the best real-life experience that’s available in an academic setting,” Burris said. “Stuff that I learned at The Chimes, like layout, design and organization of multiple people and articles, I’m still using today.”
Burris also took part in the Summer Institute of Journalism, a program in Washington, D.C. in which she gained the benefit of critiques from New York Times writers.
“The D.C. program threw me out of my comfort nest and made me begin to flap my wings,” says Burris. She cites the program as the most challenging part of her academic career, and vividly recalls being forced to abandon any timidity and do whatever it took to get the story.
“Before I went to Washington, I was very hestitant to cold-call newspapers and ask if I could freelance. But the program gave me the courage and background to start freelancing,” she said.
By Burris’ sophomore year, she applied to the Orange County Register to work as an intern, but was rejected.
“I told myself, ‘They don’t know what they’re missing!’” she says.
But if the Register wouldn’t let her work, she reasoned, another paper would. She began to freelance for small community papers, many of which were owned by the Register.
Two years later, Burris applied again, and this time, she got the position.
As an intern for the Register, Burris covered the city of Orange, especially the Orange Unified School District. Burris worked hard to make herself indispensible to the Register. She would do all the things the staff reporters didn’t want to do, such as going to school board meetings. After several months, a reporter position opened up in the Huntington Beach area. Burris applied and was accepted.
Working at the Register has already been a success story for Burris. Last spring, she teamed up with Pulitzer-prize nominee Keith Sharon to write a four-part narrative that landed her name on the front cover of the Register.
“Narrative journalism isn’t the most popular thing in any newsroom. And the Register never does series, ever. So to do a four-part narrative was almost unheard-of,” she says.
Putting the story together was no small feat; Burris remembers interviewing her main source a total of six times, with around two hours spent in each interview.
But getting the information was only part of the challenge.
“Writing features is much harder for me than hard news,” admits Burris. “And Keith set the bar so high up for the writing standard of the story. He pushed me. He never let up. He’d say, ‘Be more fun.’
“Keith is known around newsroom for being a brilliant narrative writer, and he made me catch the vision of narrative journalism. He would not let me write it how journalists would write it — which was really good. I feel like I grew in leaps and bounds.”
After successfully wrestling with feature writing, Burris wants to tackle still more areas of journalism.
“I admire law enforcement reporters,” she said. “They are what you think of when you think of reporters. They are the guys on the phone asking where the dead body is, finding out what started the fire.”
It’s another challenge for her to confront, but Burris is well acquainted with the effort it takes to get to that next level. Far from letting the challenges daunt her, she’s made a practice to meet them head on — and she’ll go on the record to say that they’ve all been worth it.
From childhood, it was clear Mollenbeck would not become a doctor. What he would become, however, was apparent, if in an unusual way.
Around age 5, he got a Fisher Price doctor’s kit, complete with a stethoscope. But instead of using it as any normal child might, he used the stethoscope as a microphone and headphones to announce things around the house. So it began.
While in high school in small-town Hampton, Ia., he started working part time at the local radio station (KLMJ), eventually sliding over to the news department. But to him, it seemed just that at the time—a part time job. He had no intention of staying in broadcast or journalism, instead making plans to attend Biola to study communication and Spanish.
But shortly after beginning at Biola, Mollenbeck realized how much he missed the newsroom, and specifically, being on the air. He decided to join a journalism department that was in its formative stages and required a certain degree of personal ambition to navigate.
During the course of his college years, Mollenbeck was involved with and helped lead all three forms of campus media (The Chimes, Eaglevision and Biola Radio). In 2002, a radio newscast won a national award at the College Media Advisors’ conference in New York City. The “Apple Award” was for best college radio broadcast. The same newscast got second place at the National Radio Broadcast Awards in Dallas.
Off campus he was equally involved, using each summer and winter break to intern or work outright in radio. Those stations included WHO in Des Moines, Ia; KOGO in San Diego, Calif (employee); and WTOP in Washington, DC (intern). Having a mental checklist of where he wanted to be at what time, Mollenbeck’s goal was to work in Los Angeles by the time he graduated Biola.
As it happened, he was still at Biola when that opportunity came. In January of 2007 Mollenbeck began as a reporter for KNX in Los Angeles, the CBS affiliate. For three and a half years he was part of “Southern California’s Morning News.” During that time he covered the presidential campaign and debates, the O.J. Simpson armed robbery and kidnapping trial in Las Vegas, President Obama’s inauguration in Washington, DC and the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
He also returned to Biola frequently to maintain friendships with faculty and staff and to invest in students. One semester he led a Bible study for journalism majors. Another he taught a broadcast writing course as an adjunct.
In May of 2010, Mollenbeck accepted an offer at WTOP in Washington, DC, where he now lives.
Jamie Gentner spent her four years at Biola dedicated to The Chimes. She hopped into the features editor position as a freshman and worked her way up to editor-in-chief by senior year.
Right before graduation in 2007, Jamie was hired as a reporter for the Siskiyou Daily News in Yreka, Calif., thanks largely in part to a tip from fellow Biola alumnus Heather Dodds (2006). As is the case with most small newspapers, Jamie’s job included deadline writing, photo-shoots, copy editing and page-layout. After an eight-month stint at the Siskiyou Daily, Jamie returned to her hometown to work for the Mohave Valley Daily News as a page designer, though the smaller size of the newspaper once again meant she picked up copy editing and reporting duties, as well.
When was asked to join Greenspun Media Group’s family of weekly newspapers, The Home News, in the Las Vegas area, Jamie couldn’t pass up the opportunity. She took the job as page designer with the group that owns the Las Vegas Sun and part of the Chicago Tribune. Jamie saw it as an opportunity to move up. But the economy finally caught up to the media group and The Home News went under, leaving behind a wake of unemployed personnel, including Jamie.
Unable to find a journalism job, Jamie worked for about eight months at an insurance company and for a homeowner’s association. But when her former boss at the Siskiyou Daily needed some stories for a magazine in a hurry, he called Jamie and asked her to come back to the area and do a week of freelance work. During that visit, she was asked to come back to the paper and was soon working full time as a reporter. She covers police, courts, fire, education, business and general assignments in addition to providing coverage for a monthly publication in a neighboring town.
Jamie has witnessed the struggles of newspapers first hand and has reported on the failure of several others, but her passion for the industry still burns brightly. Her plans are to stay at smaller newspapers because of the wide variety of topics she is able to cover and the wonderful people she fuses relationships with.
Jamie is an alumnus of the World Journalism Institute’s media operations connected with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Urbana event. She was selected in 2010 to be part of the Institute’s alumni conference at the Ethics and Policy Center in Washington, D.C. The conference will feature renowned journalists with whom Jamie was excited to network.
Jamie’s advice to Biola journalism students: Don’t take for granted the classes that require exploring another branch of the media (like having to take a radio class when your emphasis is in print). With today’s professional climate, you never know when knowing how to work in more than one media branch will pay off. Check out Jamie’s latest work at:www.siskiyoudaily.com.