USC Annenberg Alumni Magazine Spring 2019

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Our L.A. Story

Through applied research, data-driven storytelling, civic programs and curricula, we are empowering Angelenos to address some of the city’s most vital issues.


A Street-Level View

Award-winning author, journalist and social critic Afua Hirsch is one of Britain’s most vibrant voices on international affairs, the politics of identity and issues related to social justice. Hirsch joined USC Annenberg in Fall 2018 as the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism and Communication. Stationed in London, Hirsch served as the faculty editor for the London journalism program this Spring. The pop-up bureau allowed USC students studying in London to research and report on the dynamic social experience in the United Kingdom as the country prepares for its upcoming Brexit deadline. The course focused on techniques needed for covering the beats that are the foundation of daily newspaper reporting, including crime, education, immigration, local government and politics. Photo: Tolga Akman / AFP / Getty Images




Political Types

Our faculty, students and alumni are shaping the narrative of U.S. politics. By Ted B. Kissell


Our L.A. Story

Through applied research, data-driven storytelling, civic programs and curricula, we are empowering Angelenos to address some of the city’s most vital issues. By April Wolfe


The Power of Podcasting

Podcasters are leading the revitalization of the decades-gone art of radio drama thanks to rapidly evolving technology. By Mira Zimet







A Street-Level View Lasting Connections ON THE COVER

Photos by Damon Casarez


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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 Leticia Lozoya GRAPHIC DESIGNER Suzanne Boretz DESIGN Pentagram CONTRIBUTING STAFF Adam Miller Assistant Director of Development MaryBeth Leonard Executive Assistant Mike Mauro Chief Digital Officer Sarah Wolfson Communications Specialist Rachelle Martin Digital Coordinator Olivia Mowry Digital Media Producer Jasmine Torres Special Events Coordinator USC ANNENBERG ADMINISTRATION Willow Bay Dean and Walter H. Annenberg Chair in Communication Josh Kun Director, School of Communication Gordon Stables Director, School of Journalism USC ANNENBERG MAGAZINE Published twice a year by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. © 2019 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

Illustration by Daniel Hertzberg

Lasting Connections By Willow Bay Dean and Walter H. Annenberg Chair in Communication

Our ability to listen has never been more important than it is today. To listen actively, looking for information and insight. To listen critically for what’s not being said as much as for what is. To listen with compassion and empathy. In a world where so many are shouting to be heard, where anger and frustration are no longer simmering beneath the surface but driving our public discourse, where so many still go unheard, that skill of listening is absolutely crucial to restoring our shared humanity. So, last year, when we reimagined the alumni magazine, we began by listening to you. We learned that, above all, you want this publication to deepen and strengthen your relationship with USC Annenberg. With that as our primary aim, we created meaningful content and crafted an innovative design to provide new and better ways of connecting you with our local, national and global network of scholars and practitioners. And, then, we listened again. We heard from many of you, like Trish Reynales (MA, print journalism, ’89), who said, “Wow. Came home after a long day, sat down on the sofa, read the magazine straight through ... a rarity.” Not only did the issue engage you, it also reinvigorated and reinforced your bond with the school and with each other. Our peers also took notice, recognizing the Fall 2018 issue with three Awards of Excellence from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. This feedback serves as a powerful reminder of how important it is to connect with our community in all that we do. For our Spring issue, this served as our point of inspiration, with feature articles centered around how USC Annenberg is reimagining civic life, reaching across Los Angeles to invest in programs for the public good, and exploring new modes of storytelling that provide platforms for all. With each issue, we will continue to listen, and hope you — our community — will stay connected with us, whether it’s with a conversation, an email, a tweet or a quiet moment on your couch. Spring 2019 3

Fact from Fiction Lear Center researches stories and their effects on audiences.

