USC Annenberg Alumni Magazine Fall 2021

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Reimagining AI How values-driven artificial intelligence can reshape the way we communicate.

How values-driven artificial intelligence can reshape the way we communicate.

Celebrating a Half-Century

Throughout 2021–22, the Annenberg School is marking the 50th anniversary of its founding at the University of Southern California. “We continue to be inspired by Walter Annenberg’s enduring charge to use communication to understand the profound changes of our time,” said Dean Willow Bay. Pictured here are Dean Bay, students, faculty, alumni, USC Life Trustee Wallis Annenberg, and former deans Peter Clarke, Geoffrey Cowan and Ernest Wilson. Collage by Suzanne Boretz Watch a video commemorating the 50th anniversary and submit your own memories at The magazine’s next issue will celebrate USC Annenberg’s storied past, vibrant present and dynamic future.

FALL 2021




Professor and Chair in CrossCultural Communication Josh Kun lectures during his undergraduate course “Sound Clash: Popular Music and American Culture.”

Reimagining AI How values-driven artificial intelligence can reshape the way we communicate. By Ted B. Kissell


Behind the Music From performance to business and scholarship, the love of music shapes lives and livelihoods. By Mira Zimet


Scrolling Smart

In the face of information overload, the USC Annenberg community cultivates media and news literacy among K-12 students. By Wayne Lewis





50th Anniversary The Future Is Here

ON THE COVER Illustration by Tavis Coburn


USC Annenberg Magazine







Photo by John Davis

ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR COMMUNICATION AND MARKETING Emily Cavalcanti ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR DEVELOPMENT AND EXTERNAL RELATIONS Tracy Mendoza EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Mira Zimet MANAGING EDITOR Ted B. Kissell EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT Ashley Dawn Cooper DIRECTOR OF ALUMNI RELATIONS AND LEADERSHIP GIVING Leticia Lozoya GRAPHIC DESIGNER Suzanne Boretz DESIGN Pentagram CONTRIBUTING STAFF Mike Mauro Chief Digital Officer Rachelle Martin Digital Coordinator Olivia Mowry Digital Media Producer Jasmine Mora Senior 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 by John Davis

The Future Is Here By Willow Bay Dean and Walter H. Annenberg Chair in Communication

It’s hard to offer predictions in a world still navigating a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. But, when I was asked to weigh in for the Center for Public Relations’ latest Relevance Report, I knew the one thing I would bet on: USC Annenberg’s Class of 2022. With all their passion, purpose and mission-critical communication skills, I believe they will command our attention in the years ahead. This class will join the workforce with a firm grasp on what it means to be changemakers as communication continues to reshape the way we live, work, play, solve problems and consider our future. In our classrooms, they have been analyzing and reflecting upon the profound disruption, reinvention and innovation in media and communication — particularly the ways in which media is produced, distributed, consumed and understood. Along with these changes, they have been asking urgent questions about free speech, access to information, the spread of misinformation, the erosion of trust, and truth and accuracy. As a result of their education, lived experiences and professional development, I believe this class will help solve some of our most intractable societal problems, and will inspire us in the process. Consider ZaZu Lippert, Mariah Hill and Davonte Burnett, whose achievements are highlighted in this issue. ZaZu is the executive producer of #PRFuture — a podcast that covers shifts in the PR industry’s approach to complex issues such as polarization and activism. Mariah, the first recipient of the ViacomCBS Diversity in Journalism Scholarship, is delving into questions of race and culture. And Davonte is one of 13 USC Annenberg student and alumni athletes who participated in the 2021 Olympics. Given the challenges we face, we need the Class of 2022’s energy and determination more than ever. We are excited for them to join our USC Annenberg alumni community as partners, colleagues and collaborators. As they start on this new journey, remember, they need our help, too. They need us to listen. They need mentorship. With a brand new year on the horizon, I can’t think of a more important use of our resources. I have seen the future. I can’t wait for you to work alongside them. Fall 2021 3

Podcast Explores World of PR Ever since the Center for Public Relations (CPR) launched the #PRFuture podcast in May 2020, two people have been its driving forces: host Fred Cook, the director of CPR and chairman emeritus of Golin, and executive producer ZaZu Lippert, a senior public relations major and an intern at the center. The idea for the podcast, Lippert says, came about when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the center’s annual event to promote its Global Communication Report findings. “Usually we present these findings with amazing guest speakers,” Lippert said. “So we thought, ‘Why not interview our speakers remotely, and create a podcast focusing on the future of the PR industry?’” Cook notes that the momentum from the podcast has continued to build from its improvised beginnings. “The communication industry is constantly changing, and the #PRFuture podcast is an easy way for professionals and students to stay ahead of the curve on relevant topics and trends,” Cook said. Now in its third season, the podcast features discussions with highprofile guests about their current work and where the field is headed. Season 1 focused on corporate activism, with Christopher Miller, head of global activism strategy at Ben & Jerry’s, and Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote. Season 2 featured author Amanda Ripley and political scientist Jennifer Kavanagh discussing political polarization. “One of my favorite experiences was when I had the opportunity to interview Fred for the Season 2 finale,” said Lippert, who plans the podcast’s content as well as scripting, recording, editing and mixing episodes. “We had an incredible conversation synthesizing everything that we’d learned about diversity, equity and inclusion, polarization and purpose throughout the academic year.” 4

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ZaZu Lippert is the 2021-22 Noemi Pollack Scholar, named in honor of Noemi Pollack, CEO and founder of The Pollack Group.

@spp_comms This is amazing. Well done @Center4PR. Do yourself a favor and listen to this insightful #podcast about #NewActivism, following the release of the 2020 Global Communication Report. The first interview features @Brendinid from @AMarch4OurLives.Thanks @fredcook #PRFuture @USCAnnenberg President and exec director of @RockTheVote @carolyndewitt talks with @FredCook, director of @Center4PR on the #PRFuture podcast. They discuss how Rock the Vote cultivates brand partnerships that mobilize voters nationwide. Listen in. @wilsonglobalcom Hear my thoughts on diversity in public relations on this episode of the #PRFuture podcast. Click the link in my bio to listen now. #wilsonglobal #goingglobal #diversity #prfuture #BHM

@ThePRNation How are activists using PR? @FredCook of USC’s @Center4PR breaks down the 2020 Global Communication Report. Hear how “new activists” create lasting social impact that PR pros can learn from.

@AnnmarieKornele I recently discovered this podcast from @USCCenter4PR about trends in PR & strategic communication. I highly recommend it, especially to other MCJ students. #AdPRDogs @Ad Fontes Media Thanks to the great @fredcook for being such a wonderful podcast host. The episode of #PRFuture with @vlotero of @adfontesmedia is now streaming on all platforms! Hear more about how we can change our polarized media landscape and cultivate a healthy news diet wherever you listen to your favorite shows! #ASCJ

@GOLINglobal Check out this edition of #PRFuture where Golin Chairman and @Center4PR Dir. @fredcook is joined by @Jamie_Margolin, teen activist and creator of Zero Hour: a youth-led movement around the climate crisis. @PRSAsandiego Hey #PRpros, here is a good podcast from @Center4PR to enjoy during a mid-week break. Take a listen to some insightful information on how activism is changing in 2020. #PRFuture

Photo by Olivia Mowry

W H AT ’ S O N M Y P H O N E ?

Megan H. Chan News Ecosystem Lead

On May 2, 2011, Megan H. Chan received notice about the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. She wrote the first draft of the story and then raced to her office at USA Today, where she worked as the online Washington editor. Switching on the video encoder to take in President Obama’s live broadcast from the White House, Chan embedded code into the paper’s homepage, wrote the headline and then worked on the graphics. Chan, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism in 2005, has been applying the digital skills she learned at USC Annenberg since early in her career. “All the jobs I’ve held never existed before me,” said Chan, who also serves on the Annenberg Alumni Advisory Board. Growing up in the Bay Area, Chan, also a classical violinist, said she chose journalism because of “the way journalists get to look at the world with curiosity and agency, asking ‘Why? What about this?’” After USA Today, Chan moved to Politico, then the Washington Post; she now works at Google as their news ecosystem lead working on local news and tools for reporters and publishers. Her mission in this new position: to see how technology can be used in the service of journalism.


Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould “Butter,” BTS



Slow Burn, Slate Stuff You Should Know, iHeartRadio


Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain A Woman of Intelligence by Karin Tanabe


Singin’ in the Rain (1952) LFG (2021)


@GoogleNewsInit @washingtonpost @lesdogggg @t.3official @lisalingstagram

Photo courtesy of Megan Chan

@nytimestheater @alexdwong @twosetviolin @lin_manuel @buzzfeedtasty

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Forge a career with a company that aligns with your own purpose, your own ‘Why?’ And if you can’t find one, build one!



Even if you’re early in your career, you can have a voice. Don’t act like you need to sit down and be quiet because you’re just starting. ANISHA MOORADIAN ’16, INTEGRATED SALES AND MARKETING MANAGER, NFL SPORTS


These top executives from across the communications, media and technology landscape shared their invaluable insights with the INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION STUDIES and MAYMESTER PROGRAMS. Such experiential learning opportunities, from New York to Madrid, allow students to learn firsthand from industry leaders as they imagine their own unique career pathways. 6

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Look for opportunities to build truly holistic campaigns. I have discovered that designing global marketing campaigns with this in mind has been one of the most exciting aspects of my job. NATASHA MIRAYA ’15, MANAGER, INTERNATIONAL STRATEGY AND OPERATIONS, LIONSGATE

Photos courtesy of Patrick Walker, Anisha Mooradian, TJ Adeshola, and Natasha Miraya; Illustration by Sean McCabe

What is that one thing that gets you excited? Maybe it is social justice. Maybe it’s sports. Whatever it is, be sure to keep that front of mind as you think about your career.


Pathway to Leadership New scholarship creates a bridge between Black HBCU graduates and USC Annenberg’s journalism master’s programs.

SARAH AMOS (BA, broadcast journalism, ’05) joined Condé Nast Entertainment as vice president of development and production.

When Mariah Hill was six years old, her grandmother gave her a journal. “You know how grandmas are: They’re just buying you random stuff,” the Seattle native said with a chuckle. “I’m 23 now, and I’ve been keeping up with my journal the whole time.” That journal was Hill’s first step as a storyteller, one that continued through her undergraduate studies as a radio, television and film major at Clark Atlanta University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). After earning her bachelor’s degree in 2020, she joined the USC Annenberg master of science in journalism program this past June as the inaugural recipient of the ViacomCBS HBCU Diversity in Journalism Scholarship. Supported by a $1-million endowment, the scholarship creates a pipeline for Black journalists to both enter and lead newsrooms. “HBCU graduates are critical to advancing our country’s future, including the next generation of journalists,” said Willow Bay, dean of USC Annenberg. “We are proud to join ViacomCBS in accelerating Black journalists’ paths to success.”

