USC Annenberg Alumni Magazine Winter 2021

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Talking About a

Revolution The movement for racial justice resonates throughout the country and the USC Annenberg community.

Live from Studio C

On Election Day, Nov. 3, Annenberg Media student journalists located across the country provided comprehensive, multiplatform coverage of the 2020 presidential race. Thanks to university leaders and Los Angeles County health officials, USC Annenberg also obtained approval for a small number of students, including ATVN co-anchors Ella Katz and Zoe Ginsberg, to broadcast local and national results live from the Media Center’s Studio C. Photo by Yannick Peterhans





USC alumnus Cooper Goldie of The Players’ Tribune helps feature activist writers like NBA legend Bill Russell.

Talking About a Revolution

The movement for racial justice resonates throughout the country and the USC Annenberg community. By Ted B. Kissell


A Way With Words How language evolves to make meaning in an everchanging world. By Mira Zimet


Leagues, Lives and Livelihoods

Sports communicators and media experts respond to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. By Ted B. Kissell





Live from Studio C Meeting the Moment

ON THE COVER Photo by Alexis Hunley


USC Annenberg Magazine







Photo by Sam Maller/The Players’ Tribune


Rachelle Martin Digital Coordinator

Meeting the Moment

Olivia Mowry Digital Media Producer

By Willow Bay

CONTRIBUTING STAFF Mike Mauro Chief Digital Officer

Jasmine Mora Special Events Coordinator USC ANNENBERG ADMINISTRATION Willow Bay Dean and Walter H. Annenberg Chair in Communication Hector Amaya Director, School of Communication Gordon Stables Director, School of Journalism USC ANNENBERG MAGAZINE Published twice a year by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. © 2021 USC Annenberg. The diverse opinions expressed in USC Annenberg Magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the editors, USC Annenberg administration or USC. USC Annenberg Magazine welcomes comments from its readers to magazine@usc. edu or USC Annenberg Magazine, 3502 Watt Way, G40, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Scott

Dean and Walter H. Annenberg Chair in Communication

As the events of the past year unfolded in dizzying succession, we have remained relentlessly focused on advancing our academic mission and enriching the student experience in creative and impactful ways. Creating intentional moments of connection has been our call to action as together we faced a global pandemic, the fight for racial justice and the turmoil of our political system. Throughout this issue, you will find that our alumni, some of the world’s most accomplished communicators, have played a critical role in helping us make sense of these challenging times, and push toward a brighter future. ABC News’ Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott ’15 is among those who has still found the time to share her experience and guidance with our students while covering the biggest news events of the last year. “I owe so much to USC Annenberg that I jump at any opportunity to talk to a student, to talk to a class, talk to a seminar,” she told us. Since March, our students have needed the counsel of alumni like Rachel more than ever before. An ongoing study by our Center for the Digital Future, which examines views about life since the pandemic began, found that 61% of college students learning remotely feel isolated. Joining our dedicated faculty and staff, our alumni stepped up to address this need and to ensure our students continue to thrive. More than 250 alumni volunteers have given back by speaking with or mentoring students, and also have helped us offer nearly 100 professionally focused events that engaged more than 3,400 students and alumni. What I find so remarkable is that as we identify ways to support our students, we also discover opportunities to develop our own sense of belonging. I know that in the year ahead we will continue to build our resilience as a community of inquiry, guided by our research, teaching, service and each other.

Winter 2021 3

‘Our candidate is democracy’ Empowering local election officials to protect the vote.

USC Annenberg played a leading role in the USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative, a one-of-a-kind endeavor that kicked off in January 2020 to help elections officials in every state safeguard their systems against hacking — and also help voters more easily access election information before the Nov. 3 elections. “We visited all 50 states, in person before mid-March and then virtually, to make certain that information about best practices is available to everyone, but especially for those in campaigns and elections,” said Adam Clayton Powell III, executive director of the project. “We are a national campaign, and our candidate is democracy.” Funded by Google, the initiative included a multidisciplinary team of researchers from six USC schools who led workshops across the nation for officials at every level, from voting clerks to state governors, to learn how states were attempting to fortify the weaknesses in their election systems in 2020. The team presented the preliminary findings on Oct. 28 in a virtual program titled “Election Cybersecurity: Lessons from USC Workshops with Leaders in all 50 States.” Matthew Masterson, senior cybersecurity advisor at the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized that communication with voters, electoral staff and campaigns is critical in today’s election landscape. Geoffrey Cowan, director of the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at USC Annenberg, whose office ran the program, believes that while this initiative focused on cybersecurity issues in the presidential campaign, “voter access is an issue that will continue to be relevant for years to come.”


USC Annenberg Magazine

Adam Clayton Powell III discusses the importance of bipartisan cooperation to ensure safe, secure and fair elections.

@USC_TrueVote With just 99 days left until the #2020election, we’re reflecting on this @thedavidaxelrod quote from our Illinois workshop. Visit to make sure you’re registered to vote! #vote2020 #ourcandidateisdemocracy

@NancyChenNews Adam Powell tells me he’s been warned of 70 countries attempting hacks. He says their main concern is disinformation and the hacking of campaigns, especially with candidates and staff working from home. @NATLCyberCenter “Up to 74 nations are trying to disrupt our elections process at any time.” - @JustinPGriffin, @USC_TrueVote

@senrobportman I was happy to participate in @USC_TrueVote’s Election Cybersecurity workshop yesterday. Understanding the threats to our election and what we can do to combat them is of the utmost importance. @FLSecofState The University of Southern California has launched @USC_TrueVote, a bipartisan, 50-state initiative to empower election officials to reinforce defenses against digital attacks. @mastersonmv Well this is rarified air to be virtually next to @vgcerf ! Thanks to @USC_TrueVote for all your work and letting me participate. @CarolFolt Six @USC schools just concluded a bipartisan initiative to boost cybersecurity in our election process—they reached all 50 states and more than 4,000 people!

@marcambinder In the atrium of the Ohio statehouse. @USC_TrueVote A successful Panel 3 on Civic Organizations: Communicating Cybersecurity! Thank you to @utsarver, @JasmineMcNealy, @iMajorWish from @Georgia_NAACP, & @WakeDeb from @LWVVA for being with us today.

@PentagonPresSec Great to moderate an important discussion on election security w/ @US_CYBERCOM’s Gen Hartman & @NSAGov elections lead Imbordino. Our Administration is engaging in a whole of government effort to ensure the security of our elections. Thank you to @USC_ TrueVote for hosting.

Photo by Yannick Peterhans

W H AT ’ S O N M Y P H O N E ?

Frances Wang Local News Anchor and Reporter

Frances Wang wrote about her childhood working in her mother’s hermit crab stand in downtown Sacramento as part of her admissions essay for USC. The job not only helped her develop a strong work ethic, but the kiosk’s location right next to local broadcast news station KCRA opened her eyes to a career as a journalist. Wang knew early on that her outgoing personality was made for this “dream job” as she watched the news captured before her. Instead of studying journalism, though, the first-generation college student chose to pursue majors in communication at USC Annenberg and business at the USC Marshall School of Business, graduating in 2014. “My mom is a super Chinese tiger mom and wanted me to focus on more traditional fields,” she said. “Plus, there were very few Asian Americans on television at that time.” In addition to her degree coursework, Wang took as many journalism courses as possible, worked for Annenberg Television News and interned at CNN and ABC7 in Los Angeles. She built her career with the connections she made at USC. Wang has found success in reporting on and amplifying unheard stories, first for smaller stations in Stockton and Sacramento, and now as morning anchor at WFOR, the CBS affiliate in Miami. She continues to follow her credo: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”


“Can I Have This Dance,” Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron “Blow the Whistle,” Too Short



The Daily, The New York Times Up First, NPR


My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan


The Kissing Booth (2018, 2020) Avengers: Endgame (2019)

On Social

@franceswangTV A top 20 under 40 moment – thanks for including me #BrickellMag

Following @rupikaur_ @phenomenal @rachelvscott @saweetie

Photo by Roderick Cooney

@weijia @rainbowsalt @daughterofan immigrant_

Winter 2021 5

It takes diversity to make the best out of all of us, especially in the advertising business, where it’s all driven by creativity, ideas, perception and branding. STEVE STOUTE, FOUNDER/ CEO AT TRANSLATION + UNITEDMASTERS


It’s imperative for brand purpose to rise to the top even more often than profits. MELISSA WAGGENER ZORKIN, GLOBAL CEO AND FOUNDER, WE COMMUNICATIONS

It’s been a watershed moment, not just for the country, but for athletes in terms of seeing that their voices matter. RACHEL NICHOLS, HOST OF THE JUMP ON ESPN


As we witnessed the profound disruption and innovation in media and communication this year, USC Annenberg continued to convene and amplify crucial discussions with experts to understand these complex changes in real time. Dean Willow Bay launched ANNENBERG INTELLIGENCE, a series in which industry leaders explore how communication, journalism and public relations can be leveraged to tackle the impacts of COVID-19 and to address inequities and bias. 6

USC Annenberg Magazine

Photos by Andrew Najjar, Stanton Stephens, Brett Van Ort and courtesy of ESPN; Illustration by Sean McCabe

For the majority of our guys, their reason for going to play was to make sure that this platform was used. So, any way we could do that, we wanted to do it.


Meaning Through Mentorship

With building a sense of community taking on even greater importance at USC in 2020, USC Annenberg offered its students three mentoring and support programs. Miki Turner, assistant professor of professional practice, established the Annenberg Resources and Mentoring (ARM) program in 2017 to match first-year and transfer students with a faculty or staff member. The Seeing ME in the MEdia program, launched in 2019, pairs first-generation and BIPOC students with alumni to encourage career exploration. And this Fall, Student Communities was launched to promote peer-to-peer conversations and knowledge sharing among groups of five to seven students facilitated by faculty, staff or alumni. “There has never been a more critical time for us to offer our students these three distinct ways to create personal and meaningful connections,” said Suzanne Alcantara, assistant dean of student affairs.

Miki Turner, (MCG, communication management ’18), mentors Reagan Griffin, Jr. ’23 as part of the Annenberg Resource and Mentoring Program.