People learn from television. Decades of media and communication research have found that even fictional depictions of characters inform attitudes and behavior. If those depictions are false, misleading or incomplete, they can reinforce negative stereotypes. The Norman Lear Center has conducted research on media’s effects on audiences’ knowledge, beliefs and behavior since 2000. Two of its recent studies of depictions of people and issues in American media show the gap between popular culture and reality. A December 2018 study, “Immigration Nation: Exploring Immigration Portrayals on Television,” published in conjunction with Define American, analyzed 143 episodes from 47 television shows that aired between 2017 and 2018 for their depiction of immigrant characters and storylines. This past February, The Africa Narrative, a global initiative based at the Lear Center, released “Africa in the Media,” a study designed to measure U.S. media depictions of the continent and their impact on U.S. attitudes and engagement with the region. Both reports revealed a disconnect between media portrayals and reality. For example, “Immigration Nation” found that immigrant characters were less educated on TV than in reality. Similarly, “Africa in the Media” found that Africa and Africans are underrepresented in U.S. media, and when Africans are mentioned, their depictions are often negative. “Large-scale, data-driven media research like this is essential to understanding the role that media plays in shaping audience attitudes,” said Johanna Blakley, managing director of the Lear Center.


USC Annenberg Magazine

The Media Impact Project focuses on how entertainment and news influence our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and actions.

@josieiswriting We are the stories we tell. And we need Hollywood’s help in telling more accurate and more human stories about the more than 43 million immigrants (documented and undocumented) that call America home. @THR Exclusive: Study: Immigrant TV characters are more criminalized, less educated than reality.


Over of African mentions in scripted entertainment were about crime.

@FordFoundation In 2018, almost 700,000 hours of US Media was analyzed by @54Narratives to find any mention of Africa, good or bad. The results were shocking. It’s time to reimagine #TheAfricaNarrative. It’s time for new stories. @learcenter “Our discovery that immigrants are disproportionately associated with crime & incarceration on TV should raise alarm bells for anyone working on issues, policies or legislation related to immigrants,” @Mojojohanna said.

usclearcenter Rafael Agustín, a formerly undocumented immigrant and now a staff writer for the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” talked about our Immigration Nation study with Define American on KPCC’s The Frame. @MrRafaelAgustin Our stories matter. Period. @THR @DefineAmerican #ImmigrantsMakeAmericaGreat. @54narratives Our Africa in the Media research shows that African characters barely register in American TV entertainment. There needs to be more Bob Abishsola TV shows with African characters front and center. There’s an audience out there wanting and waiting! #TheAfricaNarrative @AfricaNarrative @PhillyInquirer notes our Africa in the Media study on how poorly #Africa is depicted but also how African immigrants & 1st gen rarely see their people histories & cultures in US curricula. A big loss for them & contributes to American ignorance of Africa. @BrandsEye How did President Trump’s January remark about Africa affect public sentiment? Read about the research we conducted with the @LearCenter at @USC to find out.

Photo by David Olubaji

W H AT ’ S O N M Y P H O N E ?

Ashley Tesoriero Brand Marketer

There’s nothing Ashley Tesoriero enjoys more than standing in front of a group of students talking about branding. “What does your online presence say about you?� she asks a room filled with dozens of local high school students during the Alumni Day of SCervice. Tesoriero, who graduated with a BA in public relations and art history in 2015 and a master’s in strategic public relations in 2017, is now working as a marketing specialist at IMT Residential. Her mother, Sharon, instilled in her the value of giving back at an early age; the two have teamed up to find many ways to be of service in their community and at USC. One of their latest partnerships is USC Annenberg’s Civic Engagement Program. Their gift in 2015 came with a dual mission: ensure that students within USC Annenberg work in the community, and that students in the community come to campus and learn from faculty and alumni. “I love providing younger kids the skills they need to improve their education — and their lives,� Tesoriero said.


Whistler, The White Buffalo Wildflowers, Tom Petty The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie



Cinderella (1950) Up (2009)


For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal

On Social

ascjalumni Thank you so much to our two #AweSComeAlumni Callie Schweitzer and Ashley Tesoriero who spoke with the Annenberg Youth Academy this past week✌đ&#x;?ź#ascj


@alfred @Chiaraferragni @Netflix @Rag and Bone @NFL

Photo by Amy Tierney

@Mashable @HollywoodReporter @GoPro @Vogue @imtresidential

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I think, for me, I have to do the work for myself, to nurture my hope and find inspiration from everything in my orbit.