“The kinds of stories I’m doing now for my classes and with Annenberg Media, where I can go deep into questions of race and culture, are really interesting to me,” Mariah Hill said.

TWO ANNENBERGS launch collaborative center In March, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication jointly established the Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication. The first-of-its-kind center provides a critical infrastructure for reimagining and potentially revolutionizing how communication can be used to address complex issues such as health care, data privacy, cultural and demographic change, and the restructuring of media industries in an evolving age of streaming. Professor of Communication Photo by Olivia Mowry

Sarah Banet-Weiser, a leading scholar in feminist theory who has a joint appointment at both schools, serves as the center’s inaugural director. In this role, she works closely with faculty and doctoral students from both schools to shape the center’s vision and goals. “I want us to ask big questions about the future of communication and media, the impact of that future on the questions that matter most, and the most cutting-edge ways to educate our doctoral students,” Banet-Weiser said. “I can’t wait to see what our collaborative strengths can accomplish.”

DAAE AN (BA, communication, ’21) joined L’Oréal as a marketing coordinator.

SHASHANK BENGALI (BA, broadcast journalism, ’01) joined The New York Times (London branch) as senior editor and correspondent for live news.

CAROL CIRIACO (BA, communication, ’14) joined Spotify as a podcast partner manager.

KAYLIN COTTON ( MCG, communication management, ’16) was named chief of staff at HOORAE, Issa Rae’s production company. GABRIELLE LOPEZ ( BA, communication, ’12) was named growth marketing manager at Spotify.

ANDRE MOR (BA, print journalism, ’09) was promoted to head of YouTube Subscription, Artist and Growth Marketing for Latin America and Canada. CHARLENE RIOFRIO ( BA, broadcast journalism ’06; MCG, communication management, ’20) started her new role as social media manager at Tennis Channel.

SAVANNAH “SABBY” ROBINSON ( BA, journalism, ’19) was hired at the Washington Post as an assistant audio producer.

ETHAN WARD (BA, journalism, ’20) joined KPCC and as their unhoused communities reporter. KIM WARDEN (BA, public relations, ’14) joined Netflix as manager of kids and family publicity.

TAL Z. WOLINER (BA, communication, ’05) was named Chief Communications Officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Doves fill the courtyard of Hazrat-e-Ali shrine in Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in Afghanistan where many of Sumaya Hussaini’s family members still reside.


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Photo by Farshad Usyan/AFP via Getty Images

Public Diplomacy on the Home Front By Sumaya Hussaini

During the day, I go to classes and learn about the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the evening, I go back to my apartment to call my family and make sure they are still alive. The end of America’s longest war was announced on Aug. 30, 2021. While the Taliban celebrated its takeover of the Afghan government, the deteriorating situation left hundreds of thousands of Afghans in danger, with women, children and ethnoreligious minorities bearing the brunt of the crisis. As a USC student earning my master’s in public diplomacy, I’ve spent a great deal of time in my courses discussing this foreign policy disaster. We have analyzed questions such as: Why did the Taliban out-fight the Afghan National Security Forces? What are the public diplomacy implications of U.S. withdrawal? Is there any way the United States could have won this war? While these conversations have focused on the security and foreign policy implications of withdrawal from a Western perspective, I have a personal connection to this issue. My parents fled the U.S.-backed proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and traveled to Pakistan and Iran before coming to the United States and settling in Kansas, where I was born. While I grew up in the United States, much of my family still lives in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. I had the chance to visit Afghanistan with my family in 2016, which completely transformed my understanding of the country. Despite being plagued with decades of war and foreign occupation, the culture, hospitality and spirit of the Afghan people was something violence couldn’t kill. This visit brought me closer to my culture and it was during this time that I developed a passion for human rights advocacy for Afghans. My family is Hazara, an ethnoreligious Shia minority known for their distinct features and Dari language. During the Taliban’s previous rule, Hazara faced violence, torture and mass executions based on their faith and ethnic origin. Despite this vulnerability, Hazara are

not prioritized in evacuations according to U.S. immigration policy. Dasht-e-Barchi, a settlement in western Kabul where my family lives, has previously been a target for attacks due to its high population of ethnic Hazaras. This past May, a maternity hospital and a girls’ school were bombed, taking the lives of dozens of Hazara. While navigating the evacuation process that is currently in place, I drew on my skills from a course on global issues and public diplomacy and was able to investigate the flaws in global migration policy firsthand. Neighbors such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan have closed their land borders to Afghans fleeing violence, and the United States has strict requirements for passports and visas — which are now impossible to obtain due to the collapse of the Afghan government. Additionally, a majority of interpreters, U.S. visa applicants and Afghans who are most at risk were left behind. Faced with this foreign policy puzzle mixed with the urgency of attempting to evacuate my family, it occurred to me that migration diplomacy — or the use of diplomatic tools, processes and procedures to manage crossborder population mobility — could be used by countries to meet the growing needs of Afghans. While many states have expressed their sympathy and solidarity with the Afghan people, their foreign policy actions do not match their rhetoric. Afghanistan’s neighbors, along with the United States, Europe, and other Western powers, should work together to create a coordinated response that accommodates the millions of refugees and internally displaced Afghans. By doing so, they can begin to address the issues of mass displacement and create the social conditions for refugees to build secure lives, giving states the benefit of international peace and security. While the path forward for my family and millions of other Afghans is uncertain, I hope to apply the skillset that has resulted from my public diplomacy coursework with human rights advocacy to make a difference for vulnerable Afghans around the world. a

SUMAYA HUSSAINI is a progressive degree student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science at USC Dornsife and a master of public diplomacy degree at USC Annenberg.

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Welcome to Chinatown My quiet quest to find home away from home. By Julia Lin

There’s something familiar and embarrassing about going to Chinatown. Maybe it’s the embarrassment that’s familiar, or the familiarity that’s embarrassing. Either way, walking up to the peeling and artificially red wooden gates of new Chinatown in Los Angeles reminds me of the times I asked my grandpa to pick me up at the back of the parking lot so the other third-graders wouldn’t see, or notice I was different. Of the times I wished I was invisible while holding my grandmother’s hand to steady her as we walked. Of the times I stood in front of the mirror and asked to look like someone else. Here, I like to see without being seen. People cooking in the windows, kids clutching neon toys from the dollar store, and Full House Seafood Restaurant, whose name reminds you that my people will make space for anybody. That we are grandmas who cut apples and squeeze cheeks and mothers who know bowls of mapo tofu as their first love language. It’s the smells, too. The dance between sweet and umami from the chickens hanging in the window. The aroma of fry oil that creates my mom’s favorite: the red bean paste sesame ball. Few visitors realize how lucky they are to be here. That the survival of these buildings — these people — is revolutionary in itself. That signs showing the history of Chinese immigrants in L.A. are a result of years of exclusion, getting pushed out, to the side, out of sight. They grasp at strings to say, “We’re still here.” “Don’t forget us.” “Can you hear me?” Chinatown in 2021 is a different world from Chinatown in 1871. Chinatown now is growing, colorful, albeit a little desolate. Chinatown then was crushed. How do you find a history no one has told you? You look to empty streets, to notices scattered between buildings that say photo shoots for social media must be approved — a stinging reminder that, to many, we are simply a backdrop to be used and forgotten. Yes, phone eats first. To be Instagrammed, then ignored. You look to grandpa’s wrinkled hands and to the faded red lanterns that dangle helplessly from tangled telephone wires as if begging to be a metaphor for what it means Illustration by Nicole Xu

to want to fly when you’re tied to a trillion things being said but not heard. In 1871, a gunfight in L.A.’s original Chinatown led to a massacre with 18 documented deaths, one of the worst lynchings in this country’s history. In the 1930s, what was left of Chinatown was knocked down to make room for Union Station. In 2020, the pandemic hit, windows were smashed and doors closed. Some things are harder than others to repair. “Do you know that you’re Chinese?” I look up to see a mom with eyebrows raised towards her son who is too busy wondering why his brother gets to be a snake zodiac when he is a ram. “A ram is strong,” the mother tells him. “It fits you, trust me.” The woman at the counter grins knowingly, and I smile too, thinking how lucky it would be to only worry about snake or ram. I worry grandma will get pushed over at the grocery store. I worry a nail salon is not safe. I worry people will realize I’m a transplant here, and that will remind me I’m a transplant everywhere. My first trip to L.A.’s Chinatown ends with me sitting on a bench below a sign waiting for my Lyft by a bakery named Phoenix — hailed for the best strawberry cake around. Phoenix. A chance to end this piece with some metaphor about rising from the ashes. About resilience. A temptation to leave you with a little bit of hope. To make it easy. To write a story that you can smile at, that then drifts away. The story of a place called Chinatown. A story of oblivion. Under the midday L.A. sun with skin stuck to the rusted metal of a broken bench barely supporting the weight of me and one egg tart in a white paper bag, I remember that sometimes there’s just fire. a Julia Lin is a progressive degree student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in digital social media. This article is adapted from a longer essay she wrote for the International Communication Studies (ICS) program. Fall 2021 11


Devon Kennard makes an impact By Ted B. Kissell

Devon Kennard takes care of business on and off the football field.