ANNENBERG AGENCY does well by doing good During the Summer and Winter breaks, 91 undergraduate and graduate students — as well as recent graduates — completed virtual microinternships across 14 different nonprofit organizations. As part of the Annenberg Agency, helmed by alumnus and Adjunct Instructor Andy Keown (BA, public relations, ’02), the teams participated in digital content creation, public relations, crisis communication, brand communication, and marketing and research. “Some did real strategic work, some drafted social media content, or wrote for the web,” Keown said. “It was a real range, but by the end they all had a campaign they could take to their next internship or interview and say, ‘I helped put this together.’” Photo courtesy of Miki Turner

The Annenberg Agency is an offshoot of Entrepreneurial Communication Expert in Residence Freddy Tran Nager’s CMGT 590 course, a student consultancy designed to serve local nonprofit organizations. USC Annenberg leadership recruited the nonprofit organizations, as well as parent donors whose generosity allowed for paid stipends for the interns. “I walked away from this experience with a better understanding of organizing and leading a group,” said Jaimie Woo, who is set to graduate in May 2021 with a master’s degree in communication management. “I learned how to elevate each individual person’s strengths to create a collaborative atmosphere.”

MARIN AUSTIN (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’11) joined Fox 7 Austin as a news anchor.

HERAN MAMO (BA, journalism, ’19) joined Billboard magazine as a full-time staff writer.

CHACE BEECH (MS, journalism, ’20) was hired at Spectrum News as a multimedia journalist.

JOSH MOSER (BA, broadcast journalism, ’10) joined WSVN-TV News as the main sports anchor.

MONICA CASTILLO ( MA, specialized journalism, ’16) joined Colorado Public Radio as an arts and culture reporter.

KALYN NORWOOD ( BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’15) joined the KOAT7 team in New Mexico as a reporter/anchor.

JULIA CHERNER (BA, communication and political science ’20) joined ABC News as a desk assistant. TREVOR DENTON ( BA, journalism, ’20) started his new position as a sports anchor for WOAY-TV.

LAUREN HELMBRECHT ( BA, communication, ’18) joined The GIST as an ad copywriter.

LIZ LOPEZ (BA, public relations, ’15) joined Spotify as an associate partner manager for the creator Vertical.

ERNEST OWENS (MCG, communication management, ’20) was named editor-at-large of Philadelphia magazine and president of the Philadelphia Assn. of Black Journalists.

ARIELE PRATT (BA, print and digital journalism, ’11) joined Netflix as the project manager for brand partnerships. REID SILVERMAN (BA, communication, ’16) was promoted to director of brand at Mayweather Boxing and Fitness.

Winter 2021 7



USC Annenberg Magazine

Picture-Perfect Branding By Melvin Dilanchian

A masked Medusa turns the coronavirus into stone while rapper Cardi B yells, “Coronavirus!” A 16th-century Florentine duchess is transformed with the TikTok “party” filter and paired with Doja Cat’s “Boss Bitch” track. Nude Greco-Roman male sculptures are set to Todrick Hall’s “I Like Boys” — just in time for Pride festivities in June. All of these TikTok posts came from the real-world institution that houses these timeless works of art: the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. With travel and tourism drastically reduced by the pandemic, the gallery digitally reimagined its mission of art education by becoming a TikTok sensation, building a following on a platform where almost half of users outside of China are under 24 years of age and 80% are Gen Z or Millennials. The past year forced communication professionals at legacy brands to adapt to the reality that audiences’ content consumption habits had changed: They were — of necessity — spending less time outside their homes and more time on social media. And one of the best ways to engage with audiences on social media is through humor. According to the Global Web Index consumer insights, digital media consumers spend an average of two hours per day on social media; 42% of global consumers and 54% of Generation Z spend even more time on social media since the quarantine began. Social media has evolved from a way to interact with peers to an entertainment platform. The Index added that entertainment is the third-highest trend, and the reason for this is “funny or entertaining content.” This is particularly true for 16- to 24-year-old audiences. Institutions and brands should think about their presence on these platforms in this framework. “Innovate or die” is not a maxim reserved for business operations; it applies to communications, too. Social media offers a way to engage Illustration by Suzanne Boretz

with quarantined audiences, but doing so requires adapting to the cultural context and zeitgeist while still representing the brand. In the world of fine art, the Uffizi wasn’t the only famous institution to embrace the power of social media as entertainment. Holland’s Rijksmuseum repurposed masterpieces for content: Staff and followers recreated Vermeer’s milkmaids and Rembrandt’s Dutchman to songs like Snoop Dogg’s and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild and Free.” Others referenced a viral meme with a video of a Dutchwoman’s ornate attire captioned, “It’s called fashion. Look it up, sweetie” and set it to Tove Lo’s “Cool Girl.” By updating their traditional approach to communication, these bastions of culture have made centuries-old art relevant to younger audiences who prefer bold brands and trendy content. This interaction with social media also offers an opportunity to transition from interruptive to invitational marketing. The Rijksmuseum content, for instance, not only entertained its audience, it sold them masks from its online store. Commercial brands are also taking advantage of these trends. Alaska Airlines staff gained notoriety for their TikTok dance videos replicating their daily work of checking in travelers and operating flights, set to “I’m Essential” by KENMOR. The pandemic provides an impetus and an opening for reluctant legacy brands to create content that reflects the culture of these digital spaces. These changes in audience interaction will persist: Three-quarters of U.S. online video audiences consume content at unprecedented rates during the worldwide shelter-in-place rulings. COVID-19 accelerated changes that made humor more relevant. Brands now have the freedom, even the demand, to be daring in their approach to creative content on social media. a

MELVIN DILANCHIAN is working toward a master’s degree in public relations and advertising. This essay was originally published in the USC Center for Public Relations’ 2021 Relevance Report. The edition addressed the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice protests will have on the future of the PR profession.

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Searching for Harmony Reflections about Russian soul and American reality. By Polina Cherezova

The soft strum of a guitar resonates in my ears. Gusts of winter winds whistle through the mountains. My family, along with several other Russian families, huddle around the warmth of the cabin fireplace. Stars glisten through the windows. The fire crackles. My earliest musical memories come from childhood camping and ski trips in the small towns of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. My parents and their Russian friends would sing songs by “bards,” or singer-songwriters from the Soviet era. Folk melodies such as “Tsiganochka” or “Oh, Moroz, Moroz,” with themes ranging from the beauty of life, to loneliness, to lyrics filled with social and political commentary. It didn’t matter if you knew how to play guitar or sing in tune. What mattered is the Russian soul, or dusha, which longs for music. Russian artistic expression was never just a form of entertainment. It was a form of survival. I was born in a little town near Moscow, and my parents emigrated to the United States when I was 11 months old. My love for music was instilled at a young age. I sang in a Russian choir in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, until I was 8 years old. But eventually, classical piano became my main form of musical expression. Growing up as a Russian American pianist, I constantly struggled to find my place between these two cultures. Russians told me, “You’re practically American,” while Americans asked me about my accent. It’s the tension of duality, the state of in-between, the idea that I don’t belong anywhere, that scares me. And moving forward through my life, it felt important to explore my identity. While the piano continued to be my main companion growing up, the further I dove into my musical education, the more confused and unfulfilled I grew. In America, I’m taught to focus on technique, career and success, while my Russian soul craved emotional and musical depth — I am split between these two ideologies. When I was getting my undergraduate degree from UCLA in 2015, I started to write as a way to better Illustration by Balbusso Twins

understand myself and realized I could combine these two passions, writing and music, as a way to find a career path doing something I loved. Eventually, I found my place at USC, where I could pursue my master’s degree in specialized journalism (the arts), while also working on a second master’s in music through the USC Thornton School of Music. Pursuing these dual paths enables me to continue my artistic interests while working toward a practical goal. I’m able to give voice to musicians who strive to make a difference in the classical music world, all while continuing to grow artistically as a writer and pianist. I’ve written opinion pieces about the impact of social media and technology on classical music, reviews of virtual performances, and features on artists coping without live concerts. As I’ve written such articles during this period of pandemic isolation, I’ve found myself reflecting even more on the difference between art in Russia and the United States. While artists in America are performing virtually and staying connected with their fans, art cannot thrive solely via Zoom — it must be experienced in a live space. Russians understand this: The doors to their theaters and concert halls have been kept open, while in America, bars and sports stadiums seem to take priority over performance spaces. I love being an artist: It’s in my soul. As I continue to explore these dualities, the tension remains of not being able to fit in any one place — and that allows me to find the deeper meaning in both. In my studies, I have come to understand that art is a form of survival, and, I believe, America needs it now more than ever. a This article is adapted from a longer essay written for Ampersand, a digital magazine dedicated to creating a space that articulates the work of artists and makers primarily in Los Angeles. Winter 2021 11


Brenda Gonzalez steps up to serve By Mira Zimet

Gonzalez began her career in political communications as an intern for Congresswoman Judy Chu.

