Four years ago, Polson native Brianne Burrowes left the MTV reality show “Miss Seventeen” after only four episodes, abandoning her shot at a dream internship with Seventeen magazine. The dramatic exit generated nationwide gossip and, according to Burrowes, pioneered a new staple in the reality television world: the walk-off.
The straw that broke her contestant contract came on a segment of the now-defunct “Total Request Live.” Burrowes says MTV hired an actress to stand in the crowd and instigate trouble with her as she attempted to conduct interviews for Seventeen. The subsequent meltdown—shouting, hysterical sobbing, the works—forced Burrowes into a bathroom, camera and sound crew trailing her the whole time. She decided to leave the show on her own terms immediately.
Maybe she cared too much. Burrowes had fantasized about the fashion writer lifestyle since reading her first back-to-school teen magazine in sixth grade. MTV preyed on that devotion, and Burrowes contends she was scripted “the mean girl.” She was set on the bad side of fights, tears and condescending lessons on reporting skills. Writers went so far as to interview friends and family to “dig up dirt,” she says, ignoring scenes of her making friends or comforting fellow contestants.
“I was there because I was the one who wanted a career in magazines,” Burrowes says. “It was crazy. I realized I could get the internship without going through all that…It was a rock solid decision.”
Burrowes’ MTV drama feels like ancient history now. After returning to the University of Montana to finish her journalism degree and eventually securing her coveted internship with Seventeen, the 24-year-old has landed as the youngest-ever editor of the Montanan, UM’s alumni magazine. Consider it a modern-day Cinderella tale, from reality television train wreck to prominent professional.
In February, Burrowes received the Rising Star Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for her work with the Montanan. CASE, an international education fundraising nonprofit, honors young professionals pursuing a career in communications.
“I thought that I wanted to be in teen magazines,” says Burrowes, “but really I realized I just wanted to be in magazines—magazines that provide more substantial service for readers.”
Burrowes climbed the editorial ladder at UM Relations fast. She started as an intern her sophomore year, then moved to news editor after graduation. On January 18, 2008—her 23rd birthday—she took the position as Montanan editor with the promise to bring a new perspective to the publication.
“It still looks dignified for an older alum, but it’s got more pizzazz for a younger reader,” says Ginny Merriam, 1986 J-School alumna and member of the Montanan’s advisory board.
Merriam applauds Burrowes’ ability to bridge the gap between UM’s gray haired alumni—the Montanan’s long-established readership—and those with tassels still dangling from their rearview-mirrors. Burrowes has condensed news material, designed a new website due to launch in May and looked to put a new spin on the magazine’s content. Specifically, she asked writers to focus on a more youthful brand of news. The latest issue of the thrice-annual publication features an in-depth profile of famous UM alumnus and Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy, written by former UM band celebrity and current New Heathens singer/songwriter Nate Schweb-er. It’s a story on a young musician, by a young musician.
“One thing that I’ve really tried to do through our alumni profiles is engage our younger readers,” Burrowes says. “And I think Colin Meloy is a perfect example of that change I’ve tried to bring to the magazine.”
The Montanan is a long way from Seventeen, but Burrowes says she’s content with the choice. When she did land her internship with the teen magazine in summer 2006, she spent most of her time doing little more than collecting quotes from high school boys. During her exit interview with then-editor Atoosa Rubenstein, she realized the shallow nature of the job.
“Everyone wants to have a job that has impact and has meaning to it,” says Burrowes, questioning the value of bite-sized teen magazine content. “And that’s what I have now.”
Ironically, the very interests that got Burrowes involved with “Miss Seventeen”—celebrity interviews, youthful content, etc.—make her a catch in the eyes of the Montanan. Her boss, UM Relations Director Rita Munzenrider, has been through a number of editors over the years, but says Burrowes is the best.
“She came back from New York with this incredible ability to track down celebrity alumni interviews that we couldn’t touch for years,” Munzenrider says. “I think the magazine is more alive than it’s ever been.”
Burrowes says she still caves to what she calls her “girly side.” She continues to publish regular posts on her fashion blog “20-Something Fashionista.” And she makes no mystery of the fact that the Montanan isn’t her last stop.
“It’s good for right now,” she says, “but not forever.”