Coming into his senior year on the USC football team, linebacker Devon Kennard was ready to set himself up for a career in the National Football League. Then, while lifting weights, he tore a pectoral muscle, a season-ending injury. “It was devastating,” he recalled. “A lot of people wrote off my NFL career after that pec injury — and I definitely had my own doubts. To overcome those dark times, my mindset was: Control what I can control, glorify God and be relentless in the way that I pursue my dreams every day.” Driven by the work ethic he’d learned from his father — 11-year NFL pro Derek Kennard — Kennard redshirted his senior year to recover from his injury and complete his bachelor’s degree in communication in 2012. “That year I was injured really made it clear that I needed to take everything I was doing off the field as serious as I took everything on the field,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be successful, whether I had a 10-year career in the NFL, or I didn’t make it to the NFL at all.” He then applied to and was accepted into the communication management master’s program and played his final year of eligibility as a graduate student. Not only did he earn his master’s degree in 2013, his outstanding play that year led the New York Giants to select him in the fifth round in the 2014 NFL Draft. Building a reputation as a tough, disciplined defender, Kennard joined the Detroit Lions as a free agent in 2018. Now playing for the Arizona Cardinals in his hometown of Phoenix, Kennard has paired his on-field success with success in business as a real estate investor and a philanthropist. He’s also a soon-to-be author, with a deal from HarperCollins to write a book about personal development and financial literacy. Kennard attributes his off-field achievements to his own drive, to the education he received at USC Annenberg, and to the networking efforts that started during his college years. “I built relationships with a lot of USC alumni as I tried to figure out what I was interested in doing in the business world,” he said. Though he wasn’t sure what enterprise would be the best fit, he knew that his communication degrees gave him the skills he needed to understand sales, marketing and how to put together a business plan. “Annenberg gave me all the tools I needed in my toolbox when it comes to communicating,” he said. “Some of the broadcasting classes helped me realize that I’m constantly selling myself, whether it’s an interview after a game or going to a networking event for business opportunities.” After his rookie year, Kennard began going to real estate meetups in Phoenix, where he was connected with another investor — a fellow Trojan — who helped him buy his first property: a single-family home in Indianapolis. “Eight years later, I’m in over 50 real estate deals, and I own 20 properties on my own,” he said. “Finding success in business has made me realize I have purpose in my life that is not attached to being a professional athlete.” Another one of those purposes is community service: At every stop in his NFL career, Kennard has targeted his philanthropy toward after-school and mentoring programs for at-risk students. “My passion for working with kids comes from what I’ve learned about the importance of financial independence and financial literacy,” he said. “In our country, and especially in minority communities, I don’t think families talk about finances enough — it’s kind of taboo to talk about those things. I want to flip that on its head and be one of the people who is bridging that gap.” In 2019, his work with an after-school program in Detroit earned him a nomination as a finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which recognizes both community service off the field and excellence on the field. “That really was the proudest moment of my career,” Kennard said. “I want to impact kids’ lives. That’s part of why I’m on this Earth.” a Photo by Idara Ekpoh

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USC Annenberg Magazine


How values-driven

artificial intelligence can reshape the way we communicate.

By Ted B. Kissell

Illustrations by Tavis Coburn

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ike Ananny walked his dog this morning. He did so with no expectation of privacy. “I know that I was subject to a wide variety of cameras, whether it’s Ring doorbells, cars driving along, or even city traffic cameras,” he said. “I didn’t choose to participate in this whole variety of video surveillance systems. I just took my dog for a walk.” Ananny understands that, wherever he goes, data about him is being collected, analyzed and monetized by artificial intelligence (AI). Kate Crawford drove a van deep into the arid Nevada landscape to get a good look at the evaporating brine ponds of the Silver Peak Lithium Mine. Those desolate swaths of liquid are not only the biggest U.S. source of lithium — the metal that is essential to the batteries that power everything from laptops to mobile devices to electric cars — they are also a vivid reminder of the impact AI has on the material world. “Metaphors that people use to talk about AI like ‘the cloud’ imply something floating and abstract,” Crawford said. “But large-scale computation has an enormous carbon footprint and environmental impact.” Crawford knows that the world’s systems energy, mining, labor and political power are being rewritten by the needs of AI. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Ashley Alvarado knew that her station’s listeners were scared and confused. At KPCC-FM and LAist, Alvarado has used a variety of communication tools to connect with audiences, but the scale of the comments, questions and tips the station was receiving required a solution that could process large amounts of data, fast. “With COVID there was so much need for information at the start of the pandemic that the way we could be most


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human for Angelenos was by leveraging AI,” Alvarado said. Known by many names — algorithms, bots, big data, natural language processing, machine learning, intelligent agents — technologies that fall under the broad definition of AI are reshaping not only the world of communication, but the world as a whole. Across USC Annenberg, faculty, students and alumni are exploring both the immense potential and the often less-obvious pitfalls presented by these technologies. “Annenberg is uniquely positioned to lead on this conversation, because these are socio-technical and communication problems,” Ananny said. “I don’t want our answers to these questions to just be technical. I want an answer that is deeply historical and rooted in cultural understanding.”

SEARCH TERMS In the popular imagination, AI can mean anything from the quotidian convenience of your phone picking songs that it knows you might like or telling you the best route to your friend’s house, or the promise of big-data panaceas for issues like climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also next to impossible to discuss AI without referencing how often AI is cast as the villain of science fiction: the ban on “thinking machines” in Frank Herbert’s Dune, HAL 9000 in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Borg in Star Trek, Agent Smith in The Matrix. “I think most people tend to think of it as this sort of sci-fi technology from Terminator or Ready Player One,” said Fred Cook, director of the Center for Public Relations. “In reality, it is the engine behind many of the things that people, especially in the PR industry, already use in their daily work.” To grossly oversimplify, most of what is commonly thought of as AI comes down to the interaction of algorithms — mathematical functions — making calculations based on enormous amounts of data. “Algorithms are the instructions and rules that govern computing,” said Marlon Twyman II, who researches how technology shapes the interactions of individuals and teams in the workplace. “Artificial intelligence must have algorithms underpinning the decisions and engagements it makes.” Twyman cites the example of image recognition: AI that tries to detect whether a picture of a cat is a cat or a dog. The more examples the algorithms are exposed to — the more data — the better they are able to make these determinations. “Artificial intelligence is when computers start being able to respond to inputs that they were not necessarily trained on — or exposed to — when they were programmed,” said Twyman, assistant professor of communication. “What we’re interacting with is just math,” said Ignacio Cruz, who earned his PhD in communication in 2021 and now teaches at Northwestern University. He stresses that, despite AI’s capabilities for recognizing trends and patterns, it isn’t all that mysterious. Technology that has, if not sentience, then at least some independent agency — or what Cruz calls “agentic qualities” — is, for now, largely the sci-fi stuff. “Algorithms don’t work the way the human brain works,” noted Lynn Miller, professor of communication. “AI is really just a prediction machine.” Such machines allow for remarkable technological achievements in healthcare, logistics, games, entertainment, criminal justice, hiring, and many other fields — including local journalism — in unexpected ways.



KPCC-FM didn’t expect to be using AI to build community engagement, but when the pandemic hit in 2020 and they started getting inundated with panicked messages about the lockdown, the Pasadena-based public radio station’s leadership knew they had to do something to help their listeners. “It started out with just concern,” said Alvarado. “And then it went into just full-fledged panic — questions about shortages at Target, whether to cancel a wedding, whether it was illegal to gather with loved ones to mourn somebody.” Most of these questions were coming through a tool the radio station had embedded on its homepage that uses Hearken, an engagement and organizational support platform. “We were sometimes getting 10 messages a minute through this tool,” said Alvarado, vice president of community engagement and strategic initiatives for KPCC-FM and LAist. “We had to think creatively about how we could meet the information needs of thousands and thousands of people.” She talked to Paul Cheung, then-director of journalism and technology innovation at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, who asked if she had thought about machine learning. “And I had not,” she said with a chuckle. Cheung connected them with some journalists who were working with AI at the online publication Quartz, and they helped Alvarado and her team develop a natural language processing tool that could analyze the requests they were receiving from listeners. “With the tool, we could identify themes we needed to focus on — not just for answering questions, but for what stories we should cover and where,” said Alvarado, who earned her BA in 2005 with a double major in print journalism and Spanish. Alvarado sees great potential for this technology to enable audience input to surface patterns from other fast-moving news events from wildfires to political debates. “Normally, you would have to read through every question as it came in and hope that you observed a trend, as opposed to having the AI in place to say, ‘Here’s something that’s popping up again and again.’” Some publications are already directly using AI to write stories, usually basic, easily formatted pieces like stock reports, weather bulletins and sports stories. Though these pieces end up saving some entrylevel reporter from rote drudgery, Twyman sees a potential downside. “The problem is, this removes the possibility of innovating, even in these simple tasks,” he said. “If we keep removing humans from more and more complex writing tasks, we could end up in a world that looks very different.”

Sometimes, removing humans from the equation is necessary for their safety. In her research into risky sexual activity more than 25 years ago, Miller was running into a very fundamental — and very human — problem. “I was interested in sexual behavior among young men who have sex with men,” she said. “I did a lot of qualitative work on what led up to these moments of risk, but I obviously couldn’t hide under beds to figure out what was going on. That’s when I started getting interested in creating virtual environments.” Miller wanted to create an interactive game where human subjects could make decisions about whether or not to engage in risky sexual behavior, but she was limited by the technology she had available to creating scripted situations. The answer was a virtual environment populated by “intelligent agents,” characters whose behavior was governed by algorithms that set their preferences and goals — in other words, AI — rather than by fixed scripts.

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Algorithms don’t work the way the human brain works. AI is really just a prediction machine. LY N N M I L L E R P R O F E S S O R O F C O M M U N I C A T I O N

Working with a team of USC computer scientists and psychologists, Miller developed characters whose behavior was representative of people in real life. These characters populated a virtual world and could interact with human research subjects in more natural ways that would actually yield actionable research data about risky sexual behavior without the risk. “You can have a human in the loop who responds to what the intelligent agent is doing, which then shapes its behavior, or you can have all agents interacting and running simulations,” Miller said. Her work helped identify not only patterns of risky behavior but ways to effectively intervene and mitigate that risk. In her award-winning research over the past decade and a half that has built upon those original virtual environments, Miller and her team have also learned what kinds of interventions work best to limit risk in sexual situations — none of which would have been possible without AI. Her more recent work has moved into the realm of neuroscience, using those intelligent agents to model more complex human processes, like communication competence and how humans make meaning through social interaction. “One of the problems with current AI in general is that it can only get up to a certain point as far as being able to infer emotions,” Miller said. “Having said that, there are certain probabilities and parameters we can program into our intelligent agents when it comes to social interaction that actually do a pretty good job of modeling how actual humans, in a highly interactive and flexible environment, will make decisions.” While the future of AI is hard to predict, Miller said cutting-edge AI researchers are already trying to leverage how human brains understand the world. “As with any innovations, there are risks to be mitigated,” Miller noted. “But there are also enormous opportunities to enhance interventions and therapies to dramatically improve communication and individual and societal well-being.”

PARSING POLARIZATION As Miller points out, one of the strengths of AI is finding patterns among enormous data sets. Fred Cook wanted to take a particularly contentious data set — social media posts about controversial political issues — and find out if AI could help measure the degree of polarization in the debate around those issues. The process started with a survey the Center for Public Relations conducted for its 2021 Global Communication Report, which identified several major issues that PR professionals thought they’d have to address in the coming year. Cook shared those issues with executives at

the PR firm Golin, where he had been CEO (and still has a financial interest), and then shared them with the software firm Zignal Labs. “Given the enormous problem that the current level of polarization causes for people, government and business, we decided to develop a new tool that would measure it — and hopefully help reduce it,” Cook said. Their approach is based on the Ad Fontes graph of media bias, which categorizes media outlets by a leftright political spectrum on one axis, and reliability on the other axis. The Zignal AI tool inputs the top 10 hot political issues and cross-references them with social posts that include links to articles from publications that are on the Ad Fontes chart. Based on the publication’s position on the chart, the tool assigns a score that determines how left or right most of the social media shares are on a particular issue. The gap between how many right/conservative articles are shared on an issue vs. how many left/liberal publications are shared gives a Polarization Index score. The sheer number of posts involved in creating this score — more than 60 million — requires AI to do the work quickly. “The Polarization Index provides a heat-map of what issues are the most controversial and the factors that are contributing to their divisiveness,” Cook said. “We can draw implications for people, companies and communicators who may want to engage on these topics.” Cook also says that PR practitioners will have to continue to address criticism of AI based on privacy, labor, bias and social justice concerns, but adds that his own experience has shown that AI can make positive impacts in these areas as well. That being said, Cook added, “Every new technology has aspects of it that are frightening, and AI is no different than anything else. While we used AI to do really important work on our Polarization Index, AI can and has been used to spread disinformation and influence political campaigns through bots. Any time there’s a new technology, somebody is going to use it in a detrimental way.”