“Adelante.” As Brenda Gonzalez walked through the halls of the iconic Rayburn Building in Washington, D.C, the word echoed in her memory. “Move forward,” she could hear her parents and grandmother telling her. She smiled. Gonzalez knew she belonged. During that 2012 internship for Congresswoman Judy Chu, Gonzalez introduced herself to Chu’s communications director and expressed her desire to learn and to help. She contacted news outlets, drafted press releases and media advisories for him, and realized this was the career direction she wanted to pursue. Born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Nicaragua, Gonzalez was raised in Pasadena, surrounded by a huge extended family. Music was also a significant part of her life growing up: Gonzalez was in choirs and a cappella groups through her college years. Her parents, Roger and Brenda, peppered her childhood with aphorisms in Spanish: “Tienes que tener ganas” — “You have to want it.” “No te des por vencida” — “Don’t give up.” These exhortations helped encourage the first-generation college student to not only earn her undergraduate degree in political science from Whittier College, but later a master’s degree in strategic public relations from USC Annenberg in 2017. “Being a child of immigrants, I understand the privilege and honor of living in this country,” Gonzalez said. This was one of the reasons she felt called to public service. Gonzalez’s first big break came from a flier advertising a position with Rep. Chu that her father peeled off a bulletin board. He urged her to apply for the internship in Chu’s El Monte office, but Gonzalez surprised him by ticking the second option to work in D.C. as well. Her father and brother helped get her settled in the nation’s capital, and when the internship ended, Gonzalez remained and transitioned to working for the American Telemedicine Association and then to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a news information assistant. However, Gonzalez recognized that to make further progress in the field of political communication, she needed a graduate degree. “I knew if I wanted to continue to advise a public figure and make an impact in the government, if I wanted to be an effective communicator, I needed the proper training,” she said. “USC Annenberg provided courses that enabled me to become this skilled strategist who can analyze problems, come to certain conclusions and advise.” She said the tactics and knowledge she acquired in adjunct instructor Brenda Lynch’s crisis communication course as well as Professor of Professional Practice Burghardt Tenderich’s business and economics of public relations course have helped shape her work to this day. While a graduate student, Gonzalez also worked for Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge as his communications director. When the councilman termed out, a colleague suggested she apply to work with then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris. In 2015, Gonzalez was hired on to Harris’ U.S. Senate campaign as press secretary, also supporting Harris in her role as attorney general. In early 2017, after Harris was elected senator, Gonzalez became her state press secretary and later was promoted and added the second title of senior director of public engagement. “I am so proud to have worked for Vice President Harris while she was senator and attorney general,” Gonzalez said. “One of the highlights is meeting the incredible people along the way.” While she doesn’t yet know what the future holds, Gonzalez, who also serves on the board of advisors for the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, plans to stay in public service. “I hope that I can inspire young women to know they can make a difference,” she said. “Representation matters, and while it may be challenging at times, you can make change happen.” a Photo by Damon Casarez

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Talking About A Revolution The movement for

racial justice

resonates throughout the country and the USC Annenberg community.

By Ted B. Kissell Photographs by Alexis Hunley

It wasn’t so muc h t he sig n itself that caught Rachel Scott’s eye, but the boy who was holding it. The throng of protesters in Lafayette Park outside the White House on the evening of June 7 bristled with posters — some with now-familiar slogans like “Justice for George Floyd,” “Defund the Police,” and, of course, “Black Lives Matter.” But among the peaceful, multiracial, multigenerational crowd protesting systemic racism and police violence against Black people, Scott, who was covering the protests for ABC News, made her way over to a child. “He was holding up a sign that read, ‘I want to be a Black engineer that works for NASA. Will the police kill me before I have the chance?’” recalled Scott, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2015. She spoke to the boy and his parents, learning that his name was King and that he was 9 years old. Winter 2021 15

“I immediately thought back to when I was 9 years old, which was the first “It had more to do with the substance and approach time that I was called the N-word on the playground in elementary school,” of what we had to say,” Miller said. “The companies that Scott said. “I thought about what that meant to be a young person grappling found themselves in the most uncomfortable places with the weight of racial inequality and of what it means to be Black in America were … the organizations and companies that tried to at that age. Here I am, nearly 20 years after having my first experience with say something without offending anyone and tried to racism, and I’m having a conversation with someone who was the same age thread this kind of mushy middle, and I think that’s that I was when I experienced it. That was a moment I will always remember.” where people get it wrong.” The protests that followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Cook noted that the lack of experience many comMinneapolis police were a watershed moment for the United States. The panies demonstrated with their uneven statements New York Times cited research that estimated between 15 million and about the Black Lives Matter movement tracks with 26 million people participated in what CPR found in its Global marches and protests through midCommunications Report, an annual June, which would make these the survey of PR professionals released largest mass protests in United in April 2020. States history — and they contin“The number of corporate comHere was this moment when ued, in some form, throughout the munications departments that were rest of 2020 in many cities. planning on working with activists Though the spark of the protests in the coming year was only 14%,” was Floyd’s death — as well as the Cook said. “Most communications killings earlier in the year of Breonna teams don’t have any partners in the Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — the space that they can rely on and call national conversation quickly moved up and say, ‘Hey, what’s the most beyond police accountability for vioappropriate thing to say, how should lence against the Black community we go about this?’” and became a broader reckoning with But as PR professionals work to systemic racism throughout U.S. help their clients connect with a pubsociety. In government, academia lic that is now more concerned with and private industry, Black people racial justice, Cook points to another and people of color spoke frankly problem: the lack of diversity in the about how their elected officials PR profession itself. “If the team isn’t and employers were falling short on diverse, it can be problematic when issues of racial justice — and many it comes to hitting the right notes,” white people began to listen, exCook said. “Those numbers are disamining how they benefit from appointingly low, especially in regard institutions that privilege whiteness. to African American employees.” Looking through the lenses of the Julia Wilson, who serves on the disciplines of public relations, comCPR’s board of advisers, says that, munication and journalism, USC as a Black woman in public rela— and communities of color are experiencing Annenberg’s faculty, alumni and stutions, she has had to forge her own dents are at the forefront of telling path. After earning her bachelor’s the worst consequences of that. the story of how this new, revoludegree in journalism in 1991, she tionary movement for racial justice worked as an independent reporter Matt Bui is transforming our society. They are and publisher in Los Angeles bechronicling how the movement has fore building a successful PR firm unfolded throughout institutions in Johannesburg, South Africa. public and private — from universities to newspapers to corporations — Wilson now runs her own international strategic puband how conversations about systemic racism now can lead to a more just lic relations consultancy in Washington, D.C. America. Even with all her achievements, Wilson says the lack “For many of us who are working in this space of racial justice, this move- of diversity in the business persists. “There are a lot of ment has given us hope,” said Hector Amaya, director of the School of women in PR, but the major firms are run mostly by Communication and professor of communication. “Hope that what we men, and it’s 90% white,” she said. She recalls speaking have been striving for will be achieved and will be sustainable — that, at at a seminar in 2019 and seeing no Black people among some point in the future, we’ll recognize this as a moment in which the 50 or so attendees. “I even asked, ‘Where is the diversity project of racial justice gained significant ground.” in the room?’ Black people continue to bump up against this white wall.” The Black Lives Matter movement, Wilson notes, has One sign of the profound impact of George Floyd’s death and galvanized many in her industry to look at their own subsequent protests is the sheer number of statements issued by corporate record on racial issues. “We need more Black seats in America in the wake of the tragedy. Some of these statements were effec- the C-suites and on corporate boards,” she said. “We tive, but many of them came off as ill-informed or perfunctory. Fred Cook, need Black voices telling their own stories and creating director of the USC Center for Public Relations (CPR), helped amplify the their own images.” voice of one of the corporations that did it right. Some companies are indeed looking to Black PR On the Sept. 9 edition of Cook’s #PRFuture podcast, he spoke with professionals to help guide their response to the moveChristopher Miller, the head of activism at Ben & Jerry’s, about how he and ment for racial justice. Clarissa Beyah, professor of his team drafted the company’s statement. professional practice and Union Pacific’s chief commuNoting that Ben & Jerry’s is one of the rare corporations that has built nications officer, says that her fellow Black practitioners its brand on championing causes of social, economic and environmental are often cautious about such overtures. justice, Cook asked Miller if it was the company’s reputation that gave their “If you’ve made it far in any industry, you know when statement about Floyd more credibility, while statements by others were it’s safe to speak,” said Beyah, who joined the USC met with criticism. Annenberg faculty in Summer 2020. “If your company

we could see that all of

the systems were

broken. The health care system,

the education system, the political system. We’re just so broken and



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has a culture where it hasn’t always been safe to talk about issues of race, and now the outside world is saying, ‘Hey, it’s safe, come join us,’ it puts you in a very precarious position. “We’re in this moment of momentum that has allowed people without voices to rise up, and that’s awesome,” Beyah added. “But those voices are trying to rise in cultures that are aspiring to be better — but that are not better yet.” Cook calls this a time of “huge awakening” in the PR industry. “There is a conversation taking place on a deeper, more profound level than anything that I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t going away,” he said. “The white workforce is really trying to learn more about race in America. There’s a lot of very positive progress taking place, I see it across the board, and I think it’s going to make a big difference.” For communication scholars who study issues of racial inequality, the idea that both a street in Washington, D.C. and the courts of the NBA would be painted with the words “Black Lives Matter” would have been unthinkable a year ago. Even though U.S. support for the movement waned as the year went on — from 67% approval in June to 55% in September, according to the Pew Research Center — the movement and its goals are now firmly in the mainstream of political discourse in the United States. “Americans, in general, like to think about our national identity in terms of its wonderful promise — the American dream, the promise of democracy,” Amaya said. “I think the last few years have been hard on these aspects of our identity. Black Lives Matter allows us to recognize that we have to address inequalities that had been swept under the rug.” Matt Bui, who earned his PhD in communication in 2020, focused his doctoral dissertation on racial and economic disparities in access to digital resources in Los Angeles. He says the movement energized many activist groups he has worked with in his research. The strain of the pandemic on systems and people, he says, made it plain that the status quo wasn’t working for far too many Americans. “Here was this moment when we could see that all of the systems were broken,” Bui said. “The health care system, the education system, the political 18

