What started as a necessary part-time job has turned into career path that Ryan Bieri of O’Fallon has embarked on with gusto.
It would be a surprise to many that he grew up with in Shiloh and graduated with at O’Fallon Township High School that he is editor-in-chief of The Alestle, the student newspaper at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, he said.
While in high school, he played tennis and earned recognition as a champion in the Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game competitions.
But he discovered his passion for journalism soon after he was hired by the school paper two summers ago and has since switched his major from business to mass communications.
“If you don’t love it, you have no business in it,” he said. “I went from barely getting out of bed in the morning to make it to a noon class to waking up at 8 a.m., excited to be at work.”
Last spring, he received the Belleville News-Democrat Mass Communications Journalism Award.
He is helping to lead the paper into new territories and opportunities. They are developing a podcast, working its trial run now, and plan to implement it later this fall. Their web presence has grown as well.
SIUE is one of nine schools selected by the Poynter Institute for its College Media Project, now in its second year. They screened for potential, need, commitment, diversity in student population, school size and type.
Student newspapers from 63 applied. The Alestle joins school press outlets from Bowdoin, North Carolina Agriculture and Technology University, San Diego State University, St. John’s, Texas A&M, and Universities of Michigan, Utah and Florida who will participate.
The purpose is for Poynter to help more student journalists hold their institutions accountable, increase civil dialogue on campus and improve watchdog reporting skills, during a time of increasingly limited resources for student media organizations.
The yearlong initiative, which is free, provides participants with custom in-newsroom training, online seminars and support for a campus project.
Bieri said the Poynter representatives are expected to come around Oct. 10-11 and begin in-house training.
“I’m excited. I would like to get more experience and get more professional connections,” he said.
He began as a copy editor, was promoted to chief copy editor, then with his technical savvy, moved to online editor. A year ago, he was named Editor-in-Chief and has stayed on while he continues his studies.
His new direction began when his roommate’s friend knew he was looking for a second job and mentioned The Alestle had an open position.
“I fell in love with it instantly,” he said. “I was pretty green, but now I see the skills it takes.”
He threw himself into learning everything he could, eventually pursuing a degree in the field.
However, he plans to step down as editor-in-chief so he can graduate in December 2019. But he will still help, only not be in charge.
The student paper operates a weekly schedule with crunch days on Mondays and Wednesdays. They have Tuesday and Thursday online editions, and Thursday is the print edition, which could be anywhere from 8 to 16 pages.
He meets with section editors, they go over what stories are going to be done, what people hear and what’s going on, and they keep in contact with reporters on their progress.
“We go through three rounds of editing,” he said. “We strive for better quality. I read everything.”
If there is a lead story that he can devote time to, he wants to tackle the assignment.
“It’s extra work, but I get excited about doing it -- I jump at it,” he said. “To be able to tell stories, to talk to people, to craft them, it’s very nice.”
While he enjoys writing about media and anything culture-related, he has soared in news coverage related to the ongoing debate about the positions of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and SIUE in the hierarchy for funds and programs, especially because of the state budget woes.
He is very proud of how devoted the current staff is and how well they work together.
“It is the most cohesive staff we’ve had in some time,” he said.
They are guided by Tammy Merrett, a mass communications professor who is the program director at The Alestle. She has the real-world experience to prepare them for the rigors of the business.
The paper has received awards for general excellence and individual work from the Illinois College Press Association.
It was recently named a finalist for a College Media Design Pinnacle Award, for Best Entertainment Page/Spread.
Newspaper work is an intense commitment that he has enthusiastically embraced. In between spending time at the newspaper office, visiting his girlfriend who lives in Farmington, Mo., and staying in O’Fallon, there is little time left for anything else.
“When I’m not in class, I’m at the paper,” he said.
He does like to listen to podcasts, particularly one called “Slow Burn,” which explains current issues and provides historical context.
During middle school, he read the Harry Potter books, and that opened new interests and hidden talents.
“You couldn’t get me to stop reading,” he said.
His parents are Kim and Keith, and he has one half-brother in Florida.
In the meantime, there are deadlines to meet and stories to tell.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
“Nothing in particular, but a podcast I listen to has a mantra I try to abide by. ‘Be good, and be good at it.’ — it’s telling the listeners to do good in the world and to try their best.”
Q: Whom do you most admire?
“I try not to idolize people, but I think Waypoint.com editor-in-chief Austin Walker is one of best writers I’ve ever read.”
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
“I’d really like to spend time with President Barack Obama. He’s incredibly well spoken, and the opportunity to have a genuine conversation with a former president is hard to come by. “
Q: What is the last book that you read?
Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands.”
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
“I listen to a lot of podcasts and read as much as I can. Recently, I’ve carved out some time to start playing tennis and video games again.”
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
“It’s normally pretty messy, unfortunately.”
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
“I wanted to design video games until I learned how much math it would take.”
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
“I’m stubborn, which might not sound like a good thing, but it really helps when looking for an answer to a difficult question.”
Q: What irritates you most?
“People who don’t know how to drive in construction traffic.”
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
“I listen to a lot of everything, but lately I’ve been listening to more pop than usual.”
Q: What do you like most about your job?
“There’s a real rush that comes with getting important information on a big story.”
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
“Probably mostly the same things I’m already doing. I’d be going to college, and hopefully I’d still have realized how much I love reporting.”
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
“I think Josh Gad would make a good fit.”
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
“It seems like cheating to say a cell phone to call home, but I also think it’s the only thing I’d really want on me.”