I think the power in this film is that it brings black women and girls into the conversation in a way I don’t believe they were before. SHARON COOPER, SISTER OF SANDRA BLAND


We wanted to grab the audience — this is going to get bigger than this small family story. Their reality is bigger than this film. KATE DAVIS, FILMMAKER


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The idea of the O.G. was to humanize the inmates, work with them in a way that is mutually respectful and tell a story that didn’t vilify, but rather sought to understand them through a human lens. JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST

Photos by Katie Chin; Illustration by Sean McCabe

In its second year, the USC ANNENBERG-HBO DIVERSE VOICES SERIES hosted Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali of True Detective, actor and activist Jeffrey Wright of Westworld and O.G., filmmaker Kate Davis of the HBO documentary Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, and Sharon Cooper, sister of Sandra Bland.


Empowerment by Example

The Women’s Leadership Society is an incubator for preprofessional connections.

Throughout the year, young women from across the university gather in a USC Annenberg conference room to plan and design events that bring in influential women leaders working at the intersection of technology, media and entertainment. They are part of the Women’s Leadership Society (WLS), established by Christopher Smith, clinical professor of communication, and run by a student executive team. This past year, WLS hosted a wide range of highprofile speakers, including the team at Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. At that packed discussion, executives stressed how the attendees should be choosing stories they want to elevate. “Women compose roughly 70 percent of USC Annenberg’s student population, and I think the more we support each other, the easier it’s going to be for us to build those connections,” said WLS Co-Director Andie Wright, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. “We’re going to be unstoppable.”

AI and Blockchain 101: Wendy Spies, Microsoft’s director of business development for data and artificial intelligence, shares strategies for maintaining worklife balance.

NEWS MAKERS New Journalism Faculty With the addition of prominent journalists Christina Bellantoni and Mark Schoofs to the faculty for the 2018-19 academic year, USC Annenberg has shown its commitment to staying on the leading edge of both political coverage and investigative reporting. Bellantoni, a former politics editor at the Los Angeles Times, was appointed director of USC Annenberg’s Media Center and professor of professional practice. Her career as a political journalist has spanned both print and broadcast, from her stint at PBS NewsHour to serving as editor-in-chief of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. In addition to her classroom work, she mentors and leads the student journalists of Photo by Olivia Mowry

Annenberg Media, where she was instrumental in creating a new politics desk. Schoofs, who was named a visiting professor, led the BuzzFeed News team that earned Pulitzer finalist honors in 2017 and 2018. He is teaching Advanced Investigative Reporting, working to strengthen the school’s investigative curriculum, and building new opportunities for students to pursue enterprise reporting projects. He also earned the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for his series on the AIDS crisis in Africa while at the Village Voice. At The Wall Street Journal, he was part of a team that won the 2002 breaking news Pulitzer for coverage of the 9/11 attacks.

MICHELLE RUSSO (MA, communication management, ’94) joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as chief communications officer.

FRANCES WANG (BA, communication and business administration, ’14) joined WFOR/ CBS Miami as an anchor/ reporter.

ABBY HORNACEK (BA, public relations, ’16) joined Fox Nation as a lifestyle, sports and travel host.

NATALIE ZHANG (BA, broadcast journalism, ’18) was hired as an associate producer for the CNBC video team.

JANISE ANAYA (BA, public relations, ’16 ) was promoted to manager at Live Nation Entertainment.

RHETT BOLLINGER (BA, print journalism, ’08) returned to Los Angeles as the Angels baseball beat reporter for, after having worked as the Twins beat reporter for eight seasons.

AMY MACRAE (BA, journalism, ’18) was promoted to talent acquisition assistant for the Golden State Warriors.

MAYA ANDERMAN (BA, communication, ’17) was hired by Pixar Animation Studios as a publicity assistant. KAREY CAVANEY (BA, public relations, ’18) joined EAG Sports Management as a publicist.