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system. We’re just so broken and divided — and workingclass communities of color are experiencing the worst consequences of that. Whether it’s the pandemic or police violence, this is life or death for a lot of communities that can’t buy themselves out of the situation.” Marina Litvinsky, who also earned her PhD in communication in 2020, studies gentrification and resistance in Los Angeles. She echoes Bui’s observations that the stress of the pandemic heightened awareness of inequality across the country, creating fertile ground for the broad-based movement that arose after George Floyd’s death. “With COVID, everyone was at their wits’ end,” she said. “It was a huge catalyst, and I don’t doubt that activists who were fighting for issues other than police brutality have also joined this movement because they see it as an extension of their work.” Amaya says he is not surprised that the movement had a broader impact than on the issue of police brutality alone. “This became a referendum on white supremacy, and it became a referendum on institutions,” he said. “The police and courts are among our most important institutions. The Black Lives Matter movement is putting these institutions under scrutiny — and finding them wanting.” That discussion extends to the institution of academia, where students, faculty and administrators have also been grappling with their own successes and failures in addressing racial injustice. Amaya — who, in addition to leading the School of Communication, is also the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at USC Annenberg — says that USC is working to address those issues on multiple fronts. While hiring and admissions are key areas where more attention to racial inequities is needed, Amaya says issues with curricula and

instruction are even deeper and more difficult to address through writing and acting, has already seen the impact of the school’s racial— but thankfully, the Black Lives Matter movement has equity efforts. “The work we’ve done to look into the curriculum and make emboldened students and faculty to push for changes in sure that we’re creating environments where students feel safe has been pretthe classroom as well. ty remarkable,” she said. “And it hasn’t been unique to being Black. In my Over the summer, USC and its schools have held nu- PR class, I had a lot of Asian students, and we talked about the latest news, merous virtual forums that allowed students to voice their whether it was how COVID-19 was sometimes characterized as the ‘Chinese concerns about racial inequities. At USC Annenberg, virus,’ or what was happening with TikTok. We’ve opened up space to talk Dean Willow Bay has initiated a number of substantive about racial issues and public relations.” conversations with students, faculty and staff that have Taj Frazier, associate professor of communication and director of doctoral led to changes — and commitments to further change. studies, said he has witnessed “some beautiful moments, reflections and expresIn July, Bay announced the formation of a Diversity, sions of solidarity, allyship and fellowship” at USC Annenberg in the past year. Inclusion, Equity and Access Task Force, chaired by “Faculty, staff and students — white and nonwhite — have spoken out and Professor Laura Castañeda, which has been reviewing been active listeners in public forums, smaller group discussions and onefaculty practices, student media training, student sup- on-one interactions regarding issues of race and racism, anti-Blackness, class port and curricula. and socioeconomic inequities, and transforming Annenberg’s culture for the “We have recognized the significance of this mo- better,” Frazier said. “This energy has been inspiring, especially amid the isoment as one that demands radical change,” Bay said. “It lation and disconnection many of us are experiencing during the pandemic.” calls upon us to challenge our assumptions, assess the policies and practices upon which they are based, and change our behaviors — institutional and personal.” As a reporter covering the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Ben Carrington, associate professor of sociology and Rachel Scott strove to convey to her ABC viewers an authentic sense of journalism, says that these efforts represent a “big shift” who the demonstrators were and what they were demanding. in USC Annenberg’s approach to racial issues. “We’re “Every single person out there has a story,” said Scott, who in January was asking ourselves, ‘How can we teach better?’” he said. named ABC News’ Congressional correspondent. “Most of them have either “We are looking for ways to move our curriculum from experienced racism themselves, or they know someone who has. They want being passively non-racist to being more actively anti- America to be better, and they’re gathering to send that message.” racist. We want to make sure that, in the teaching side of Scott, whose father is a retired LAPD officer, knows that relations between what we do, we are embedding a critical understanding of communities of color and the police are “strained,” and she hopes that the race and racism at every level.” Black Lives Matter movement can help improve those relations. Carrington stresses that, as a school of communi- “My dad grew up in the Bronx projects, and he wanted to be part of law cation and journalism, USC Annenberg has a moral enforcement because he wanted to be the change in the system,” she said. obligation to critically examine how both the school “There are police officers who care deeply about their community and also itself and its industries of practice want to see the change that many have fallen short in pursuing racial in this country are demanding and justice. “There’s been a conscious protesting for.” commitment to making sure that As she covered the protests, the our response to the powerful protests pandemic, and the presidential canaround Black Lives Matter doesn’t didates in 2020, Scott said she also just get reduced to some facile and faced repeated reminders of the racist banal statements about ‘diversity,’” structures, attitudes and assumptions he said. “I think that Annenberg the protesters were targeting. “I’ve is recognizing its (perhaps uninbeen asked for towels in a hotel tended) complicity with reproduchallway, I’ve had the N-word shouting racist ideas and forms of antied at me at a political rally,” she said. Blackness — and committing itself “At protests, I was often mistaken to do better.” for a protester. I went through that In one concrete example of this thought process we all go through commitment, the Master of Arts as Black Americans when we get in Specialized Journalism program pulled over: Keep your hands visiis launching a Race and Justice ble, no sudden movements, don’t do Reporting track in 2021. Gordon anything without asking. ‘Hi, I’m movement is putting these institutions Stables, director of the School of a reporter from ABC News, can I Journalism, lauds the important reach for my badge to show you?’” work faculty have done to create While reporters were covering the track, coordinated by Professor the protests throughout the United Sandy Tolan. The program reviStates, news organizations were also sions include a new JOUR 580 class looking inward at their own insti(“Reporting on Race and Justice”) tutional shortcomings on issues of and substantial contributions by race. In September, the Los Angeles Carrington and Allissa Richardson, Times published a review of how assistant professor of journalism the paper has covered the Black and and communication, in revamping Latino communities in Los AngeJOUR 595 (“Critical Thinking”). les over the years; other newspapers, H e c t o r A m aya “We know that a fundamentally including the Kansas City Star, pubrace-conscious pedagogy is needed lished similar mea culpas in 2020. to address the traditional limita“By turning the spotlight back upon tions of curriculum and the broader social inequality their own stories, these publications highlighted why those stories are far from facing our students,” Stables said. neutral or objective,” Stables said. “As news organizations try to rebuild their Beyah, founder of Writer’s Block Ink, a nonprofit relationships with audiences, that kind of work is important self-reflection.” organization that helps at-risk youth ignite social change Throughout the year, the journalists’ union at the Times — especially

The police and courts are

among our most

important institutions.

The Black Lives Matter

under scrutiny— and finding them


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the Black Caucus and Latino Caucus — pushed the “People are starting to understand that these are important stories that haven’t paper’s leadership to set concrete goals for better rep- been covered, and there’s more openness to Black stories and Black culture.” resentation for communities of color in the paper’s Scott says that, despite the controversy and backlash the Black Lives reporting and staff. Controversies Matter movement has faced, she over inflammatory content and has seen many people, from many poor treatment of staffers of coldifferent backgrounds, showing that or also cost leaders at publications kind of openness. like The New York Times and Bon “There is a sense of hope here,” Appétit their jobs. Scott said. “We are having those “When I worked at The New York uncomfortable conversations about Times, seven or eight years ago, I what it means to be Black in can’t imagine the culture that I was America — and what it means to working under being ready to do be white in America. I and so many something like that,” said Channing others were inspired by seeing Joseph, lecturer of journalism. “That such diversity among the protestshows what happens when a critical ers. I personally met white families mass of people decides to speak out who brought their children to that about something.” fence outside of the White House Joseph said that Black journalists, to have a conversation about race at the Times and elsewhere, face in America.” conversations about what it means to be many common challenges in newsFrazier echoes Scott’s sense of rooms. “Most Black reporters and guarded optimism. “We’re in a reporters of color I know have had moment right now that I hope conthe experience of pitching stories tinues, where various institutions — and what it means to be white in america. that spoke to important issues in the will step up,” he said. “They’re seeing Black community, only to be met that these problems won’t just autowith skepticism from their white comatically be fixed through the right Rachel Scott workers and editors,” he said. “When kind of mindset. Addressing issues you see something that’s affecting of race also requires really thinking peoples’ lives daily, that’s something about power — who has it, who’s at you might have seen yourself, and then you’re questioned the table, what kind of values do we want to instill? about it, that’s a demoralizing experience.” “It’s clear that people are no longer going to accept arguments about After the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Joseph gradual change,” Frazier added. “These moments are filled with tension says that it’s becoming less difficult to get these stories told. and contradiction, but also really bright with possibility.” a

there is a sense

of hope

here. we are having those


black in america


USC Annenberg Magazine

Photo of Terence Nance by Jaimie Milner

The Gifted Project Growing up in Pasadena, Jaimie Milner wrestled with feeling different and distant from her mostly white friends and classmates. She started to explore these ideas through her photography, but it wasn’t until she began her studies as a communication major at USC Annenberg that she began to analyze and unpack those feelings. “I learned about the beauty industry, and I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve always been going through this process of chemically straightening my hair to make it more manageable,” she recalled. “And I was like, why do I think it’s not manageable?” “After I let my natural hair grow out, I remember looking in the mirror and loving my hair,” she said. “For all these years, I thought my hair was ugly and it was something to hide and something to cover up — and I applied that same sentiment to thinking about other ways that I had been covering up my worth as a human being.” Milner earned her bachelor’s degree in 2010 and went on to work in television, at both Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network and for HBO. All the while, she worked on a photography project that echoed her journey toward discovering her own beauty, power and dignity as a Black woman — only this time, her subject was Black men. The project is called Gifted. “I literally felt like I woke up one day with a nagging feeling that I had to photograph the Black men around me,” Milner said. “People like my brother and my father and my friends, I felt like the truth of who they were was not really recognized by our culture at large.

People believed the lies about them before they actually believe the truth and saw who they really were.” The centerpiece of Gifted is a series of striking blackand-white photos celebrating Black men across a variety of ages, professions and life histories — artists, businessmen, politicians. It evolved into a multimedia endeavor, with videos and quotations from the men on Milner’s personal website. Gifted earned a lengthy writeup in the Los Angeles Times for a 2016 exhibition at the Residency gallery in Inglewood. She plans to self-publish the project as a book in early 2021. “Jaimie’s work over the past years, documenting the beauty and complexity of Black life and masculinities in the U.S., is a testament to her commitment to the role that art and visual culture must play in enhancing people’s critical consciousness and transforming power relations,” said Taj Frazier, associate professor of communication, who has followed Gifted from the beginnings of the project. “Her work is not just about representation, but about the power and hope of establishing conversation and communication between individuals and groups.” After striving to affirm the humanity of Black men through her work, Milner says that seeing protests this past summer centered around that same idea has given her hope that positive change is happening. “I was driving in Burbank and I saw a white man standing alone on the corner with a Black Lives Matter sign. I drove by, and tears are streaming down my face,” she said. “It just meant so much that someone who didn’t look like me cared about my life. And that is something that I have never seen: so many people holding themselves accountable, trying to learn more.” — T.B.K. Winter 2021 21

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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. A well-known childhood taunt hurled back at a schoolyard bully. The intent: Words cause no harm. The reality: The lesson doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Whether words are deliberately thrown or carelessly dropped, they do have the power to injure. But they also have the power to inspire and move worlds. It’s all in how they are wielded. Consider these quotes drawn from great speeches: “I have a dream,” “Tear down this wall!” “¡Sí Se Puede!” and “We are talking about feminism.” Phrases such as these, uttered by exceptional orators at precisely the

right moments in history, have pushed for changes that propelled societies toward progress. “Movements are started based on language and its phrases, and thus language can then be a powerful rallying call for change,” said Afua Hirsch, professor of journalism. Sarah Banet-Weiser, professor of communication, adds that language not only moves worlds but fundamentally shapes them. Words matter, and they matter differently depending on history, culture and politics. “They move through time, taking on nuance and meaning in different cultural environments,” she said. “And while language has gone through similar sorts of

traveling during different historical moments, when I think about where we are today and how we are communicating, it feels very urgent.” In a year marked with a global pandemic, a pressing demand for racial justice and a determination to advance gender equity, understanding how words continue to be defined and redefined — combined and recombined — has never been more critical. Communicators like Banet-Weiser and Hirsch are among those across USC Annenberg who are deeply invested in exploring not only the weight our words carry, but also how they can serve as a catalyst for transformation.