HUNTING AI WITH AI When it comes to interrogating both the positive and negative aspects of AI, USC Annenberg’s doctoral students in communication are at the forefront of that research, bridging computer science and social science to build deep insight into both the technical and cultural implications of AI. Doctoral student Ho-Chun Herbert Chang says that his undergraduate years at Dartmouth College were formative. “Dartmouth was the place where the term AI was coined in 1952,” he noted. “I studied mathematics Fall 2021 19

and quantitative social science, and for my senior fellowship program, I did a fiction project about artificial intelligence. That was the start of me looking at AI from both a technical and a humanistic way.” As his academic career progressed, Chang saw a “chasm” between how practitioners and the public see artificial intelligence. “From the computer science side, there’s more of an emphasis on the technical aspects of designing algorithms,” he said. “From the humanistic side, there’s a focus on societal values as the primary principle in terms of organizing research.” One of the projects Chang worked on in the past year showed the potential of AI to investigate human behavior — and the behavior of other AI systems. Working with Emilio Ferrara, associate professor of communication and computer science whose groundbreaking research identified how Twitter bots affected the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Chang helped build on that work in the run-up to the 2020 election. Using an AI tool called the Botometer, the team was able to quantify how much Twitter traffic around conspiracy theories was generated and amplified by bots. “The Botometer looks at each Twitter account’s timeline data and metadata, using machine learning to figure out whether an account is a human or a bot,” Chang said. Chang also worked with Allissa Richardson, assistant professor of journalism, to analyze the movement for racial justice that followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. “A big part of communication research is about how users participate on social platforms — mediated by algorithms — and how they use these platforms to self-organize for democratic movements,” he said. “That’s the kind of work I want to do. I’m engaging holistically with AI, and Annenberg is the perfect place for that research.” Ignacio Cruz focused his dissertation on the use of AI tools in workplace recruitment. Perhaps not surprisingly, he found that the human recruiters who used AI to sort and recommend applicants for positions had very polarized opinions about the effectiveness of the AI. “They often saw AI as either an adversary or an ally,” said Cruz, now a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. “Sometimes recruiters see these systems as a time-saver, as an ally. But the job candidates these systems surface often don’t jibe with the recruiters’ expertise.” While acknowledging the power of AI to help people make meaning out of huge data sets, Cruz also cautions about many issues that can arise from uncritically accepting the outputs of such systems. Using AI as an intermediary for communication is such a new phenomenon, “We just need a lot more education and critical inquiry about how these technologies are devel-

oped before they are deployed to the masses,” he said. Cruz’s own research has shown that AI systems often reflect the biases of those who develop them, as they rely upon human intervention during their creation and implementation. “Artificial intelligence as it’s being developed is scattered and largely unregulated,” he said. “If these technologies really are going to help us create a better tomorrow, then they need to be designed with purpose, and they need to be continually audited — not only for efficiency, but for sustainability and ethics.”

THE DESERT OF AI For Kate Crawford, the problem with much of the public conversation around the potential of AI is the lack of any critical lens by which to monitor it in the meaningful ways Cruz suggests. “We are subjected to huge amounts of marketing hype, advertising and boosterism around artificial intelligence,” said Crawford, research professor of communication. “Part of what I do is look at the way in which artificial intelligence is not just a series of algorithms or code … but to really look at this much bigger set of questions around what happens when we create these planetary-scale computational networks? Who gains, but also, who loses?” In the first chapter of her new book Atlas of AI: Power, Politics and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence (Yale University Press, 2021), Crawford begins with her journey to that lithium mine, setting the tone for an exploration of the planetary costs of AI. Her devastating critique frames AI as an extractive industry — both literally, in its reliance on finite resources and labor for its components and its power, and figuratively, in the amount of data it consumes, categorizes and monetizes. “Over the course of researching this book, I learned much more about the environmental harms of AI systems,” Crawford said. “Servers are hidden in nondescript data centers, and their polluting qualities are far less visible than the billowing smokestacks of coal-fired power stations.” Describing the amount of energy needed to power something like Amazon Web Services as “gargantuan,” Crawford noted that the environmental impact of the AI systems that run on those platforms is continuing to grow. “Certainly, the industry has made significant efforts to make data centers more energy-efficient and to increase their use of renewable energy,” Crawford said. “But already, the carbon footprint of AI has matched that of the aviation industry at its height.” Crawford said that the entire model of AI is extractive and exploitative and would need to be “re-architected”

That’s the kind of work I want to do. I’m engaging holistically with AI, and Annenberg is the perfect place for that research. HO-CHUN HERBERT CHANG DOCTORAL STUDENT


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of technical expertise with a deep understanding of human communication makes it the ideal place for that kind of reimagining of a less-harmful AI. “Our hope is that the research will contribute to how USC and the broader academic community thinks about the future of AI, in terms of how we build it, use it, and regulate it,” she said.

TOWARD AN ETHICAL AI As part of his studies of media and technology, Ananny is a scholar of, and a contributor to, the big conversations about how society can reap the benefits of big-data AI systems while still preserving (or better, reestablishing) something that might be recognized as ethics and privacy. While many critics and policymakers have proposed stronger tech company regulations that would force them to behave more like public utilities, with greater transparency, Ananny is among those who argue that regulatory reforms don’t go far enough. “We’ve allowed capitalist institutions to have massive amounts of power for commodifying people, for allowing wealth inequalities and wealth concentrations — and data is just a part of that, and part of perpetuating that,” Ananny said. “Honestly, until you solve this problem of late capitalism where individuals have zero power and companies have all the power, you can kind of nibble around the edges with regulations, but that won’t have any real effect on the problem.” Ananny echoes Crawford’s work, asserting that the climate crisis is to work differently. “We also need regulatory and dem- bringing increasing urgency to the problem of AI as an ocratic oversight,” she added. “The proposed European extractive industry. Union AI regulations offer a good starting point, but “We cannot allow the planet to burn because of the enthat’s just one effort — and we have yet to see something ergy needs of Bitcoin’s server farms,” he said. “These AI similar in the United States or China, the two largest systems are optimizing Amazon’s ability to fly products producers of AI technologies.” all over the world, with a huge carbon footprint, so peoWorking with her USC Annenberg colleagues, Craw- ple can have a spatula delivered to their Amazon box.” ford is hoping to contribute to what a reimagined AI Ananny does note that some scholars, scientists, would look like. activists and politicians are looking for opportunities to Crawford has teamed up with Mike Ananny and a leverage the positive impacts of AI’s computing power team of doctoral students and practitioners on a new in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the climate emergency. research project that will analyze issues within the data “This is the language we’re using to create a new kind sets used to train AI systems. of reality,” Ananny said. “Data sets, statistical certain“AI could help design a shipping system that would ty, optimization, model-making, error detection — all minimize the carbon imprint, rather than maximiz- those kinds of seemingly technical terms. But we also ing profit margin,” said Ananny, associate professor of need to engage with questions of values. Is it worth it to communication. “It’s a question of, what do we want to have all of these things happening at such a huge scale? maximize for in our AI systems? It pushes the problem At what point, in terms of the human and material cost, back onto the people with power and it says, it’s not a do you tip too far over? We’re going to have to be able data problem. It’s a values problem.” to make these kinds of judgments about particular AI Crawford said that USC Annenberg’s combination tools — including, ‘Don’t build it.’” a Fall 2021 21

Behind T From performance to business and scholarship, the love of music shapes lives and livelihoods By M I R A Z I M ET Art by RYA N O L B RYS H


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The Music When Jeremy Hecht was 17, he wrote a song hoping to save another teen’s life. Hecht had already been dabbling in posting his own music videos on YouTube and built a decent following. So, when a classmate shared a video link of a youth who was planning to take his own life, Hecht knew he had to do something. “It was this kid recording himself saying ‘Goodbye,’” Hecht recalled. “I remember feeling so distraught and I decided to just turn on my mic to talk to him.” Through the spoken-word piece, Hecht implores the boy to remember that “you are never alone, we are all in it together.” After posting his response to the “Goodbye” video, Hecht waited. A few hours later, the youth replied on the thread that he wasn’t going to “do it.” Hecht doesn’t know if what he said helped, but the episode did trigger his own epiphany. “I turned the response into a song that night, called ‘Hold On’ and it was the most powerful thing I felt I had ever written. I remember thinking, this wasn’t my story, so, okay, maybe I’m the vessel to help tell other people’s stories rather than my own. And I loved that feeling,” said Hecht, who earned his master’s in strategic public relations in 2018. Fed by this passion for a song, a beat, a lyric that was experienced early on, Hecht joins other USC Annenberg faculty, alumni and students who believe music has the power to unite us. Whether it’s composing the perfect phrase to convey how a song makes you feel or marketing a streaming service to the masses, they continue to explore the scholarly and professional dimensions of music and how it helps make meaning of the world around us. “Our sense of who we are is always defined by somebody else’s life, by somebody else’s breath, by somebody else’s soul,” said Josh Kun, a professor and Chair in Cross-Cultural Communication. “It is the role of music to feed us.”

SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW The Sunny Murray Band’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is playing as undergraduates pour into Kun’s “Sound Clash: Popular Music and American Culture” class. As they take in the syncopated rhythms of the jazz version, he asks them to think about how this rendition is different from the more familiar one sung by Judy Garland. “I ask students to listen critically, to listen carefully, to focus, not just to have music on in the background,” said Kun, whose numerous books on the role of music in society include Songs in the Key of Los Angeles, and a forthcoming book on music and 21st-century migration. “Popular music is fun and entertaining, but laced within that pleasure and joy, and all of that emotion, and all of those tears and laughter, are meanings and definitions around race, ethnicity, identity.” Kun traces his own deep connection to music to his childhood. He grew up listening to The Weavers and other folk groups who taught him music’s international role in social justice and protest. “In my teaching, I ask students to think about what it means to connect through information, through emotion and affect and experience,” he said. “How music is one of those things that we all use every single day as a primary tool of connecting across the divides that surround us.” Through this distinctive lens, Kun’s “Sound Clash” course created in 2005 provides a way for students to understand cultural and social change throughout the history of the United States. Perry B. Johnson, who took the class as a sophomore, considers it a “culminating moment” in her academic career. Fall 2021 23

She also described a childhood rooted in song. As a high school student in Ojai, California, she sang a cappella, even performing in Carnegie Hall with her classmates. But she didn’t see a career path for herself as an entertainer. After taking Kun’s course, she realized that music didn’t have to be a hobby. “I could explore music as an entry point to think about America’s complex cultural histories, to think about identity, about power, about belonging,” she said. With her academic trajectory pointed toward the study of music as communication, Johnson remained at USC Annenberg, earning a bachelor’s in communication in 2010 and a master’s in communication management in 2011. In 2014, she enrolled in the communication doctoral program. Johnson’s journey came full circle in 2018, when she was offered the opportunity to teach Kun’s “Sound Clash” course herself. In one lesson, she urged students to look at songs as a way to explore race, power and visibility within the American music industry. She pointed to Elvis Presley’s 1956 rendition of “Hound Dog” as an example, tracing the track’s history back to Big Mama Thornton, the Black woman who originally recorded the song in 1952 and was largely erased from history in the wake of Presley’s hit. After earning her PhD this past summer, Johnson joined the Center for Media at Risk and the Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication at the University of Pennsylvania as a postdoctoral fellow. The center is a collaboration between USC Annenberg and Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication. This Fall, Johnson is teaching a class there, modeled after “Sound Clash.” She is also at work on the manuscript for her first book, a cultural history of sexual misconduct in America’s popular music industries. “I’m still very interested in exploring what music means in terms of who’s visible in particular moments and how that then becomes the history of American music more broadly,” she said.

Earning his doctorate in 2007, Sinnreich is now a professor and chair of communication at American University. He views music not as a commodity, but rather “the operating system of human consciousness and human society.” By lowering the barriers of access to music and giving people opportunities to explore it in different ways, individuals become more expansive in their thinking. “It’s not that the internet changed us, but it’s that the internet allowed us to be more authentic to ourselves in terms of how we listen and how we make sense of the world through music,” he said. Alice Suh, head of global public relations at the French online music streaming company Deezer, also views streaming as a game changer for music discovery. “There’s this genre-bending that’s happening within streaming services,” she said. “For example, Deezer has a playlist called ‘ANTI,’ for those that actually don’t care about a specific genre. Artists now have an opportunity to reach different audiences that normally might not think they like their type of music.”

I could explore music as an entry point to think about America’s complex cultural histories, to think about identity, about power, about belonging. P E R R Y B . J O H N S O N

Recalling her own teenage years, Suh, who earned a master of arts in journalism in 2004, remembers going into record stores to search for indie, alternative rock or hip-hop CDs. Nowadays she believes people are much less pigeonholed in their music tastes. “Growing up, I was so used to listening to certain types of music based on what I was familiar with, but now with streaming, I can dip my toes in everything from Grime to Japanese LoFi hip-hop,” she said. “There’s definitely more opportunity for me to quickly discover music from around the world.” Suh, who works in Deezer’s Berlin office, points out that this new technology gives audiences extraordinary access to global music. In the PR camshe oversees, she encourages users to find new music in order to learn WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE paigns about something beyond themselves. “We also use music to raise awareness,” From his earliest childhood memory, Aram Sinnreich Suh said. Following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Deezer launched was “obsessed” with music. He recalls sitting on the floor, a dedicated Black culture channel highlighting Black artists and creators listening to his parents’ records — Beatles, Everly Broth- across multiple genres such as pop, classical and dance. For International ers, Rolling Stones — and learning every “lick and every Women’s Day, they celebrated by featuring only female artists on the platlyric.” During theater camp at age 12, he was taught a few form. “Streaming is so different from that record store, because there’s a neverchords on the guitar, and after that he never put it down. ending supply of pretty much everything you can find to educate yourself.” While Sinnreich continued to write songs and play in a band, Dubistry, throughout his career, it was a job working for Jupiter Research in the late ’90s that pushed APPLAUSE Shelby Moran grew up a proud NSYNC and Justin Timberlake fan. him toward academia. “I was just a kid who loved music and I carried my Walkman and fuzzy “I was working as an internet industry analyst and my job was to write reports about how the web was purple CD case everywhere,” she said. “All my money and free time went going to change various industries, specifically media,” to flipping through albums at Best Buy, going to concerts and making mix Sinnreich said. He recalls talking to his boss, suggesting CDs for my friends. When they got the cassette tapes they weren’t even, they look carefully at how music would be transformed ‘What song is this?’ They would ask, ‘What artist is this?’ I always very much by technology. They patted him on the head and told wanted to keep my finger on the pulse.” Moran, now the director of tour development at Warner Music Nashhim his predictions were “cute.” Then Napster hit, and Sinnreich couldn’t understand ville, originally dreamed of going to the Juilliard School and becoming a why the music industry didn’t embrace streaming as a singer. When she hit high school and recognized that she didn’t sing as way to double in size. Finding that “intellectually con- well as some of her peers, she switched plans. “I still knew that I had to fusing,” he chose to pursue a doctorate in communica- be involved in music in some way,” she said. This passion drew her from Virginia to Los Angeles, where she majored in public relations at USC tion at USC Annenberg to find answers. What he dug into was the idea of authorship. Even Annenberg and minored in music industry at the USC Thornton School though a song is a discrete object, Sinnreich wanted to of Music, graduating in 2013. While at USC, Moran learned how to create strategic PR campaigns, to investigate what it means when a DJ “tears the song apart,” adds it to another song — essentially creating a think critically and to network — skills that were easily transferrable to her mashup of the two songs. Does that DJ then become an career. In fact, she got her start at Warner Records (formerly Warner Bros.) through an internship opportunity with a USC Annenberg alumnus. author in their own right? 24

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A year after graduation, Moran returned to Warner Records as a promotion assistant before moving up to her current position in Nashville. Moran is now responsible for adding value to all live events — whether that’s helping a developing act land a support slot, setting up a livestream or building a unique promotion to get fans excited about a tour. “I love how my job constantly reminds me of the spiritual, emotional and precious bond between fans and artists,” she said. “There’s nothing like standing with fans in the pit and feeling that energy.” Roderick Scott, the alumnus who gave Moran her shot, graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in advertising. He was born in Arizona to a military family who moved to Portugal when he was a young child and later landed in Sacramento. His mother sang in the church choir, and his father created mixtapes filled with R&B, gospel and funk, with artists like Roger and Zapp and Tony! Toni! Toné! At USC Annenberg, Scott said he acquired the tools needed to “persuade, to coerce, to get an audience to tap into whatever you are building.” Beginning his career at Warner Bros. in media relations, Scott was one of the first people in publicity to really embrace the digital space, citing the ability to get instant metrics on a campaign as a key to his success. “The digital space offered us the opportunity to see real metrics and quantitative data on what we’re trying to promote,” he said. Scott moved on to Atlanta Records in 2017 before being asked to join Republic Records in 2020. Now the vice president of marketing strategy at Republic, Scott’s role is to help steward artists’ dreams. “My job starts when the music is already delivered, and the musician comes to us to help figure out what to do with it,” Scott said. He explains that helping artists cut through the noise and create an emotional connection with consumers — with fans — is the most crucial part of his job, asking them to think about why their voice matters at this particular time.

STORY OF MY LIFE In a dual content creation role as a music journalist and digital content producer at HipHopDX, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, Jeremy Hecht understands that when creating content about musicians, it’s his job to dig deeper and find the meaning behind their words. Hecht illustrates by sharing an opportunity he had to interview American rapper Jeezy. Another reporter had been set to do the interview but wasn’t available at the last minute. Jeezy was already at their offices and Hecht, who had come up with all the questions, convinced his boss to give him a shot. “I promise, I got this,” Hecht said. “One of my questions was literally me as a fan, wanting to know something that apparently hundreds of thousands of other people wanted to know: ‘How did your ad-libs end up on Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” song?’ And the story behind it was so crazy it went viral.”

Streaming is so different from that record store, because there’s a never-ending supply of pretty much everything you can find to educate yourself. A L I C E S U H Hecht said his true joy comes from telling an artist’s story in a way that might “inspire someone to be their best self.” This same drive to contribute to someone else’s musical journey also motivated Tim Greiving. Even as a kid, Greiving loved to interview people and would go around his neighborhood, cassette recorder in hand, to find stories and then write them up. “I was unwittingly kind of doing journalism at the time,” he said. His music origin story began when he turned 9 and heard the Jurassic Park film score for the first time. “My older cousin was already into film scores, and he explained the whole concept of composers who write original music for movies,” Greiving said. “I went home — back to Denver — bought the music, and that began my obsession with John Williams specifically, and film music generally.” With a combined love of music and journalism (and no desire to pursue a

career as a composer), Greiving found the master of specialized journalism (the arts) program to be the perfect fit for him. Since graduating in 2012, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, NPR, Washington Post, New York Times and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and considers himself more of an evangelist for music, rather than a critic. “It’s a fun challenge to try to write about music in a way that, if you’re just reading the words, you can convey what the music sounds like, or how it makes you feel — without it being boring and technical,” he said. “My goal is to whet the appetite of a reader, and also, maybe, make them want to run out and actually listen to the music.” Greiving, who is also an adjunct professor at USC Thornton, shares this appreciation with his current crop of students, describing his course as less about musicology and more about “spreading my love of film music.”

TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION As the next generation of students prepare for careers in music, USC Annenberg continues to add both curricular and co-curricular opportunities for them. Along with Kun’s transformative “Sound Clash” course, students can take classes such as “Youth and Media,” “Image Management in Entertainment” and “Public Radio Reporting,” — all with units focusing on music. The school has also added experiential learning options outside the classroom. This year, USC Annenberg Board of Councilors member Manuel Abud, CEO of The Latin Recording Academy, approached the school’s development office with an idea. He wanted to bring current students, ideally bilingual in English and Spanish, to the Latin Grammy office to help create a multiplatform digital campaign. The plan was for students to work with his team to help inform and demystify the judging process for their audience. “Working with these emerging leaders in communication to facilitate research enables us to evolve in a meaningful way, providing a fresh lens on storytelling that meets audiences’ needs while delivering on our mission to nurture, celebrate, honor and elevate Latin music and its creators,” he said. Emanuel Rodriguez was the type of student they were looking for. His own love of music stemmed from car rides with his family through the streets of Kansas City, Missouri. Rodriguez, a junior majoring in communication, remembers either pop songs playing on the radio (Lady Gaga was a favorite), or his sister’s MP3 player blasting out reggaeton. It was this broad interest in the entertainment industry that initially prompted Rodriguez to enroll in the communication program, taking courses in “Global Entertainment” and “Communication and Mass Media” and later writing music reviews for the Daily Trojan. Then, this past Spring, Rodriguez and four other USC Annenberg students were chosen by the Academy as interns. Since March, they have been working on messaging, creating quizzes and video content for the Latin Grammy website and social media channels. Rodriguez described editing video interviews of artists, such as Gloria Estefan, and producing informational campaigns about academy roles and processes for TikTok and Instagram, as an amazing opportunity. “A big part of the Annenberg education is to expose you to different perspectives and then learn how to communicate from those perspectives,” he said. “This whole experience — both my classes and this internship — gave me the chance to really think about why this sort of music and why these different viewpoints are important, and it made me even more appreciative of my own culture.” a Fall 2021 27

Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart Scrolling Smart In the face of information overload, the USC Annenberg community cultivates media and news literacy among K-12 students. By Wayne Lewis Illustrations by Hanna Barczyk

Fall 2021 29

“I’m a girl, but I’m not weak.”

“I’m Asian, but I don’t play piano.” “I’m Mexican, but I’m not an immigrant.” These are the voices of South Los Angeles teens confronting stereotypes they face every day in the media. They documented their experiences through video for the #ITOOAM Critical Makers Lab, one part of youth media literacy efforts led by Alison Trope, clinical professor of communication. Those stereotypes gain their pernicious power from a complicated, seemingly all-consuming media environment. Media — including everything from video sites to feature films and TV, traditional news to social media — play a pivotal role in molding the contemporary experience of growing up in the United States. As of February 2020, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimated that teens spend up to nine hours a day on average watching screens. “We’ve reached peak saturation,” said Trope, who also serves as director of undergraduate studies for communication. “Media is increasingly saturating our lives in different ways, minute by minute, and I think we can agree that it has an impact on how we understand ourselves and others.” This complex media landscape requires that K-12 students be prepared to analyze and interpret the context and motivations behind the media messages they’re exposed to throughout each day. USC Annenberg faculty, students and alumni are answering the call and empowering youth to be critical consumers and creators of media. For some, it takes the form of helping young people see through the misinformation and disinformation that often infiltrates social media and news outlets. Others aim to open children’s and teens’ eyes to the harmful ways race, ethnicity, gender and other innate characteristics are frequently represented in media. “Media literacy is essentially about being a 21stcentury citizen,” said Gabriel Kahn, professor of professional practice of journalism, who co-teaches the undergraduate course “Discover, Deconstruct, Design: Navigating Media & News in the Digital Age” with Trope. “Understanding how these systems work is the equivalent of understanding how a bill becomes a law, because this is how opinions are formed, how decisions get made,” he continued. “Teaching students to understand the media environment gives them greater power over that environment, and greater purpose in the way that they interact with it.”

that is able to make wise decisions tomorrow.” These concepts invite thoughtful consideration of integral ingredients for any type of media: the message’s author, the format and creative techniques being used, how different people might understand the same message differently, the points of view represented in the content, and the purpose for which the message is being sent. Johnsen points out that it’s important for people of all ages to effectively interrogate what they’re seeing, hearing or reading, especially if the content pushes their buttons. “Outrage tends to turn off that intellectual part of the brain, and people just react out of emotions,” she said. “We’re not saying which media you should or shouldn’t watch. It’s simply teaching the right questions to ask so people can be wiser consumers and producers of media.”

Gaming the System

Ioana Literat, who earned her doctorate in communication in 2015, embraced the mission of improving youth media literacy as a natural outgrowth of her research about how young people express themselves politically online. She was alarmed to see the distortions that youth were exposed to and then passed along to their peers. “I got to learn a lot about how misinformation circulates among young people, especially on social media,” said Literat, associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “With that understanding, I wanted to make creative tools in the fight against misinformation.” She surveyed what was available to help youth gain a deeper understanding of what they see and hear in the media, and a largely unfilled niche presented itself. “Games are a really underutilized vehicle,” she said. “They have a way of portraying complex ecosystems in simple ways, and the immediate rewards can really reinforce certain concepts.”

It’s not about what is real or fake. It’s more about the process of investigation. I O A N A L I T E R AT, P H D ’ 0 5

Collaborating with colleagues in education, communication, cognitive studies and game design at Teachers College’s Media and Social Change Lab, which she co-directs, Literat created the card game “Lamboozled!” It launched in October 2020, and an online version is under development. The game is designed to teach youth about both the things that can be seen right away — such as suspicious URLs or excessive use of all-caps and punctuation, common giveaways that a story is questionable — and more Bubble-Popping skills-based knowledge — such as the practice of seeking out other news For Michele Johnsen, a 2015 graduate of the master of sources covering the same subject matter. public diplomacy program, media literacy is a human right. Eschewing potentially polarizing current events, they set these lessons “We are really seeing the damage that can be done against the fictional backdrop of Green Meadows and its population of anwith what I call ‘informational abuse,’” she said. “I don’t thropomorphic sheep. And to make the game as accessible as possible, they think we can continue as a global community, as local tested with teachers and schoolchildren, even engaging some kids to create communities, without giving people some skills.” elements of the game. Winners amass a hand with the most evidence about Johnsen’s communications agency, Ignite Global Good, the veracity of a sheep story. is an affiliate of the Center for Media Literacy. Founded “It’s not about what is real or fake,” Literat said. “It’s more about the proin 1989, the center works to translate research into prac- cess of investigation.” tical instruction in media literacy. This includes training educators, librarians and university audiences, offering News to Me resources for and curricula about ferreting out misinfor- Other USC Annenberg alumni have focused on news literacy, a distinct facet of media literacy in part because of journalism’s unique professional guidelines. mation, and conducting research and advocacy. “In news, there are standards,” said Ebonee Rice, who earned a bachelor’s “At the center we have five core concepts for media literacy,” Johnsen said. “We believe that children who of communication in 2010 and a master’s in communication management learn them today will grow into an informed population in 2012. “There’s a code of ethics, and if you break it, there is accountability.”


USC Annenberg Magazine

She is now senior vice president of the educator network at the News Literacy Project, which has helped teachers develop students’ skills and knowledge to separate fact from falsehood in the news since 2008. One signature offering is Checkology, a virtual classroom with lessons and resources covering topics such as bias in reporting, the basics of the First Amendment and how to effectively evaluate evidence. “News literacy is really the cornerstone of our democracy,” Rice said. “If we don’t actively empower young people, we are placing them at a great civic disadvantage.” Another Trojan at the News Literacy Project, Elizabeth Price, serves as manager of professional learning. She helps oversee NewsLitCamp, which provides daylong interactive trainings for educators that include sessions led by journalists in their newsrooms. The program aims to improve pedagogy around the perception of bias, the effects of social media, the basics of how news is reported and more. According to Price, who earned both a bachelor’s in communication in 2012 and a master’s in communication management in 2014, the expertise of news professionals is a strength of the initiative — as is the project’s commitment to impartiality. Rather than prompting educators to tell students what to believe, the News Literacy Project’s curriculum enables their audiences to teach vital skills for vetting and unpacking news content. For instance, Price’s team promotes the “PEP” model, encouraging key qualities that enable better judgment: having the patience to understand what you’re reading, the empathy to put yourself in another perspective, and the persistence to dig deep, with questions delving into what the story is really about, who wrote it and where it’s published. “We have just about any kind of information we want right at our fingertips whenever we want it, which is a beautiful thing,” she said. “We have to take a step back and realize, having that access includes the responsibility of understanding what’s actually behind the headline.”

Sanitize Before You Share 4 quick steps to stop the spread of misinformation 1



Glance through comments. Has someone replied to this with a fact-check?

Who Are You?

Trope’s campus-based initiative approaches media literacy through issues of identity and representation. She launched the Critical Media Project in 2012 in collaboration with the undergraduates in one of her courses. The project hosts a free online repository of more than 700 pieces of indexed media, along with lessons customized for educational levels from middle school through college. Among the vast library are excerpts from movies such as Boyz n the Hood and Shrek, clips from TV shows such as The Simpsons and Stranger Things, news footage from outlets such as CNN and CBS, and online videos from sources as various as Time magazine’s web presence and BuzzFeed. Each semester since 2015, the project has sent 10 to 15 USC Annenberg students to teach at local schools weekly. Their curriculum, which has reached 2,000 middle- and high-school students so far, explores how media portrays issues such as race, ethnicity, gender and class — as well as how students perceive this media and can, in turn, find ways to represent themselves more authentically. In addition to media literacy, Trope and her team embed lessons in empathy. “We learn about ourselves through media, and when we think about harmful stereotypes, we learn about other groups as well,” Trope said, adding that such stereotypes can create divides between people. “There’s already too much hate in this world, even in schools.” The #ITOOAM Critical Makers Lab began in 2020 to make lessons even more engaging in the face of challenges that came with the pandemic. Undergraduate mentors guide middle- and high-school students in creating their own media that express their identities — in formats such as music videos, collages, audio interviews, comic books and mock movie posters. About 185 students in five South L.A. schools participated virtually this past Spring, and 500 more students in six schools and one after-school program are taking part this Fall. “This is based in inquiry, not indoctrination,” Trope said. “We’re not telling them what to think about any of this media. We’re trying to get them to ask the questions that help uncover the meanings behind the media.” Columbia’s Literat — who was a teaching assistant to Trope as a doctoral student — sees the lens of identity for media literacy as an important complement to the question of whether information is accurate. “Misinformation is at the center of attention, but that’s just one aspect of media literacy,” she said. “The representation part is more important than ever now.” a

Don’t let your emotions take over.



Do a quick search. In the search bar, turn the claim you’re checking into a question. Look for credible sources in the results.

Ask for a source. Ask for the original source or other evidence supporting the claim. Raising this where others can see it lets them know that the claim is questionable.

