By: Jon Gonzalez
Jim Burns, COC’s print journalism instructor, is a mellow character with a storied past, and although he may come off as very reserved, his subtle sarcasm lets in strangers to the lighter side of him, like his fear of Google.
“I’m at a point that Google is scaring me,” said Burns, talking about Google’s rapid development. “I used to think Google was wonderful, but now I’d like to see somebody challenge Google.”
To put it best, Burns is a master of wit, and he uses it to his advantage. When teaching, it helps him lighten up his lessons, which helps his students respond better. He focuses on storytelling and says that keeping self-bias out of the news is key.
“As aspring journalists, I think that the most important thing is to be able to accurately tell your story to your public,” said Burns.
He began teaching six years ago, starting at COC, because he “wanted to give back to the industry.” He feels the journalism world has been good to him and wants to share with his students all that he’s learned throughout his years in the business. He also began teaching at Antelope Valley College two years ago.
But before Burns picked up the chalk, so to speak, he was a student himself.
He attended the University of New Mexico, where his strong stance against wanting to learn how to type pushed him away from getting his degree in journalism. He then received his original bachelors degree in creative writing from UNM. He later received an MBA which led him to writing newsletters for the soda maker Crush.
However, it was the newsletters that sparked up his passion for writing once more. He then went back to school and graduated from the University of Southern California with a masters in broadcast journalism.
The funny thing is that he never focused on either broadcasting or business.
“I got my masters at USC and it was in broadcasting and, oddly enough, I moved into print,” said Burns.
His first job was at Times-Mirror, when they used to own the Los Angeles Times, and moved on to such publications as InSpain and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where he became the editor.
He’s written for hundreds of publications and even won a MAGGIE award in 2001 for his work in the award-winning, but now defunct, Underground Wine Journal.
Burns has also written two books throughout his career, one about women chefs in California that he co-wrote with his wife of 20 years, Barbara, and his first mystery novel Deadline: Stiff.
It’s easy to see that Burns has a wide array of publications on his resume, and says that he can’t stay interested in one topic for more than two years. He often says that this is what can be nice about being a journalist is the ability to become an expert on a topic one day and then an expert on a completely different topic the next.
“I think I have a two-year span of doing things, so I really enjoy topics for two years, and then I like to move on. I’ve done a lot of different stuff. I’m kind of like a jack of all trades,” said Burns. He enjoys the freedom to do it all: television, magazines and newspapers.
Currently Burns finds himself in front of the classroom which is still something relatively new for him.
Six years later, it’s safe to say he enjoys the process.
He resides with his wife Barbara in the quiet town of San Gabriel, Calif. and his son, William, is attending USC to become a physical therapist. He enjoys fly fishing to relax and loves jazz and blues music. Edward R. Murrow is one of his biggest journalistic inspirations.
When asked whether he had any advice for aspiring journalists, Burns said, “My best shot at advice is don’t give up, because if you give up you won’t get where you need to go, and if you don’t give up you’ll find that great opportunities come your way.”