“Quarantini,” “doomscrolling,” “zoombombing”: familiar words fused to form new ones this past year as people sought novel terminology to describe life amid a global pandemic. “Pandemic” itself was named Merriam Webster’s Word of the Year. While language is a tool to communicate facts about the COVID-19 crisis, it has also been a mechanism to challenge this very same information. This past summer, communication doctoral students, working with Assistant Professor of Communication Cristina Visperas, convened over Zoom to investigate the phenomenon: “What do viral vocabularies do besides communicate?” “We wanted to dig deeply into the media around the pandemic and look at the language from a critical perspective to understand what exactly was going on and how people were making meaning out of it,” said Himsini Sridharan, a first-year doctoral student. Take “viral” and “virus,” for example. “You’re in the midst of this pandemic, you’ve got the public health layer on this, along with a challenging information environment where a lot of people are concerned about viral misinformation,” Sridharan said. “So, you’re dealing with a virus and you’re dealing with viral information about a virus. Where are the connections between those meanings coming from, and are they actually useful in this moment, or is this moment showing us how they break down?” Sridharan explained that one of the group’s focuses is exploring the adoption of monikers and nicknames


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for the coronavirus, such as “Miss Rona,” “Aunt Rona” and “China virus.” “Miss Rona was a term embraced on Twitter by Black and queer communities as a way for these groups to identify and own the virus in a language that represents them,” she said. “It is these slippages that emerge around words from one community to the next, especially in a moment of crisis, that strengthen and crystalize our level of questioning around meaning.” Brian Spitzberg, who earned his doctoral degree in communication from USC Annenberg in 1981, is also focusing on the term “China virus” and its Orwellian underpinnings as a way to examine how language can influence our understanding of reality. “Language, broadly speaking, does not determine or create reality, but it can significantly shape our perception of it,” he said. “There’s a growing dread I have that we are experiencing a much-amplified form of 1984,” Spitzberg said, referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel. “This notion of Newspeak and government control and/or political control of language is increasingly shaping our attitudes in ways that are hard to distinguish from propaganda.” To that point, he is concerned about the degree to which any one leader has a megaphone. “Whoever is in the White House has the ability to shape language use in ways that will increasingly be focus-grouped and emotion-dialed to determine the best ways of managing the public mind,” he said. Spitzberg began pursuing this line of research while at USC Annenberg and has since written dozens of articles and books exploring the dark side of

communication, looking at threats, conflict and coercion. Now the Senate Distinguished Professor of Communication at San Diego State University, Spitzberg is delving into COVID-19 conspiracy theories. He notes that a rumor surfaced earlier this year that the virus was “lab-engineered,” which led conspiracy theorists to begin calling the virus a “bioweapon.” “When a word like ‘bioweapon’ enters the Twittersphere,” Spitzberg said, “it becomes significant in the way in which it then evolves this theory into broader narratives.” While this past year was filled with new words created to make sense of a moment, it was also filled with familiar phrases imbued with new meaning and perspectives. “I can’t breathe” was one of them. “I can’t breathe” was repeated by Eric Garner 11 times on July 17, 2014, as he was put in a lethal chokehold by New York City police. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd uttered the same words as he pleaded for his life with Minneapolis police. The words, “I can’t breathe” exploded over the summer and become a rallying cry in protests against police brutality across the world. Pamela Perrimon noted that the “I can’t breathe” phrase rooted in the Black Lives Matter movement was also embedded in the public health domain, referencing those suffering from a respiratory virus that compromised the ability to breathe. “They felt undeniably connected,” said Perrimon, a second-year doctoral student who also worked on the Viral Vocabularies project. She went on to add, “On top of this we had another layer of protests we were watching in the media — of

people refusing to wear a mask and co-opting the ‘I can’t breathe’ phrase for themselves. This language becomes a way to communicate about the crisis, but it is also a way to argue about information and expertise, politics and responsibility, and even who has the right to breathe.” Sridharan added, “Those of us on the project wanted to think through these particular terms from a very critical perspective to figure out what they tell us about the broader systems of inequality and exploitation.” “There are times when we don’t have words to explain the moments we are in,” Banet-Weiser said. “So, we invent new words, or we take old words and give them new meaning. This is how we wrestle with language to have it better represent ourselves and our worlds.” Words such as “bitch,” for instance. Bitch can be used in a derogatory manner to insult and demean women. But Banet-Weiser asserts that words like this can also be reclaimed, recombined and redefined — like “boss bitch” or “bad bitch” — to create a shield against the original intent. “Words are not neutral,” she said. “Language is the way in which a community is going to say, ‘I’m not going to let you create my world using your words. I’m going to create it myself and give it my own definition.’” This flipping of the power structure of language around female empowerment is not a new area of research for Banet-Weiser. For the past 20 years she has studied — and taught — gender and media and has seen how young women have positioned themselves in relationship to the word “feminism.” “It used to be,‘I’m not a feminist. Yes, I believe in equality, Winter 2021 25

but I’m not a feminist,’” she said. “For my students, feminism was definitely the ‘F’ word. Then, with the onset of Instagram around 2013, I noticed how young women started to embrace more aspirational feminist messages — posting images that dial into body positivity and repurposing words such as ‘nasty’ and ‘bitch.’” The challenge, though, according to Banet-Weiser, is that these expressions of feminism tend to be more superficial, relegated to social media memes and hashtags, rather than tied to policy and laws designed to create real systemic change for women seeking gender equity. “It isn’t until we move these ideas beyond the circulation of social media, beyond the visibility they get through those platforms, that any real structural grounding can occur,” she said. Words like “professionalism,” while seemingly innocuous compared to “bitch,” can also be loaded with complexity. Authoring a chapter for the book Pretty Bitches, Hirsch chose the word “professionalism” as a way to dive into the preconceptions around who is deemed a professional and how the centuries-old definition has been weaponized against women — particularly women of color. Born in Norway to a white British father and a Black Ghanaian mother, Hirsch decided early on to pursue a career that would make her family proud. After initially working for an NGO, she went on to earn a law degree, becoming a barrister in England. She recalls, however, that the image of what a lawyer is supposed to look like was immediately challenged when her “Afro curls” didn’t fit properly into the horsehair wig she was required to wear. “Women are disadvantaged by ideas of the ‘professional’ before we even walk in the door,” she writes. “To be truly professional is to conform to the ideal on which the word profession is based: an elite white man.” Hirsch maintains that women are constantly required to alter their clothing, jewelry and footwear to better acclimate to societal models of how one should look in any given profession. “I spent years ironing my hair and learning how to mimic the behaviors, norms and ideals of whiteness,” she said. “Even when I left law and pivoted to working as a television journalist, I was told that my legs were too muscular for TV and my Afro took up too much of the screen.” Ultimately, Hirsch realized she no longer wanted to participate in an establishment that prevented her from disrupting the status quo and is now an educator and a documentary filmmaker. “I became very interested in how I could use my education and my perspective to challenge these perceptions rather than repeat the same patterns I’ve seen previous generations play out,” she said. As the marketing communication manager at the National Health Foundation (NHF), Stephany Rodas agrees that words have the ability to influence behavior and outcome. “In order to create environments where individuals feel welcome and appreciated, we have to be very intentional with our language,” she said. Rodas adds that the NHF, which has been serving Southern California for the past 40 years, has been even more comprehensive in its messaging this past year. They created an inclusive guide to language that 26

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is given to new hires and formed a JEDI council — justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Given the organization’s mission to address the root causes of health disparities in local communities, setting the right tone in their communication is imperative. Another word switch that was implemented recently was moving away from “underserved” to “underresourced,” explains Rodas, who earned a master’s degree in strategic public relations in 2018. “When you read the word ‘underserved’ quickly, it looks like ‘undeserved,’ and that is not what we are trying to express.” As a woman of color, Rodas recognizes her own privilege and acknowledges the importance of educating herself and having honest conversations about race with those in her company and in the community. This type of work, she believes, is necessary to make sure that any internal communications or tweets meant for the public are as inclusive as possible. “We’re learning — observing shifts in language — and adapting to make sure people, especially those who are most vulnerable, get the most accurate information possible to make the best choices possible,” she said. Health communication scholar Robin Stevens’ research is similarly focused on listening closely to the type of language formed within specific communities. A pioneer in the emerging field of digital epidemiology, Stevens uses digital data like social media posts to investigate Black and Latinx youth well-being, sexual health, mental health and substance use. One of the studies Stevens conducted before arriving at USC Annenberg this Fall was focused on studying depressive language that Black youth use on Twitter. Bridgette Brawner, the co-principal investigator on the project, flagged the word “tired,” indicating that it came out of a study she had conducted designed to address the role of mental illness and emotion regulation in Black teens in Philadelphia. She suggested Stevens add it to her list. “We then used those insights in developing the classifier — the types of words we are going to look for — as we identified depressive language in social media posts,” Stevens said. She added that words like “tired” or “mad,” used by Black youth to indicate they are depressed, wouldn’t have been included in the DSM-5, a catalogue of mental health disorders created by psychiatrists. Stevens notes that most of the lexicons created to describe mental health afflictions are built on white populations, which is why the work her group does is so necessary. “So, if we mischaracterize an entire population based on a faulty assessment, we miss critical opportunities to intervene,” she said. “By targeting youth in these digital neighborhoods and their corresponding vocabularies, we’re better able to identify and implement effective public health interventions that allow minoritized youth to thrive.” People have always used language to make sense of their worlds, and, according to USC Annenberg experts, that isn’t changing. A single word can change a story. Language can create community, solve problems and define the identity and character of a society. “Having a language is not in itself the work of creating change, but it definitely helps structure your cognitive world in a way that allows you to navigate the change that needs to happen,” Hirsch said. “Language is really important, both in our own understanding and our ability to communicate and find solidarity with others.” a Winter 2021 27