If you find credible evidence that a post isn’t true, alert others in a reply. If the post is dangerous or harmful, report it. If you still aren’t sure that the post is true, don’t share it. COURTESY OF ALUMNA EBONEE RICE, Fall 2021 31 NEWS LITERACY PROJECT


Christine Alabastro designs her future By Mira Zimet


USC Annenberg Magazine

Near the end of her senior year in college, Christine Alabastro faced a choice: Either take a business management job that didn’t feed her creative passions or face the unknown after graduation. Anxious about her future, she shared her concerns with her mother, Cynthia, during a sushi dinner at a restaurant near their home in Orange County. Her mom, always a gentle guide, offered this advice: “You are in control of designing your own future.” Alabastro turned down the job, choosing instead to continue her education, setting her on a path that led to her current position working in executive communications at TikTok. Raised by parents who immigrated from the Philippines, Alabastro practiced tennis, piano, ballet and violin from an early age; dance stuck throughout her undergraduate years at the University of California, San Diego. In addition to majoring in communication, Alabastro took acting classes to challenge her natural introversion. “I really believe in putting myself in situations where I’m not comfortable,” she said. “That’s where you grow.” In 2014, Alabastro joined the strategic public relations master’s program because she wanted a more hands-on “practical” approach to strategic business communications. “For me, it was their focus on strategy,” she said. “It’s so valuable to learn this skill in a classroom setting because it’s a safe environment to question and not know things.” During her first year at USC Annenberg, Alabastro sought out mentorship opportunities through the career center. She was introduced to Marisa Borjon, who was then working at Golin, a top global public relations firm. Borjon, who received a master’s degree in strategic public relations in 2010, hired Alabastro as a consumer and brand intern. Later, Alabastro leveraged the Annenberg Career Connection to secure another internship, this time with Edelman. That gig led to a full-time corporate communications job at the company while she was still in school — a position she kept after her 2016 graduation. “It goes back to my mom’s philosophy about making opportunities for yourself,” Alabastro said. “While Annenberg provided many networking events, I took it upon myself to proactively nurture those connections.” In 2017, Hulu recruited Alabastro to their corporate communication team. “Going in-house to Hulu, I was thinking beyond the PR work — I was thinking bigger picture about how my role supported the organization’s bottom line.” One of the highlights of her two-plus years at the streaming service was advancing Hulu’s Executive Women’s Thought Leadership Program, which sought to elevate the voices of female executives in the company. The culmination was an all-female keynote panel on boundary-pushing television that Alabastro programmed for the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas. “Seeing this type of representation in the tech and entertainment industry was pretty incredible,” she said. Since joining TikTok in 2019, Alabastro continues to find rewards in working with spokespeople to find and sharpen their authentic voice. Her years of both practicing and teaching yoga — which started when she was an undergraduate — have influenced her approach to public speaking. “Not only did teaching yoga provide me with a physical and mental outlet, it also taught me lessons in public speaking and communication that have carried through to my professional life,” she said. With a desire to pay forward all that has been invested in her, Alabastro has found many opportunities to give back. She serves on the USC Center for Public Relations’ Board of Advisors, mentors an undergraduate public relations student, and volunteers at Step Up, an organization designed to empower young women in under-resourced communities. “This is the kind of impact I want to leave,” she said. a Photo by Damon Casarez

Mindfulness Over Matter Course teaches students how to be thoughtful communicators.

BRITTANY ALLEN ( BA, communication, ’12) started her new position as equity, diversity and inclusion lead at 72andSunny.

Andrea Hollingshead, professor of communication, noticed in recent years that student anxiety on campus had become particularly acute. “This sense of perfectionism that students strive for, that I think is unattainable, was making it so they really weren’t enjoying or benefiting from all the wonderful things college has to offer,” she said. To help students learn how to ease tension, she applied the practices and science of mindfulness to create a framework for her undergraduate “Mindful Communication” course. She first taught the course in Fall 2019, then revived it in Spring 2021, aligning it with the stress students were expressing during their remote studies. “This class took a very human-centered perspective to show how we can communicate in our personal and in our professional lives,” said communication major Audrey Kono, who will graduate in 2022. Hollingshead believes that more classes should incorporate these practices. “It was really heartwarming and incredibly rewarding to see these simple things change their lives and contribute to some ‘aha’ moments,” she said.

TAELOR BAKEWELL ( BA, public relations, ’15) was appointed commissioner at the Housing Authority for the city of Los Angeles. “It’s rare to find a course in which you are thinking, after it, ‘I’m going to apply so many different things I learned to my daily life for the rest of my life,’” said Will Hennes, senior communication major. “And this course definitely did that.”

HAYLEY BURGESS (BA, public relations, ’15) was named communications manager at the California Immigrant Policy Center.

KYLE CABODI (BA, broadcast journalism, ’08) was named senior director of communication at Outcast Agency.

MAGAZINE STUDENTS live that Taco Life Taco Life, a multimedia collaboration between Amara Aguilar’s magazine production class and hyperlocal news website L.A. TACO, gave students an opportunity to tell authentic stories about Los Angeles in a print zine distributed across the city. Aguilar, associate professor of professional practice, says the idea was about both the “medium and the message” — content that would resonate with a local audience in an accessible print format. Caitlin Hernández, a senior majoring in journalism, said they and the other students were determined to practice “engaged journalism” in conceiving and reporting these stories. “It is a way to bridge new and existing audiences together,” they said. “It’s a give-and-take; not just providing news, but also getting people in the 34

USC Annenberg Magazine

community involved in the reporting.” Funded in part by a 2020 Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education grant from the Online News Association, the two issues of the Taco Life zine were distributed locally this Fall. “The grant required a special emphasis on engagement and diversity,” Aguilar said. “Our project really embodies those two areas — it’s very community-driven and collaborative.”

FREYA (YIXING) CHAI (BA, communication, ’18; MS, communication data science, ’20) joined Adobe as a growth marketing and insights analyst.

DIDIER DIELS (BA, print journalism, ’05) started at Cameo as associate general counsel, business affairs.

SOPHIE FLAY (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’18) started the Always Hungry podcast with her father, Bobby Flay.

ABENAA (ABBY) HAYES (MA, broadcast journalism, ’94) joined Real Chemistry as practice leader of diversity, equity and inclusion client engagement.

WILL E. LAWS (BA, print and digital journalism, ’14) joined Sports Illustrated as programming editor and writer. SAMAH AL-RAWAHI ( MS, digital social media, ’15) was promoted to external communications and brand lead at Petroleum Development Oman. D. TRAVERS SCOTT ( MA, communication, ’08; PhD, communication, ’10) published their book Gay Men and Feminist Women in the Fight for Equality: “What Did You Do in the Second Wave, Daddy?” DANNY UMANZOR ( BA, communication, ’20) joined Nickelodeon Animation as an executive assistant for preschool development and production.

Photo by Angel Ahabue


Cardinal and Gold Medalists

Paige Hauschild captioned her Aug. 7 Instagram post: “Olympic gold. An absolute dream come true. #speechless.” Hauschild, who is majoring in communication, along with alumna Kaleigh Gilchrist, was part of the U.S. women’s water polo team that won gold at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Gilchrist, who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in communication, earned her second Olympic gold medal. Hauschild and Gilchrist were among 13 USC Annenberg students and alumni — and 66 Trojans in total — competing for medals at the pandemic-delayed games. In all, USC athletes took away 21 medals. Skateboarder Amelia Brodka also made history in Tokyo, competing for Poland in skateboarding’s first appearance as an Olympic sport. “It’s just been incredible to see the growth across the globe — and the support from the media in terms of portraying women as talented skateboarders,” said Brodka, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2012 in communication and narrative studies. In addition to stellar athletes, USC Annenberg was also represented in Tokyo by the journalists covering the Games. Alan Abrahamson, associate professor of professional practice, wrote in his wrap-up for NBC: “Doubters, critics, skeptics — the Games happened. With the athletes at center stage. As it should be.”


“The Crossfade (featuring Thao Nguyen and Josh Kun),” Object of

Sound, hosted by Hanif Abdurraqib

“Episode #576: Rep. Barbara Lee, Christina Bellantoni, George F. Will,” Real Time with Bill Maher, hosted by Bill Maher

“Public Diplomacy and Place Branding,” People, Places, Power:

The Podcast, hosted by Nick Cull and Simon Anholt


Joo-Wha Hong (doctoral candidate, communication), Ignacio Cruz (PhD, communication, ’21), Dmitri Williams, “AI, you can drive my car:

How we evaluate human drivers vs. self-driving cars,”

Computers in Human Behavior Su Jung Kim, M. Lee and S. Yoon,

“An integrative approach to determinants of pre-roll ad acceptance and their relative impact: Evidence from big data,” Journal of Advertising


Amara Aguilar was honored with the Society of Professional Journalists’ Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award. Christina Dunbar-Hester won the ASIS&T’s Best Information Science Book Award for her book Hacking Diversity. May Lee was named to Forbes “50 Over 50: Impact” list for 2021.


Creator Culture: An Introduction to Global Social Media Entertainment edited by David Craig and Stuart


Diplomatic and Mediated Arguments in the North Korean Crisis: Engaging the Hermit Kingdom edited by Thomas Hollihan

Photo courtesy of Paige Hauschild

Fall 2021 35



Pitching with Purpose Center for Public Relations assesses the effectiveness of issue-driven brand communication. By Mira Zimet Commercial brands have been engaging in issues-driven campaigns for decades, but in 2020 the trend exploded. From messaging around COVID-19, #BlackLivesMatter, the climate crisis and mental health, companies of all types seized the opportunity to engage in complex conversations — which often had nothing to do with what they were trying to sell. Nike, for instance, created the “You can’t stop us” campaign during the pandemic to show how sports connect us to one another during times of loss and triumph. Burghardt Tenderich, associate director of the Center for Public Relations (CPR), lauded these types of campaigns for their genuine intention to benefit society. However, he also noted that corporations face an inherent risk of alienating their customers when they focus on social issues that may not resonate with everyone. “What we had been observing, even before the events of 2020, was a growing need to provide guidance to leaders who feel mounting pressure to engage in purpose discussions, but are largely uncertain how to successfully approach them, often fearing potential backlash for missteps,” Tenderich said. When done right, Tenderich added, these types of campaigns often build a different kind of loyalty with customers who seek to associate with companies that make an impact beyond selling a product or service. “There are a number of independent studies that demonstrate that younger people — Millennials, Generation Z 36

USC Annenberg Magazine

— want to purchase from companies that give back to society, to the environment, and are engaged in important social issues,” he said. With brands’ reliance on purpose-driven communication at an all-time high, CPR teamed up with PRWeek to provide leaders with critical insights on how to align a brand campaign’s cause with the organization’s core business objectives. CPR’s research team conducted a content analysis of nearly 200 submissions of 2018–19 campaigns for the first annual PRWeek Purpose Awards in 2020. They identified three key areas of focus: (1) a categorization of the types and prevalence of causes that organizations choose to support; (2) a proposed typology for purpose-driven campaigns; and (3) emerging best practices, including how not to approach purpose communication. They found that the most successful brand purpose communications typically have a high brand fit, are not intended to provide the organization with any direct benefits, are carried out through specific actionable initiatives, and are based on research and strategy. Tenderich urges organizations to prioritize authenticity and refrain from disguising sales-focused campaigns as purpose-driven. “The goal for our report is to provide communication practitioners with guidance on how to engage in and lead discussions about issues of relevance to society,” Tenderich said. “Doing so is no longer an option, but increasingly, an imperative.”