ARASH MARKAZI (BA, print journalism, ’04) was hired at the Los Angeles Times as a sports columnist. Prior to this, he was a senior writer for ESPN for nine years. PATRICK JAMES CAVANAUGH (BA, philosophy, ’07 and MA, strategic public relations, ’09), became director of digital engagement at US Telecom, The Broadband Association, in Washington, D.C.

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USC Annenberg Magazine

Leave the Gate Open By Cynthia Park I’m a gamer, but don’t quiz me on what year each World of Warcraft expansion came out when I tell you that I’ve played the game before. Don’t test me on which multipliers are most effective for demon hunter gear in Diablo 3. Don’t tell me I’m not a real gamer if I can’t tell you which keyboard shortcut constructs additional pylons in Starcraft II (it’s E, by the way). For all the talk about diversity and inclusivity, there remains an element of gatekeeping when it comes to women and gaming. While the 70th Primetime Emmys celebrated the most diverse group of nominees ever, in another realm of entertainment, we find that while plenty of women are involved with gaming, the overall tolerance of these women is lacking. Gatekeeping in the gaming industry works like this: Gaming and esports have enormous online communities that rally around a common passion, but some members take it upon themselves to decide who does and does not have a right to identify with these groups. Women are often the target of these gatekeepers (who tend to be male). The women are asked very specific questions to “test” their knowledge of the very thing the two parties have in common. One of the most notable examples of gatekeeping was actually called #GamerGate. This movement was supposedly intended to preserve ethics in games journalism, but consisted of sustained, vicious online attacks against women in the gaming industry by its largely male proponents. Why purposely exclude people from enjoying something that you also enjoy? In his book Good Luck Have Fun: The Rise of eSports, Roland Li writes that the reason could be twofold. First, that it’s “a backlash by a hardcore... fan base dealing with the popularization of the industry and exposure to more groups,” because “there’s often contempt for newcomers in gaming, an environment where expertise and experience are lauded.” Second, some people are insecure, which fuels harassment.

Many women avoid voice communication in-game because of the harassment they end up enduring. Just ask streamer AnneMunition, who made a video compilation and blog post with proof of male players making sexist and derogatory comments toward her despite her gaming skill. In competitive games like Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, voice chat is integral to synergy and effective teamwork. But when your teammates are making crude comments like “you’re s--- at the game” when you make a mistake, how likely are you to use voice comms? Lisa Nakamura points out in her article “Racism, Sexism, and Gaming’s Cruel Optimism” that two strategies repeatedly come up to address these social issues. Some suggest that we have to diversify game makers to address gaming’s racism and sexism. Others say that gaining respect by proving skill with a female character or while being open about being female is the way to achieve “the freedom not to be harassed while playing games.” But this frames freedom from harassment as a privilege, not a right. The solution is not to include women just for the sake of having them in gaming and esports, but to celebrate women gamers to encourage more of us to be active in the industry. Let women gamers know they, too, can be great. Let’s change how we communicate. Before being defensive, be inclusive. Invite others to share in the things you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to call people out for being rude and disrespectful online. During my PR internship at Blizzard this past summer, I was fortunate to be surrounded by women who have succeeded in the gaming industry. Women who have come out on top despite the harassment and gatekeeping. We’ve worked hard and we’ll continue working hard, but we shouldn’t have to prove that we belong. The gates are open — let’s keep it that way. a

Photo by David McNew / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images

CYNTHIA PARK graduated in May 2019 with a MA in Strategic Public Relations. She is continuing her work in gaming PR as a public relations coordinator at Blizzard Entertainment.

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‘More Than’

Maverick Carter urges graduates to bet big on themselves.


“Human nature has always had evil and horrific elements to it. But we’re not asking for the platforms to solve humanity — that’s not the issue…. We have to expect them to be a much more responsible player than they are.”