LEAGUES that The Players’  Tribune was faced with the biggest sports story in generations: the shutdown of nearly all organized sports under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the abrupt suspension of play, uncertainty and fear gripped the sports world. “We were like everyone else: confused and worried,” said Goldie, who earned his bachelor’s degree in communication in 2014. Yet, despite games and matches being shut down, Goldie added, the Tribune’s model has always been based less on the games themselves, and more on the humanity of the sports stars who write for the publication. Founded six years ago by New York Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, The Players’ Tribune features first-person stories written by athletes. “It’s a platform for them to connect directly to both their fans and a larger audience,” said Goldie, who works in athlete marketing and team relations for the site.

police on May 25. The subsequent mass protests in multiple U.S. cities against police brutality radically shifted the conversation from COVID-19 protocols to the ongoing scourge of racial injustice in America. With many professional athletes putting themselves on the front lines of this movement, the leagues were now faced with a broad-based activist reality among their players and fans that was impossible to ignore. Goldie says the protests sparked another surge in athletes approaching the Tribune looking to tell stories about their lived experiences of racism. “It was a special moment,” Goldie recalled. “With the sports world stopped, these athletes who we idolize wanted to do the work, to lend their voice, to tell you to go out and vote, to condemn what was happening.” The Tribune created another series called “Silence is Not an Option,” in which more than 35 athletes shared their stories, including WNBA star A’ja Wilson’s “Dear Black Girls” and NBA

“As the grim reality sank in that this virus would prevent sports from being played for a matter of months rather than weeks, we started to see more and more athletes wanting to share their thoughts and experiences about what they were going through,” he said. Goldie and his colleagues quickly organized this flood of COVID-related ideas into a new section called “The Iso,” where athletes could share first-person stories about being quarantined at home. For example, the NBA’s Kevin Love discussed his mental-health struggles and the WNBA’s Jewell Loyd encouraged readers to “flatten the curve.” Just as The Players’ Tribune, other sports media outlets, and the teams and leagues themselves were beginning to come to terms with what sports might look like during the pandemic, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis

legend Bill Russell’s “Racism Is Not a Historical Footnote.” As leagues, teams and individual athletes respond to these new realities, the ways in which they are communicating their responses, and how the media covers those choices, are resonating across all of USC Annenberg’s disciplines. Throughout both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, USC Annenberg alumni, students and faculty have been key chroniclers and drivers of how the narrative of the sports world unfolds. “I think it’s a really fascinating moment,” said Ben Carrington, associate professor of sociology and journalism. “In the late ’60s, we had what some refer to as the rise of consciousness amongst Black athletes. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Muhammad Ali, and a whole range of athletes were using their platforms to protest racial injustice. It appears that we are in a similar moment right now.”




The world of sports communication and journalism responds to COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. By Ted B. Kissell Art By Mark Smith Winter 2021 29


he pandemic and racial-justice crises created daunting challenges for lead communicators working with teams and leagues, including Karen Goodheart, vice president of marketing and partnership activation for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. “Sports teams essentially are a channel for communication,” Goodheart said. “When you have a large, passionate audience, you have the opportunity to communicate in a different way, and I think that’s special. Sports is about so much more than what happens on the field.” She remembers exactly when the COVID-19 pandemic changed her world. “On March 12, we were supposed to be in Miami to play our first game against the new club there,” said Goodheart, who earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations in 2011. “We were leaving the office on March 11 and all of this COVID information was coming out, and we just weren’t sure what was going to happen. So, instead of getting on the flight, I went home — and that was my last day in the office until very recently.” The following weeks, Goodheart says, were a blur of conference calls and Zoom meetings as the MLS began to learn more about the virus and started to plan

powerful pregame tributes to George Floyd and social justice messages printed on players’ jerseys. “Especially in times when the world is uncertain and scary and difficult, sports can bring a level of comfort and passion to people that is so important,” Goodheart said.


y August, the MLS, NBA and Major League Baseball were playing again — albeit in empty stadiums and arenas. Then on Aug. 23, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, in the back. As athletes reacted to this latest atrocity, the NBA’s response was the most dramatic: On Aug. 26, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to come out of the locker room for their playoff game, leading to the league’s postponement of all playoff games for several days. At an Oct. 5 virtual event in the Annenberg Intelligence series hosted by Dean Willow Bay, sophomore journalism major Reagan Griffin, Jr. had a chance to ask NBA All-Star player Chris Paul about that day. “Aug. 26, 2020, that’s a date for the history books,”






how — and when — their teams could safely return to the pitch. In these remote meetings, many with team sponsors, they were forced to grapple with how to balance the literal health of their players, personnel and fans with the financial health of the league and its teams. With the pandemic continuing to soar and play still shut down, the protests that followed in late May and into the early summer created another pivotal moment for teams and leagues. Goodheart says that, for both the MLS in general and the Galaxy in particular, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement was consistent with their long-held values. “Figuring out our messaging wasn’t difficult,” she said. “It’s pretty clear what was right from the team’s point of view.” The MLS eventually returned with a tournament starting on July 8 called “The MLS is Back” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. They were without fans, creating a “bubble” of players, coaches and support personnel who were rigorously tested for COVID-19 and kept in quarantine. The games featured 30

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Griffin said. “That’s when Sterling Brown and the Milwaukee Bucks made the decision: ‘We’re not going to play tonight. We’re going to strike.’ Walk us through your role.” Paul, who is also the president of the National Basketball Players Association, answered, “We were pulling into the arena, and that’s when my phone started going crazy. As a brotherhood, when we saw what Milwaukee did, it was like, ‘We stand with them.’ And the next thing I tried to do was, make sure we had a meeting. And I’m grateful, because I feel like it’s a turning point in our league; a lot of guys spoke in that meeting who maybe wouldn’t have spoken.” Griffin’s question to Paul stands in USC Annenberg’s long tradition of providing networking opportunities as one way to train top sports journalists. Annenberg Media, the student-led media organization, which was also remote at the time, reacted to the Black Lives Matter movement by posting a statement of support on its homepage, and also ran several essays by students and recent alumni addressing issues of racial justice.

Griffin, who is Black, wrote a piece for Annenberg Media titled “A Letter to My White Friends,” directly and forcefully addressing white sports fans’ lack of willingness to engage with what Black athletes — and Black sports journalists — were telling them about the realities of racism in the United States. The essay was also published on the online sports magazine The Undefeated. “I’ve had conversations with Black journalists who told me that there are certain things they’ve had to hold back on over the course of their careers,” Griffin said. “They had to swallow certain microaggressions. For me, people have definitely made sacrifices to open doors, and I feel that it is my responsibility to step into those doors and open more doors for people that are coming behind by not just being Black in the space, but being authentically Black in that same space.”





s students like Griffin explore how the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have reshaped the landscape of communication, journalism and public relations, USC Annenberg faculty have engaged with their students about how their industries of practice will address questions of racial equity when their students enter the workforce. Rook Campbell, a lecturer in communication, sees the kinds of frank conversations we are having now about race in sports journalism as holding the potential for widespread, positive change in the profession. “What I think has happened in the media is the shifting of thinking about who we are, and who’s constituted in that ‘we,’” Campbell said. “People in newsrooms are talking about positionality and what allyship looks like in this context. It does feel different than two years ago or five years ago.” Campbell is also challenging students to take the lessons of famous athletes’ activism and apply them to sports in their own lives. “We need to ask these questions: ‘My swim team or volleyball team is all white — why is that?’” they said. “You look at surfers doing paddle-out memorials for George Floyd — are they aware that the beach they’re on used to be a segregated beach? The real power of athlete activism is when we start to have a collective reckoning, which will hopefully get us to collective healing and justice.” Carrington notes that, in legacy news organizations, sports has often been viewed as separate from news and politics. If that was ever true, it certainly isn’t anymore. “Those of us trained in sports journalism are going to have to rethink how we engage with wider social issues,” he said. “Those issues are integral to sports and sports journalism. You can still be a sports journalist and not know about those issues. It’s just that you’re not going to be a very good one.” Faculty have a responsibility to prepare students to be well-versed in issues of racial justice in the sports space, Carrington says. “At Annenberg, we’re matching professional practice with research — alongside deep, critical thinking about race in sports,” he said. “Professional sports makes big claims about its importance to society, that it constitutes a wider public good in our communities. That public good now has to include a critical understanding of questions like racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. These organizations must be an active force for social good. They can no longer be passive in allowing inequality.” a

Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA refuse to play to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Washington Mystics of the WNBA also refuse to play. Members of several WNBA teams wear black T-shirts before games in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.


2016 Members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team file complaint against U.S. Soccer for equal pay. Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before San Francisco 49ers games to protest police violence and racial injustice.


Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson walks off the court to protest a rule that disproportionately denied scholarships to Black athletes.


Track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise fists on the medalists’ podium at the Mexico City Olympics to protest racism.



Miami Heat players wear hoodies on the court to protest the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin.


The women’s rowing team at Yale protests for equal training facilities to the men’s team, as required by Title IX.


Muhammad Ali refuses to be inducted into the Army during the Vietnam War.

