Barry McNamara  |  Published February 28, 2023

Alumni Profile: Chris Walljasper ’07

Chris Walljasper’s meandering path has led him to Chicago office of Reuters news agency.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – There’s a neat and tidy way to picture the journalism career of Chris Walljasper ’07, a Chicago-based reporter for the Toronto-based Reuters news agency who covers U.S. food production, supply chain, U.S. hunger and farm labor.

CHRIS WALLJASPER: The 2007 Monmouth graduate has worked for Reuters news agency since just before... CHRIS WALLJASPER: The 2007 Monmouth graduate has worked for Reuters news agency since just before the pandemic began.There he is in the 1990s, delivering the Fort Madison Democrat to half of his small hometown of Donnellson, Iowa, while his friend covered the other half.

There he is on his high school yearbook staff, and there he is at Monmouth College, majoring in communication and having a blast into the wee hours of the morning on the college radio station with his friend Brian Wilcoxon ’07.

Then a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and Reuters snapped him up.

But all that would be, to put it politely, a crock, said Walljasper.

“What I like to tell students is that I can tell two stories,” he said. “One would be that as a kid, I threw papers, and then I worked on the yearbook, did radio at Monmouth and got my master’s – that it was a straight line. But that would be the furthest thing from the truth.”

Even his four years at Monmouth weren’t well thought out or scripted.

“I had three majors – communication, religious studies and music – because I couldn’t make up my damn mind,” said Walljasper. “I wouldn’t recommend that as a good course of action.”

The real story

So it’s a circuitous route that brought Walljasper to Reuters, where in 2022 he parlayed his experience in radio into hosting a twice-a-day, 10-minute pilot podcast – which is “innovative in terms of its frequency” – for the news agency.

“I got to talk to all these people – a correspondent in Brazil during that country’s election, the guy on the ground in Ukraine – and turn it into a podcast.” Chris Walljasper

“They wanted proof of concept. They liked it,” said Walljasper of the work he did for a few months last year. “I got to talk to all these people – a correspondent in Brazil during that country’s election, the guy on the ground in Ukraine – and turn it into a podcast.”

The podcast was on pause during the holidays but returned on Feb. 27.

Following graduation, Walljasper took his three Monmouth majors back to Iowa, selling advertising for the Muscatine Journal. A fellow named Samuel Clemens had written for the newspaper more than 150 years before, but neither Walljasper nor the future Mark Twain stayed there very long.

Walljasper also sold advertising for the River Cities Reader in Davenport, Iowa, with its small staff depending on his sales acumen to receive their paychecks each week.

The power of journalism

On the one hand, Walljasper was pleased to be in the news industry, but the more he learned about it, the more he realized he wanted to be on its editorial side.

“To prove to future employers that I’m a writer,” Walljasper took the very convincing step of enrolling at the Medill School of Journalism.

One of the highlights of that experience was being part of a team of Medill students who examined the deadly legacy of the United States’ use of landmines and cluster bombs around the world and its $3.2 billion effort to clean them up. The students reported the series from Cambodia, Iraq, Ukraine and Mozambique.

“I was in Mozambique to attend a United Nations conference in Maputo, and I connected with a guy from Australia who was going to travel six hours north of the city to check out a landmine site,” said Walljasper. “He asked me if I wanted to go, and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I contacted my instructor to ask if he was cool with that, and he said, ‘I’m not sure I am.’”

But Walljasper went anyway, and on the trip, he met a young woman, Florencia Artur Manhiça, who had lost a leg to a land mine that had been missed in the clean-up efforts. Walljasper used Manhiça as the peg for his deep 3,600-word dive into the subject.

“Not long after, they found her, flew her to their site and fitted her for a new leg. Without that story we did, no one would’ve known her. It gives me chills when I think about it.” Chris Walljasper

Flash forward to a year later, when Walljasper was contacted by a non-profit agency that provides prosthetics to people in developing countries.

“They told me, ‘We’d like to give that young woman an opportunity to receive a leg.’ Not long after, they found her, flew her to their site and fitted her for a new leg. Without that story we did, no one would’ve known her. It gives me chills when I think about it.”

Joining Reuters

After Medill, Walljasper worked for Farm Journal, was involved in “a radio startup with some old WGN guys,” and worked for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Definitely not “straight line” stuff. Nor, for that matter, was the start of his career at Reuters, which hired him in February of 2020, a month before the pandemic.

“I said, ‘Hold on. We’re eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Can I hold off a few weeks?’” said Walljasper of he and his wife, Annie Shortridge Walljasper ’07. “They agreed, and my first day was March 16. I basically went in and got my laptop, and they told me to go home. There was a lot of remote work after that.”

Growing up in southeast Iowa, Walljasper has a pretty firm grasp of corn and soybeans. But his work for Reuters has exposed him to many other developments in agriculture.

“I’ve learned about lettuce growers in Arizona and potato farmers in Washington and even date farmers in Coachella,” he said.

And, as the pandemic raged, “supply chain” became a constant topic.

“If you’d brought up supply chain three years ago in casual conversation, people would’ve looked at you like you had three heads,” said Walljasper. “We all want things fast, now and on time. It turns out that what we were sacrificing for that was resiliency. It wasn’t redundant – there was a frailty there. If we didn’t have the truckers to get, say, lettuce from the Yuma Valley (in Arizona) to Hy-Vees in the Midwest, it completely upended the whole system.”

Economics wasn’t one of Walljasper’s many majors at Monmouth, but he was exposed to the subject through classes he attended through the University of Chicago, “which were designed to make us better journalists.”

“If you’d brought up supply chain three years ago in casual conversation, people would’ve looked at you like you had three heads.” Chris Walljasper

“One of my takeaways was that what corporations did with many of their decisions made economic sense, but there hasn’t been a lot done on the social aspect of these issues,” he said. “There are certain ‘truths’ – and I put quotation marks around that word – about systems of economics and math models of why trade works the way it does. But I’m sitting there thinking about the Maytag plant that closed in Galesburg, and the Blue Bird bus factory in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and Fruehauf in Fort Madison.”

It’s the kind of critical thinking that he learned to apply at Monmouth.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said of his experiences, including his Monmouth education, which prepared him for, well, just about anything.

“I tell my longer story to say this. Monmouth College gives you a well-rounded focus to weather all that.”

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