Media innovator and entrepreneur Maverick Carter encouraged the Class of 2019 to follow his example and bet big on themselves. “From the moment you walk onto this campus, you are going to feel pressured to make safe, obvious professional choices,” Carter said. “To do what you are supposed to do rather than explore, discover, what you may actually want to do.” As LeBron James’ longtime business partner and co-founder of the entertainment, marketing and content companies they’ve built, Carter has become an influential figure in the media and entertainment landscape. The advice he shared with USC Annenberg graduates was this: “You have to gamble, and you have to gamble big! You have to make very big bets on yourself. You cannot play it safe. “My father, Colonel Otis Carter, gave me this extraordinary way to think about everything,” he said. “He told me when I was a teenager, ‘Maverick, if you bet on yourself and were to lose everything, you would just be breaking even.’” He finished by adding, “This degree gives you the freedom to gamble, to take a chance, to start something, to change the world, to go chase your dream.”

Commencement Keynote “LeBron James decided very early on he was going to be more than an athlete,” Carter said. “And I’m here to challenge all of you to think about: How can you be ‘more than’?”

FINDING AGENCY in History USC Annenberg communication doctoral students hosted the firstever graduate student conference, “Critical Mediations.” Organizing the conference around the theme “The Fire This Time: Afterlives of 1968,” students used 1968 as an entry point for asking larger questions about historical memory and the role of media, technology and the creative industries in shaping individuals’ notions of history. By revisiting and re-energizing different flashpoints from 1968, including the Summer Olympics 10

USC Annenberg Magazine

in Mexico City, the Tlatelolco Massacre, the East Los Angeles Chicana/o student walkouts and Cesar Chavez’s hunger strike for the United Farm Workers, attendees had the chance to discuss the strategic lessons of that iconic year and to think more broadly about their implications and consequences for our contemporary moment. “We wanted to cultivate networks that can help us become better thinkers,” said Clare O’Connor, a fourth-year doctoral student in communication.

MIKE ANANNY, associate professor of communication and journalism, in a March 18 Washington Post article on how tech and social media companies can better regulate hate-filled content.

“The inescapable conclusion from this report is that the major impediment confronting women is the very way the industry views their gender. It suggests that a culture shift needs to happen quickly for females to thrive in this space.”

STACY L. SMITH , associate professor and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (AII), in a Feb. 5 Los Angeles Times article that highlighted AII ’s new study on the underrepresentation of female songwriters and producers in the music industry.

“Regardless if Instagram takes away likes, you can’t escape the inevitable that people will still compare their lives and feel inferior.”

KAREN NORTH, clinical professor of communication, in a May 2 KFI-AM story on whether hiding likes on Instagram will affect how people interact with the platform.

Photo by Amy Tierney


WASHINGTON, D.C. Nineteen undergraduate students spent their Spring Break in Washington, D.C., visiting NBC and Atlantic Media. They met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and attended the USC Women’s Conference with R. Rebecca “Becki” Donatelli, who generously sponsored their trip.

BANGKOK AND CHIANG MAI, THAILAND In March, 14 undergraduate and graduate students traveled to Thailand, where they visited newsrooms, NGOs and local nonprofit organizations with a focus on corporate social responsibility.


Since 2010, Diane Winston, Knight Center Chair in Media and Religion, has led a group of students abroad during Spring Break as part of her specialized reporting and religion class. This year, 12 students — three seniors and nine graduate students — traveled to Kerala on India’s Malabar Coast for nine days to report on one of the more religiously diverse communities in India. Students wrote on the intersections of religion, politics and culture. Their stories included a profile of the Saint Thomas Christians, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world; a news story about the fight for control over one of India’s wealthiest temples; and a feature on how India is trying to prevent the online spread of religious disinformation during an election year. “To experience a non-Western, non-Christian culture was transformative for most students,” Winston said. “It also was an opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and report about a society that is very different than their own. Many students aspire to be international correspondents, but it’s harder than they imagine.” Photo by Richard Tamayo

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO For the first time this May, seven students headed to Puerto Rico to collaborate with NBC Latino. The Maymester program allows students to travel to a variety of cities to engage with industry professionals.

ROME, ITALY More than 150 students each year spend part of their academic experience studying abroad. Brianna Devons (communication, ’20) spent her Spring semester in Rome, where she directed a film on identity for her final project.