1958 Bill Russell and other Black players on the Boston Celtics boycott an exhibition game in Louisville, Kentucky, after being refused service in a restaurant. Jackie Robinson, then retired, helps organize the Youth March for Integrated Schools with Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Ramin Bastani wastes no time By Mira Zimet


USC Annenberg Magazine

This past summer cars curled their way through the Dodger Stadium parking lot, steered not by excited fans ready to cheer on their team, but instead by anxious drivers submitting to COVID-19 tests. At the entrance, a giant Healthvana digital sign, framed in calming baby blue, greeted them. Ramin Bastani started Healthvana in 2014 to better deliver medical test results via a HIPAA-secure, mobile-friendly portal. “Our mission is to help eliminate COVID-19 and HIV by using technology that allows for clear communication,” he said. “Our platform design is key to achieving this.” Instead of pages of lab results filled with lines of data, Healthvana offers users a clean, vertically oriented graphic displaying their name, ID, date and easy-to-understand results on their cell phones. It’s simple to screen grab and share, which is imperative, according to Bastani, to help patients. “This is the killer feature,” he said. “Because 80% of healthcare decisions are made based on your labs.” Bastani, who graduated in 2001 with a bachelor’s in communication, considers himself an entrepreneur at heart. As a child, he sold candy, organized car washes, traded baseball cards and had an early personal creed: “If I saw a problem that needed solving, I worked to address it, hoping other people would benefit as well.” In 1995, he was recruited by the Trojan basketball team, but in his first season suffered a knee injury that essentially ended his career. He turned this misfortune into action by writing “Jump On,” a booklet designed to increase athleticism in a safer way — and then went on to advertise it in magazines. “It sold all over the world,” he said. “It was challenging to balance that and school.” In addition to his communication courses, Bastani also joined the entrepreneurial program at the USC Marshall School of Business. In the late ’90s, as innovation in technology was taking off, Bastani recalls sitting in his Los Angeles apartment on his 33.6K modem trying to figure out “how this internet thing will change people’s lives,” he said. After graduating, he launched SportsFrog! to enable sports fans to sell their predictions and analysis, but then a few years later turned his focus to help support his ailing father. It was during those years of caring for a parent that Bastani realized his calling. Healthvana was eventually born out of his deep frustration in not getting his father’s lab results back in a comprehensive and actionable manner. “The core piece of the company, the question we answer every day, is what every human being thinks about when they’re waiting for anxiety-provoking labs,” he said. “And that’s, ‘Am I going to be okay?’ We answer that better than anyone else.” Healthvana started building their digital platform by focusing on those at risk of, and living with, HIV. Their strategy was to create a solution for delivering the most sensitive data under HIPAA, that could improve patient outcomes. “Most of healthcare looks like Windows 95,” he said. “We look and feel more like Instagram.” Based on Healthvana’s successful reputation of being the largest software platform for HIV results, the City of Los Angeles reached out to the company for help when the pandemic began surging in mid-April. Within a week, Healthvana helped the city improve the accessibility, accuracy and speed of results.“We answered every call, every email,” he said. “We’re showing them a glimpse of what healthcare can look like.” The company has since partnered with other cities and states. To date, they have delivered more than 5 million results to patients across the United States. With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines in December, they expanded to delivering digital vaccination records, along with second-dose reminders. “There’s three words that really guide what we’re doing today,” Bastani said. “Speed is life. We have never been in a situation, as a company, as a country or as a world, where every single second matters and the clarity of communication matters. And being able to do that in an empathetic way matters.” a Photo by Damon Casarez

“There’s a revolution coming with technology and healthcare, and it looks like you’re at the forefront,” President Barack Obama told Bastani in 2016, when he presented Healthvana’s HIV-related work at the White House.

Virtual Events, Real Connections

Students and alumni create community through online career programming.

JUSTIN L. ABROTSKY ( MA, specialized journalism, ’13) is the new Technical Associate of Media Operations at SmartNews, Inc.

Leila Cobo, one of the world’s leading experts in Latin music, was among the many virtual speakers to connect with USC Annenberg students since March. Cobo earned a master’s in communication management in 1990 and is vice president and Latin industry lead at Billboard magazine. At an Oct. 28 “Lunch with a Leader” event she spoke about her career journey and her upcoming book, Decoding “Despacito”: An Oral History of Latin Music. The Office of Career Development and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations hosted nearly 100 such virtual events, reaching some 3,400 students and alumni. The goal was to help create and maintain connections and build skills during a time when face-to-face events are not possible. “Our students are craving that sense of community, of being deeply engaged with USC, even if they’re not physically on campus,” said Suzanne Alcantara, assistant dean of student affairs and director of career development.

Leila Cobo offers advice to students: “The road swerves a lot. It goes in really unexpected places. And it’s important to remain patient and to remain constant.”

NEW SCHOLARSHIP G RoW @ Annenberg Texas native Toni Hall (pictured) was named the inaugural recipient of the GRoW @ Annenberg Scholarship. Led by Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, an Annenberg Foundation vice president and director, the multi-year scholarship fully underwrites the cost for graduate studies for Black journalists and seeks to advance diverse representation in newsrooms. “It is incumbent upon all of us who are in positions to make a meaningful difference, to do what we can to support efforts to address systemic inequities that have been in place far too long,” Weingarten said. “Education is just one in a very long list of systems where we can effect change.” Hall said she was inspired to explore sports journalism after reading 34

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a story about Josh Jacobs, a running back for the Las Vegas Raiders who grew up homeless. “When I heard that story, I was fascinated by the resilience of the human spirit and how, despite the odds that are against you, if you will persevere, you can do anything,” said Hall, who began her studies remotely in Fall 2020. “I really want to tell stories like that about athletes.”

CORIANDA DIMES (BA, public relations, ’12) was promoted to strategy director at TBWA/Chiat/Day.

ANIKA FISCH (BA, public relations, ’19; MCG, communication management, ’20) joined Southwest Strategies as an account executive.

RANDA HINTON ( MCG, communication management, ’20) joined NVIDIA as partner marketing manager.

TOYA HOLNESS (MA, strategic public relations, ’12) was named press secretary to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, The Office of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex, as they expand their communications team.

MICHAEL HUARD ( MA, specialized journalism (the arts), ’14) is the new senior content marketing manager at Iterable.

VANNI LE (BA, public relations, ’19 and MS, digital social media, ’19) has joined RespectAbility as their first-ever Entertainment Outreach Program Manager. VALERIE LEE (BA, communication, ’15) is joining the team at Twitch Music as the content development manager.

MARISSA LYMAN (BA, print journalism, ’10) started her new position as the director of Americas growth marketing at Adobe.

MARITZA MOULITE ( MA, journalism, ’15) has published her second book, One of the Good Ones. MICHELLE NABATI ( BA, communication, ’14) started her own law firm, Nabati Law. MARRISSA SANDS ( MCG, communication management, ’19) joined Talk to Jess, LLC. as a cultural insights coordinator.

Photos by Olivia Mowry and courtesy of Toni Hall


How are we doing? Study examines daily life under the pandemic.

The Center for the Digital Future (CDF) conducted two nationwide surveys last year — in April and June — examining how people feel about their relationships, working from home, education, media, entertainment, shopping and political behaviors during the coronavirus pandemic. Based on the results from 1,000 respondents, conducted online, the Coronavirus Disruption Project revealed substantial changes in relationships, emotional stability and personal behavior since the COVID-19 pandemic and safer-at-home restrictions began. Despite the stress from COVID-19 and stay-at-home restrictions, many Americans said that their relationships with their spouses and children have improved. Also, most Americans were not comfortable resuming daily life outside the home: Only 41% were willing to see a doctor for a non-urgent appointment, only 39% would shop in a retail store and only 14% would use public transportation. “Without preparation or our permission, we are all participating in the greatest social experiment of our time,” said CDF Director Jeffrey Cole. “We are learning how to live our lives 24/7 on the internet — whether we want to or not.”


“Measuring Audience Trust in News with Su Jung Kim,” The J Word, hosted by Robert (Ted) Gutsche, Jr.

“Episode 75: Play as a Precursor to Participation, with Reanne Estrada and Benjamin Stokes,” How Do You Like It So Far,

hosted by Henry Jenkins and Colin Maclay


Christina Dunbar-Hester, “Not Entirely Analog(ous): Low-Power FM Radio as Community, Relations, and Knowledge in Context,”

Radio Journal Lindsay Young, lead author,

“Modeling the Dynamism of HIV Information Diffusion in Multiplex Networks of Homeless Youth,” Social Networks


Channing Joseph was awarded the Logan Nonfiction Fellowship for his forthcoming biography, House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens. Allissa V. Richardson has been named a Knight News Innovation Fellow at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Aimei Yang received the Top Faculty Paper Award from the National Communication Association. Adjunct Lecturer Julianna Kirschner received the Outstanding Dissertation of the Year Award from the National Communication Association.


The New News: The Journalist’s Guide to Producing Digital Content for Online & Mobile Users

by Mary Murphy, Joan Van Tassel and Joseph Schmitz The New Latin America by Manuel Castells and Fernando Calderon

Photo by Yannick Peterhans

Winter 2021 35



Twitter Bots and the 2020 Election Automated accounts and foreign interference infested social media conversations about the 2020 election. By Emily Gersema Emilio Ferrara had long focused his data-driven research on the potential for social media to be used as a tool for the manipulation of the public. As he and his research team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering examined social media activity in the months before the 2016 election, they made some startling discoveries: At least 15 percent of pre-election political tweets were made by automated bots rather than people; and human users could rarely distinguish bots from humans. “This is extremely problematic, because it suggests that human users were not particularly diligent when it came to sharing content on Twitter,” Ferrara said. “This might have contributed to phenomena like the spread of disinformation — or ‘fake news,’ as many people would call it.” Ferrara’s work became essential for understanding bot activity during the 2016 election — some of which was later attributed by the U.S. intelligence community to Russian entities trying to influence the outcome. In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Ferrara, now an associate professor at both USC Annenberg and USC Viterbi, refined and built on this research. In a paper published the week before the election by the journal First Monday, he looked at more than 240 million election-related tweets, and found that thousands of automated accounts, known as bots, had posted tweets about now-former President Donald Trump, now-President Joe Biden and both of their campaigns. Most of these bots were promoting far-right political conspiracies 36

USC Annenberg Magazine

like QAnon. Even though the bots are believed to have been responsible for a few million of the tweets, they likely reached hundreds of thousands of Twitter users. “I think the most important finding here is that bots exacerbate the consumption of content within the same political echo chamber, so it increases the effect of echo chambers or the salience of those tweets,” Ferrara said. Throughout their analysis, the research team identified significant differences between bots and humans and the type of election content they tweet and retweet on the social media platform. In addition to studying the bots, the researchers examined the political leanings of real human users and common hashtags in those 240 million tweets, as well as any tweets containing stories or other content from partisan media and traditional news outlets. After analyzing Twitter’s data on recently banned users, the researchers noted that Ghana and Nigeria had launched information campaigns to target left-leaning users about the Black Lives Matter movement. Saudi Arabia and Turkey also had high engagement with right-leaning users; Russia and China mostly targeted left-leaning fringe groups and conservative groups. “In short, the state of social media manipulation during the 2020 election was no better than it was in 2016,” Ferrara said. “The combination of automated disinformation and distortion on social media continue to threaten the integrity of U.S. elections.”