Of the

184 campaign

cases considered for

79 were social causes, 43 were health causes, 32 were economic causes, 21

this study,

were environmental causes and just

13 were

political/policy causes.

“Overall, brand purpose needs to go above and beyond being an expression of a company’s core value proposition and address issues that are of value to society and the environment.” BURGHARDT TENDERICH ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS AND PROFESSOR OF PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE

Fall 2021 37


opportunities, wellness resources, and ways to get involved with centers, programs and student organizations. Sharing his experience co-chairing the Annenberg Cross-Cultural Student Association, junior journalism major Reagan Griffin Jr. urged students to hold themselves accountable. “It is all of our jobs every day, in and out of this building,... [to] create an environment in which everyone has the space and autonomy to recognize and utilize their inherent power,” he said. “I believe [this student association] is the heartbeat of that effort for our school.” USC Annenberg’s more than 200 sophomores were also welcomed later the same afternoon with a program featuring Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global. Huffington virtually joined attendees in Wallis Annenberg Hall to share advice as they embarked on their first semester on campus. She emphasized several “microsteps” students can take to help support their mental health and well-being. “I know what a challenging time this has been,” she told communication major Kimberly Villard, who led a Q&A with Huffington. “So, I would say the first microstep is to recognize that this is an incredible opportunity to change our mind around how we work and live, and to end the collective delusion that in order to succeed, you have to burn out.”

Return to Troy

Fall assemblies welcome first-year and sophomore students to campus. “One. Two. Three. Fight On!” As Dean Willow Bay welcomed USC Annenberg’s nearly 300 first-year and transfer students this Fall, she ensured they captured the historic moment. “Just think how valuable these selfies will be as artifacts,” she said. “All of us working together to keep ourselves and each other safe.” The assembly introduced students to school leadership, faculty, the media center, career development 38

USC Annenberg Magazine

“Besides making history with your masked selfies, you are here … at an incredibly exciting time,” Dean Willow Bay told new students this Fall. “The fields you are studying … have never been more relevant. More dynamic. And more necessary.”

DIPLOMATIC TALKS U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman shared insights into the Biden-Harris administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, challenges in Afghanistan, and the next generation of diplomats in a Center for Public Diplomacy virtual event moderated by Dean Willow Bay. GETTING IT RIGHT With more than 100 anti-transgender rights bills introduced in state legislatures this year, the Center for Health Journalism convened experts from organizations such as the National Center for Transgender Equality for a webinar focused on how reporters can cover this complex topic with rigor, nuance, sensitivity and understanding. INDUSTRY INSIGHTS areer Development offered C its Virtual Career Treks, in which students heard from panels of professionals

about what it’s like to work for firms like Headspace, 72andSunny and Barkley. COPING WITH COVID .S. Surgeon General U Dr. Vivek Murthy and Common Sense Founder and CEO Jim Steyer joined Dean Willow Bay for a Zoom discussion about how young people have fared after a year of lockdowns, remote schooling and the disruption of social norms. CREATING A PATHWAY Annenberg High School Day brought together Southern California high school youth for virtual, immersive training in journalism, communication and public relations. SHARING THE JOURNEY he Seeing ME in the T MEdia mentorship program featured Claudia Lyon for a conversation on her path to becoming executive vice president of talent and casting for CBS Entertainment at ViacomCBS.

Photo by Olivia Mowry


JESSICA MOULITE breaks the silence

Growing up in a Haitian American family in Miami, Jessica Moulite saw how news could both move and inform the public — but she didn’t see a lot of well-told stories about people from communities like hers. “I’ve realized that it’s not that people aren’t able to tell these stories themselves,” she said. “It’s that a lot of these groups — women, Black people and other people of color, the LGBTQ community — have been systematically silenced.” Determined to break that silence, Moulite attended Hamilton College in upstate New York, where she majored in communication and women’s studies — with the help of a scholarship from the Posse Foundation, a nonprofit that helps universities recruit potential leaders

from diverse backgrounds. But it was after she enrolled in the MS in journalism program at USC Annenberg that her career goals came into focus. “I had a class with Laura Castañeda [professor of professional practice], and she told me there is absolutely nothing wrong if I wanted to make my storytelling focus on communities of color,” Moulite recalled. “She gave me the language to express what I wanted to do and emboldened me to go in the direction of my dreams.” After graduating in 2015, Moulite worked as a video storyteller for Fusion and The Root. This year, she returned to academia as a doctoral student at Howard University and was honored with the Ainslie Award, the Posse Foundation’s annual alumni achievement recognition. “They’re committed to creating the new face of leadership in the future,” she said. “And that’s going to mean some tricky, uncomfortable conversations — but I think more uncomfortable conversations will do this world and this nation some good.”

ALUMNUS HONORED for LGBTQ advocacy On Sept. 2, Tom Henkenius was one of three alumni honored for their volunteer work with the USC Alumni Association President’s Award. An innovative digital content leader and Emmy Award-winning journalist, Henkenius is the principal partner at Thunder Communications, a content strategy and production company. He is also director of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) degree programs in digital marketing and graphic design and teaches courses at FIDM in design thinking and digital trends. Henkenius earned a dual bachelor’s degree in 2000 from USC Annenberg (broadcast journalism) and USC Dornsife (political science). In 2019, he added a master’s degree in integrated design, business and technology from the USC Iovine and Young Academy. A longtime member of the USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association Board of Directors, Henkenius served as the 2020-21 board president. During his tenure, he played an integral role in raising money for scholarships. He also volunteers with the USC Alumni Association Board of Governors, co-chairs the board’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and serves on its Executive Committee. As he accepted the award, Henkenius stressed that the work he is doing is never “about one person doing the work,” he said. “It’s about what we can do together. And that’s been my lesson volunteering here. It takes all of us to make it happen.” Photo courtesy of Jessica Moulite

Tom Henkenius was inspired to come to USC by his grandparents, who were born and raised just blocks from campus. At an early age, their stories implanted a deep love for Los Angeles and more specifically USC, so it was only natural that he would apply to the university in the heart of this city.

WALLIS ANNENBERG, USC Trustee and chair, president and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, was honored by the Los Angeles Business Journal with the 2021 Women’s Leadership Legacy Award.

MARC BROWN (BA, broadcast journalism, ’04) received the L.A. Press Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the 63rd Annual SoCal Journalism Awards. NOSHIR CONTRACTOR (PhD, communication theory and research, ’88) was awarded the ICA Fellows Book Award for Theories of Communication Networks. JENEE DARDEN (MS, journalism, ’06) won awards for commentary/analysis (radio/audio); community journalism (TV/video) and sports reporting at the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) NorCal award ceremony.

LACEY EHRLICH ( BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’12; MA, strategic public relations, ’16) was named to the “40 under 40” list by PRWeek. EMMY AWARDS: Six USC Annenberg alumni were awarded local Emmys : Marc Sallinger (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’17): KUSA-TV; Peter Daut (BA, broadcast journalism, ’06):

KESQ-TV; Eytan Wallace (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’18): KGETTV; Claudia Buccio (BA, communication, ’17; MS, journalism, ’18): KBNT; Jake Ingrassia (MS, journalism, ’17): KESQ-TV; Madison Weil (MS, journalism, ’17): KESQ-TV. MELVIN L. FELTON II ( BA, print journalism, ’05) was named a 2021 Rising Star by Super Lawyers.

NAGHAM WEHBE ( MCG, communication management, ’19) was featured on Arab America Foundation’s “40 under 40” list. THE PULITZER PRIZE f or public service went to The New York Times for its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. The award-winning team included alumnae Tiffany Wong (BA, journalism, ’20) and Bonnie Wong (BA, journalism, ’20), who worked as news assistants. DAVID YI (BA, broadcast journalism, ’09) and JESSICA DEL MUNDO (BA, broadcast journalism, ’97) made the Good Morning America Inspiration List for speaking out and standing up to anti-Asian violence. CATE YOUNG (MA, specialized journalism (the arts), ’20) won first place at the L.A. Press Club’s National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards for her commentary on how Hollywood is grappling with policing and the current moment.

Fall 2021 39



Tiffany Matloob


A native Angeleno, Tiffany Matloob realized early on the importance of establishing her own identity. While not identical in looks to her triplet brother and sister, she had an instinctual need to differentiate herself. “This was an exercise from the very beginning in branding,” Matloob said. “I knew I had to market myself in a way that set me apart.” One unique knack that surfaced in elementary school was her passion — and propensity — for identifying talent. Matloob could pinpoint who was going to be a star.

USC Annenberg’s progressive degree program offered Matloob the opportunity to quickly acquire the tools and networking opportunities needed to begin a career in entertainment. She graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s in communication and a master’s in communication management, building internship and freelance writing experiences along the way. “In entertainment, you see a lot of people go from zero to hero,” she said. “I was able to be in that space and learn.”


Sweety High, a social platform designed for Generation Z audiences, was Matloob’s first opportunity to work at the intersection of tech and entertainment. She joined in 2011 as their communications manager, identifying opportunities for talented girls to build their brands and jumpstart their careers. “I've never left the teen space because I'm literally a teen at heart — I will never stop being forever 16,” she said.


The following year, Matloob joined Spin Media as their talent producer to help strategize the online profiles of celebrity clients, including the Kardashian family and Snooki from Jersey Shore. “We were looking to help amplify their careers beyond traditional media,” said Matloob, who was later promoted to director of talent programming. “From the beginning, I was building and managing a portfolio of celebrity websites and advising on their social media presence.”

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After a short stint running her own agency, Matloob joined TikTok (formerly in 2017 as their head of creator partnerships and content operations. She leveraged the talent she worked with over the years and introduced them to the emerging platform. “We threw events where we would bring all the creators together, then have a famous artist come in and share their music,” she said. “It was a way to help the rising stars feel welcome.”

“There is one common thread throughout everything I do: I want people to have a stage and to feel like they are the star of their narrative and their story.” TIFFANY MATLOOB ’11 Los Angeles

Photos courtesy of Tiffany Matloob

Facebook recruited Matloob in 2018 to build a creator community for their short-form video app. She helped foster a community of artists who were looking to express their passions and creativity. Eighteen months later, she moved over to Instagram, where she was instrumental in creating Instagram Reels. In both positions, Matloob was able to amplify her goal of helping young people who might feel invisible in their communities take center stage. “I want to bring a world to life where everyone can express themselves,” she said.


Since becoming the global head of creator community partnerships for YouTube Shorts in August, Matloob continues to focus on removing barriers to entry. She works with up-and-coming creators on how to showcase and grow their content. “When I’m looking at where I’m going, I’m also looking at where I can best help the creators I’m meeting along the way,” she said.

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