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“WOMAN: Designing Media for Social Change� was originally taught by Sarah Banet-Weiser, professor of communication, and Alison Trope, clinical professor of communication. Trope continued the class, in partnership with VICELAND, in Spring 2019. For their final projects, students are continuing to create zines.

Elevating Women,s Voices Students create media for social change — with help from their professors, VICE Media and Gloria Steinem. By Avra Juliani

Raised by a mother-and-grandmother duo who told me the world was mine, I’ve always dreamed big dreams. But the messages of empowerment I received at home didn’t relate to the policing narratives about women I encountered nearly everywhere else. Feminism provided me with the framework I needed to respond to this dissonance as I constantly reasserted my power and agency. But it wasn’t until I examined my feminism in an academic context at USC Annenberg that I understood the different intersections of my identity and how much they have influenced the ways I engage with the world. For me, the experience of taking the “WOMAN: Designing Media for Social Change” class gave me an overwhelming feeling of power and confidence. Co-taught by Sarah Banet-Weiser and Alison Trope, the class explored the confluence of gender, popular media and activism. The Emmy-nominated VICELAND team behind the documentary series WOMAN partnered with the professors and attended many of the classes, allowing for substantive, semester-long interactions with the decision-makers behind a powerful feminist project. Our class first convened in spring 2018, three months after Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker article that sparked a resurgence in Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement and a nationwide focus on harassment, intimidation and violence toward women. In many ways, our class felt like a microcosm of this cultural moment. What was unfolding around us — in the entertainment industry first, and then nearly everywhere else — echoed the focus of the course: thinking critically about structures of power, intersectional identities and the impact of marginalization on the human experience. This class was a testament to USC Annenberg’s position on the cutting edge of academe and industry. We were prepared to tackle the zeitgeist of this movement with clarity and academic rigor. Throughout the class, we viewed episodes of WOMAN. After each episode, we would unpack and analyze it, Illustration by Alessandra de Cristofaro

as we often do in cultural studies and communication courses. In this case, our conversations with the creators, producers and distribution teams helped us understand the impetus behind each creative decision. This access was unlike any other I had experienced in a class, and it allowed me to interact with the material on an even deeper level. As much as I appreciated access to the creators of WOMAN, the clear high point of the class was the visit by Gloria Steinem. The opportunity to engage in a small group discussion with such a cultural icon was surreal. She emphasized media’s ability to create new or shifted understandings of the world, calling on us to use this power to reach others with messages that shed light on places most often silenced or unheard. Our conversation was formative to my study of gender and helped me narrow the topic of my honors thesis to women’s reproductive health. This focus helped catalyze my group’s final project, a zine titled Listen, that addressed the issue of sexual violence on college campuses. Our love for USC drove us to address concerns about problematic aspects of college culture. We believed that our zine could provide a critical intervention in creating community among survivors, who often suffer silently and without validation. Our message to the women featured in our zine, and to those who identify with their stories, was clear: We believe you. My USC Annenberg education is about preparing me for a meaningful life and career — and also about making the most of my access to this institution and its boundless opportunity. My experience in the WOMAN class, and the community of friends and professors it connected me with, reminded me that I do have the power to dream big and to make the world a better, safer, more inclusive place for everyone. a Avra Juliani graduated in May 2019 with a bachelor’s in communication. Spring 2019 13


Jean Guerrero crosses the line By Ted B. Kissell

Jean Guerrero has covered Latin America, immigration and border issues for The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, and now KPBS-TV in San Diego, earning an Emmy and a PEN/ FUSION Emerging Writers Prize in 2016.

