Anderson’s background in media law has helped students at APU for years
Starla Anderson’s first dream was to be a lawyer. Little did she know that a first-year public communication course would set her sights further than a career in law. The next four years, which she spent completing her undergraduate degree at Azusa Pacific, set her on a path that enabled her to pursue her passion for journalism and law. Eventually, her journey brought her back to teach where it all started: her alma mater.
Moulding a Career Path
Anderson double majored in communication and music education, alongside a political science minor when she attended APU from 1987-1991. From there, she went on to study at Regent University in Virginia.
“I didn’t even see the (Regent) campus before going there and it ended up working out,” Anderson said.
She completed her master’s in broadcast journalism and her Juris Doctor degree at Regent. Along the way, she met her husband, Jason Anderson, who was also in law school at Regent at the time.
“I wanted to be a (legal) reporter originally,” Anderson said, “but because my husband had to pass the Bar exam; I didn’t want to be moving from state-to-state.”
Anderson decided to try out her career in law first. She became a junior trial consultant, helping clients run mock trials and going through their cases prior to their actual court dates. She was a consultant in several large cases, including for Jack in Box in their many cases regarding fraudulent beef. She was also a consultant to John du Pont, who was convicted of murder against the former wrestler Dave Schultz, an Olympic gold medalist, in 1984.
As much as she loved the job, Anderson decided to leave her position due to ethical concerns within the company she was working for.
Anderson then worked in general practice for six months before becoming a Deputy District Attorney with her husband for the county of San Bernardino. Several years later everything changed for their family. When Anderson had a difficult time juggling court trials and caring for an infant, she quit her job and looked for a position that would allow her to spend more time at home with her growing family.
It was then that Anderson turned back to where it all started: APU. She began as an adjunct professor and is now an associate professor of Communication Management; something she hadn’t even thought about prior to her first child being born.
“It was never on my radar, not even once,” Anderson said. “[But] having a child changed everything.”
This career change in 2000 was due to the long hours that she had to work at the district attorney’s office. Anderson was faced with a decision to sacrifice some of her career to start her family. By working at APU, Anderson was able to find the perfect balance between home and work. She’s been teaching and molding young students at APU for more than 20 years now.
Combining Journalism and Law
Over the course of the last two decades, a lot has changed in her area of expertise. Communication has become easier than ever, with technology and social media enabling the world to become interconnected. However, it has also created a multitude of social problems, including, but not limited to, the spread of misinformation.
“I’m not a social media expert, but what I can say is a lot of social media is driven by emotion,” Anderson said. “My job now has become telling students to check those emotions as best as possible.”
With time, Anderson realized that she had to push her students to analyze and think in a more logical way, in order to help them understand the value of truth and how to seek it.
“Starla encourages me to seek the truth and then challenges me to live courageously in a way that honors what is true even if the world disagrees,” senior communication major Veronica Ward said. “The world might not reward you for it, but your treasure in Heaven will be everlasting.”
Not only does Anderson emphasize the importance of truth-seeking, but she talks about the importance journalists have in today’s social media-driven society.
“Professor Anderson has pushed me to become a more well-rounded journalist,” senior journalism major, Micah Roth said. “Not only focusing on creating content but understanding the impact that my words have and how important it is to understand the responsibility journalists hold in truth-telling.”
From her perspective, getting students to connect the dots from how they feel to how they prove what they’re feeling through media in a legally responsible manner is crucial. This had led to her connection with students on a more personal level.
Anderson credits this to her background in both law and journalism.
“Having a background in journalism and law connects me to the human condition,” Anderson says. “Emotion is vital, but I can’t win a case on that alone.”
“Something that makes Professor Anderson such a special person in my life is the fact that she always puts extra effort to show she genuinely cares about how I’m doing,” senior acting for the stage and screen and journalism double major, Kaitlyn Miller said. “She is always so warm and open, and it’s so easy to feel like I’m just talking to a friend when I’m telling her a story about my weekend or talking with her about our families.”
The recent Netflix documentary called “The Social Dilemma” shows how divisive social media can be. It goes into detail about how social media provides people with content based on what they already consume, causing users to stay in their own bubble without hearing other points of view. Anderson advises students to be cautious about what they consume.
Not only can the truth be hard to find through social media, but social expectations can come into play as well. Anderson mentioned selective perception during our interview. Meaning, we tend to see or hear what we expect to see or hear in a situation. It explains why our media consumption often polarizes us. For example, we watch videos on YouTube, Instagram or Twitter we agree with, due to the person or publication that posted it to the social channels, and we see the information that confirms our beliefs.
Most recently, social media has played a major role in the U.S. presidential election. As a professor of both journalism and law, Anderson thinks that President Trump should “use the law and the court systems in place if he believes the election has been interfered with … But the inflammatory language of (the word) ‘stole’ is problematic, in my opinion, because it is divisive.”
Anderson believes that in the realm of conflict management, things go haywire when people and media use labels.
“In the media, it’s easy to come up with pithy labels to compare a person,” Anderson explained, “(but) when we label people, we divide our society.”
Anderson feels that helping journalism students learn how to report non-emotionally is a key part of the maturation process of students. She’s hopeful that the next generation will find new ways to report hard news without so much bias and labeling.
Anderson advises students to draw near to people that are different from them. “When you care about somebody you listen better,” Anderson said. “It’s easy to dismiss CNN and Fox News because you don’t know the person speaking on the TV. But when you have a relationship with them, it’s a lot harder to dismiss.”
Although Anderson’s journey back to APU might have initially been off her radar, it has certainly become a place she was put for a reason.
In her own words, “God just keeps me here at APU.”