Right-leaning accounts significantly outnumbered their left-leaning

counterparts by 4-to-1 among bots and by 2-to-1 among humans.

“The combination of automated disinformation and distortion on social media continue to threaten the integrity of U.S. elections.”


Winter 2021 37


fighting for women’s equality, for equality of all people. This is someone who is a real-life influencer.” Persons Wickham, an entertainment attorney at Fox Rothschild LLP, joined Julie Cohen and Betsy West, directors of the Academy Award-nominated documentary RBG, and moderator Lisa PecotHébert, associate professor of professional practice, at an early October virtual event to explore the enduring influence of Ginsburg’s legacy following her death on Sept. 18. Delving into Ginsburg’s impact on how “herstories” are discovered, produced and disseminated, they discussed the cultivation of her “savage” status in the media. “Many of her dissents were aimed at slaying the opinions of her fellow judges … in hopes that they would provide guidance for future courts,” PecotHébert said. “I think that is so profound because … she had the wherewithal to understand … that her words would live on and that her words would have value beyond the moment.” The conversation was part of a three-part series jointly sponsored by USC Annenberg, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, USC Gould School of Law, and USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, which featured distinguished experts across the legal field, politics and communication.

Iconic, Enduring, Notorious

Scholars across USC and beyond explore the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Signature large glasses, distinctive collars, big earrings and scrunchies. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s iconography has been immortalized on everything from T-shirts and mugs to magnets and memes. “I think the ‘Notorious RBG’ moniker caused a lot of young people to take a step back and say, ‘Who is this woman?’” said Mikella Persons Wickham (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’15). “She’s this pioneer who’s been 38

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“Justice Ginsburg didn’t use social media,” said Betsy West, director of the 2018 documentary RBG. “But I think she understood, in a very profound way, that it was an opportunity to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise be reading Supreme Court decisions.”

GET OUT AND VOTE rofessor Clarissa Beyah, P Democracy Works’ Mike Ward, and “I am a voter.” co-founders Natalie Tran of Creative Artists Agency and actress Sophia Bush discussed harnessing the power and reach of the entertainment industry for social change. ONE WOMAN, NO VOTE elebrating the 100th C anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Assistant Professor Allissa Richardson moderated an intersectional conversation with leading women scholars from across USC to explore a wide range of topics, including the pivotal role of the Black press. THE FUTURE OF LOCAL NEWS In partnership with KPCC, Southern California Public Radio, USC Annenberg convened a three-part series designed to explore strategies for ensuring a sustainable and inclusive future for local news in Southern California.

THE CHICANO MORATORIUM, 50 YEARS LATER Reflecting on legacies of struggle and the future of Latinx journalism, Los Angeles Times writers Gustavo Arellano and Esmeralda Bermudez (BA, print journalism, ’03) joined professors Laura Castañeda, Félix Gutiérrez and Josh Kun to mark the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium march and L.A. County Sheriff ’s deputies’ killing of Times journalist Ruben Salazar. CRITICAL MEDIATIONS ommunication doctoral C students Paulina Lanz and Eduardo Gonzalez helped lead an interdisciplinary, four-part salon series focused on the theme of “Forecasting Futurity,” featuring conversations among academics, rising scholars, artists and practitioners on topics such as citizenship, materiality, cultural ecologies and the future of the university.

Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures



USC Annenberg alumna and Los Angeles Times staff writer Esmeralda Bermudez received the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ (NAHJ) Sí Se Puede Award at the #NABJNAHJ2020 Convention & Career Fair this past summer. Bermudez, who earned her bachelor’s in print journalism in 2003, was recognized by the NAHJ for “the persistence she has shown in her newsroom, the tenacity in her work, and the ability to help mobilize others to build community.”

Born in El Salvador and raised in the L.A. area, Bermudez has been chronicling the lives of Latinos for the L.A. Times since 2008. Prior to joining the Times, she worked at The Oregonian in Portland, covering city government and immigration. “So few of us make it to certain spaces in journalism, and it’s important to not be just ‘un florero bonito, decorando el espacio’ — you know, ‘a beautiful vase full of flowers, decorating a space’ — but to speak up, and to speak up not only on behalf of ourselves, but of each other,” Bermudez said. Bermudez shared her experience and advice with Professor of Professional Practice Laura Castañeda’s “Engaging Diverse Communities in the Digital Era” class this past Fall. “Esme always offers valuable advice to students about how to connect in an empathetic and respectful way,” Castañeda said. “She models how to find and tell stories that no one else is doing.”

PR GRAD honored for top master’s thesis Manuelita Maldonado, a former English teacher who majored in literature at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia, her home country, joined USC Annenberg in Fall 2018 to pursue a graduate degree. Her studies in strategic public relations explored the intersection between communication and technology, specifically artificial intelligence. “This technology is transforming the way PR practitioners target demographics, measure the effectiveness of their communication efforts, obtain insights into the media landscape, and interact with influencers to deliver their message more efficiently,” Maldonado explained about her work. The culmination of her research was a thesis: “The Rise of Intelligent Machines: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming the Public Relations Industry.” The thesis caught the attention of the Institute for Public Relations and one of their trustees, Ken Makovsky, who honored the paper with the 2020 Makovsky Best Master’s Thesis of the Year Award. This was the first time since 1995 that a USC Annenberg student received the honor. “The advanced thinking that comes out of Manuelita’s research, in particular, will influence the profession for years to come. Her work is of amazing value,” said Makovsky, president of Makovsky + Company and former co-chairman of the institute’s board. As for Maldonado, “My thesis is the result of amazing teachers, the opportunity to work at the Center for Public Relations and being able to connect with other USC alumni who contributed and taught me about their experiences in the field of public relations,” she said. “It was the whole package.” Photo courtesy of Esmeralda Bermudez

Manuelita Maldonado received a $2,000 grant and her faculty advisors — Fred Cook, Burghardt Tenderich and Jennifer Floto, all professors of professional practice — won a $1,000 grant that they donated to the USC Center for Public Relations.

USC ANNENBERG STUDENTS, ALUMNI AND ADJUNCT INSTRUCTORS earned more than 40 honors, including 18 first-place nods, at the 62nd Annual Southern California Journalism Awards from the L.A. Press Club.

ASHLEY ALVARADO ( BA, print journalism and Spanish, ’05) was part of the team who won the overall excellence award for engaged journalism from the Online News Association.

JENNIFER MEDINA (BA, journalism, ’02), an international correspondent for The New York Times, was named Latina journalist of the year by the California Chicano News Media Association.

BEVERLY PHAM (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’18) designed the World Series content for the front page of and the FOX Sports app.

JOVRNALISM STUDENTS won the Online Journalism Awards’ David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award for their 360-degree video project, “Who We Are: Finding Home.”

RACHEL SCOTT (BA, broadcast journalism, ’15) was selected as emerging journalist of the year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

JOANNA DODD MASSEY (BA, public relations, ’90 and MBA, business administration, ’16) was honored as a Power Woman of NY by Schneps Media.

TAYLOR VILLANUEVA (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’16) had her podcast, A Few Bad Apples, recognized by New York Magazine.

ASHLEY HINSON (BA, broadcast journalism, ’04) was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.

MAYA TRIBBITT (journalism, ’21) was awarded the Paul Brock Founder’s Scholarship by the National Association of Black Journalists.

ZOÉ ZEIGLER (BA, communication, ’07), vice president, JPMorgan Chase & Co., was named one of Business Insider’s Top 25 rising stars of brand marketing.

Winter 2021 39



Elizabeth Luke Growing up in the New York City area, Elizabeth “Lily” Luke had a zeal for drama and imagined herself as an actress walking the red carpet with cameras flashing. “It never occurred to me to not follow my dream,” she said. She received all the validation she needed when she landed a Verizon commercial spot at age 13. After graduating from Bergen County Academies high school, she moved to Los Angeles and began at USC in 2004.


After graduating in 2008, Luke returned to New York and was hired as a senior analyst at Nielsen, the global marketing research firm, where she used consumer data to forecast first-year sales for new products. In 2010, she moved to the communications side, where she pulled data for press inquiries. As one of the few people of color in the company, Luke was part of a team that launched Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence Series on the power of Black consumers, a report that still exists today.


At USC Annenberg, Luke majored in communication while taking acting lessons on the side. By her senior year, however, she had made a decision on which path to pursue. “I knocked on many doors as an actress, and it never worked out, but in communication, every door opened naturally,” she said. “I really loved digging into the social sciences and research in my coursework.”


USC Annenberg Magazine

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Luke


A connection made through her meditation group set Luke on the next step of her career. In 2012, she was hired as a client consulting analyst at High 10 Media, an integrated communications agency in New York. “There I did PR for The Hill, Billboard magazine, and Adweek,” Luke said. “I learned about the power of industry, and that really set the tone for the rest of my career.”

4 “Twitter came knocking two years later,” Luke said. One of her roles as a senior associate in corporate communication was to explore how to promote the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings, which measured the reach and impact of social TV. She was most proud of helping build Blackbirds, an employee resource group designed to support people of color. “As a diverse employee, it’s essential to build community at work because it gives us permission to step into our identity and power, and also have fun,” she said.


After five years at Twitter, Luke was hired at Pinterest in early 2020. As the brand communications lead, she continues to sell the power of advertising. “Now, more than ever, people need inspiration to navigate their lives,” she said. Whether people are looking for sourdough bread recipes or office closets, Luke is excited by the ways Pinterest fosters creativity among community. “I just love the idea of being loud and doing work that is impactful, that makes sure people are seen, and that hits on the cultural zeitgeist.”

“When I was a freshman living on the Somerville Place residence floor, Corliss Bennett, the then-director of USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, would remind us: ‘If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.’” Elizabeth Luke ’08 New York City

University of Southern California 3502 Watt Way, Suite 304 Los Angeles, CA. 90089-0281 Change Service Requested

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