Borders have irrevocably shaped Jean Guerrero’s life. The most tangible one is between Mexico and the United States — specifically near San Diego, where she grew up. But, for Guerrero, that line on a map intertwines with other boundaries. The lines between sanity and madness, science and mysticism, father and daughter. Since graduating from USC Annenberg with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism in 2010, Guerrero has followed two parallel passions: building a career as an award-winning reporter covering immigration and border issues, and writing a memoir about her Mexican-born father, whom she grew up believing had paranoid schizophrenia. “I’d thought I was going to write a novel based on my father’s life,” Guerrero said. “But I was at Annenberg studying journalism when he started opening up to me in detail about his alleged experiences, and I realized that I could do it as nonfiction.” The resulting debut book, Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir (One World, 2018) recounts her quest to understand her father, his homeland, and her own relationship to both. That journey began in earnest when she moved to Mexico City in 2010 to work as a foreign correspondent for Dow Jones. She describes her flight into the city in the book: The city, like all cities in Spanish, struck me as feminine — la ciudad. It was evident in the curve of her back and her maternal embrace of the dead. Every year she sank a few more inches into the buried swamp of Tenochtitlan. Buildings of all shapes and colors rose from her skin. The unapologetic chaos of the landscape was congruous with the man she had conceived. The man awaiting me, the man I had come here to understand. I was plummeting into an alternate universe, into the dream of the city itself, where the laws of fairy-tale physics reigned. In between reporting on some of the grimmest aspects of Mexico’s drug war, Guerrero delved into her family history. As she discovered how much of her family’s story involved dichotomies and borders — both physical and metaphysical — her drive to understand her father gathered momentum. “Once I realized that I wanted to explore my father as the ultimate migrant, this concept of crossing borders just took over, and then it was just a matter of finding connections,” Guerrero said. “One of the most fun parts about the book was finding all of the rhymes and echoes and mirrors and parallels — drawing connections between ancestors, between the countries, between the experiences, between philosophies.” Her father’s mental illness manifested itself in confusing, terrifying ways. He believed that he had been subjected to CIA experiments, and that he was under constant surveillance. He would leave the family, moving around the world, to avoid his enemies. He would wrap himself in tinfoil to block surveillance. When she began formally interviewing her father, Guerrero found that he was open to talking about his experiences, and that her professional remove helped them both through the process. “That relationship of the journalist and the interview subject made it possible to have these conversations with my father because he is very averse to intimacy and vulnerability,” she said. “He only felt comfortable opening up to me because I was taking this impartial, objective stance toward his storytelling. “Later he told me that he felt really grateful for the whole process because he’d never been heard like that before,” she added. Guerrero notes that her book is a lot like the books she’s always liked to read. “My first favorite books were science fiction, fantasy and fairy tales,” she said. “I’ve always gravitated to stories that have magic in them. That’s why I didn’t want to do this book as a journalist at first, because I thought real life doesn’t have magic. Living inside of my father’s imagination and exploring his mystical ancestors, I realized that the real world does have magic in it.” a Photo by Stacy Keck

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USC Annenberg Magazine

The monolithic, three-story media wall in the lobby of Wallis Annenberg Hall serves as an easy visual metaphor: Its towering presence always conveys that you’re at the center of something. When big news is breaking, USC Annenberg students, faculty and staff know they can gather to witness it here — especially if that news is about national politics. During the 2016 election season, all three presidential debates were shown live on the media wall, with students packed onto three floors engaging with faculty in post-debate discussion. On Sept. 27, 2018, the lobby teemed with yet another crowd — this one completely impromptu. The throng, most of them students, stood absolutely riveted by the two most prominent speakers on the media wall’s screen: Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. As Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers, and Kavanaugh, in turn, denied that allegation, the crowd whispered and muttered to one another — conversations that grew more animated after the testimony had finished. On the periphery of the space, national and international news crews had set up cameras to capture students’ candid reactions to the hearings, occasionally interviewing individual students about the real-time political drama playing out before them. Not only were media outlets eager to learn how USC Annenberg students viewed the controversial nomination, the hearings dominated coverage in the student-run Annenberg Media and Daily Trojan in the weeks before and after Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the high court. Illustrations by Heads of State for USC Annenberg Magazine

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That day’s events are just one example of how USC Annenberg students, faculty and alumni were, are, and will continue to be engaged with the most pressing political contests and debates in the United States. “Going back to the beginning, politics is in this school’s DNA,” said Geoffrey Cowan, University Professor, Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership, and former USC Annenberg dean. “Every aspect of politics has always been a central issue here.” The school not only prepares undergraduate and graduate students to be versatile storytellers who can shape political narratives and messages, it also produces rigorous critical thinkers who can address complex questions of politics and policy. As alumni, they have carried those lessons with them as they became journalists delving into the machinations of Washington, D.C., communicators shaping and studying political messaging, or public relations professionals crafting candidate and advocacy campaigns. “Journalism, communication and public relations form a triad that keeps the public informed about what’s going on in government, and how that affects society as a whole,” said USC Annenberg alumna and former KCBS investigative reporter Jacki Wells Cisneros. And often, the most important lessons are about a lot more than who wins and who loses. “Covering the horse race of politics is the easy way out,” noted journalism adjunct instructor Marc Ambinder, a longtime political reporter. “The real question we want to ask ourselves — and want our students to ask — is, what do we owe to our democracy as communicators?” Whether or not the class actually has “politics” in the title, political issues, candidates, movements and messages are all but assumed to be among the teachable moments students and teachers will discuss and dissect. An “Introduction to Strategic Public Relations” class might examine how a politician’s PR team handled a crisis. “Advanced Investigative Reporting” might discuss dealing with a federal agency that isn’t responding to a Freedom of Information Act request. “Campaign Communication” might analyze the best ways to shape a candidate’s messaging. This Spring, Ambinder taught a national security reporting course with Joshua Campbell, who once served as special assistant to then-FBI Director James Comey. After accepting an invitation to talk to the class, Comey also took questions in USC Annenberg’s Media Center from students working in the newsroom that morning. “The truth is a real thing,” Comey said. “It exists. We need people who care deeply about finding what is true and holding power accountable.” Ambinder, The Week’s editor-at-large and a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ, formerly served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. He’s seen the evolution of the relationship between politicians and the press, and is making sure his students are able to adapt. “We’re trying to figure out how to do effective political journalism in this new environment,” Ambinder said. “A lot of

that is experimental, and a lot of that will involve requiring students here — as well as faculty and alumni — to question some of the core tenets and principles of political reporting, and to be open to new ideas.” He’s not talking about changing the core ethics of journalism here. “I think the ethics of the profession seem to be holding up pretty well: Always tell the truth, hold powerful interests accountable, constantly question, and never assume,” Ambinder explained. “I mean the idea that we have to go out of our way to make sure a story seems ‘balanced’ before it can be published, or the principle that ‘both parties do it.’ If you’re following those kinds of principles just because you’re afraid that people will think you’re X, Y or Z, and not in service of accuracy and truth-telling to your audience, then those principles need to be disregarded.” USC Annenberg creates many opportunities for students to put the principles of political communications, public relations and journalism into action: class assignments, internships, directed research. A particularly inspiring workspace for all of the school’s aspiring communicators is the glass-walled suite of assignment desks, audio and video broadcast studios and TV monitors that is USC Annenberg’s Media Center. Opened in 2014, the media center serves a triple role at the school: classroom, laboratory and incubator, where students produce stories for Annenberg Media on multiple platforms. Last year, Christina Bellantoni was named the media center’s new director; her particular expertise sends a strong signal about the kind of training students are receiving there. Having served as political editor of PBS NewsHour and editor-in-chief of Roll Call, Bellantoni was most recently an assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, leading the politics team. Bellantoni, who regularly appears on national political talk shows, believes that two factors can help journalists’ credibility with the public, especially when it comes to coverage of politics. First, greater diversity of backgrounds and perspectives within newsrooms themselves; and second, greater transparency about how stories are reported. “It would be helpful for newspapers to stop pretending people there don’t have opinions,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you have to be partisan media, but you can at least be a little bit clearer about where people are coming from or how decisions are made in the newsroom. “I wanted to attack these issues at the Los Angeles Times, but we never could because of the daily news deadlines,” she added. “So, I thought, what better place than USC Annenberg to think about these really big challenges in the industry that I love so much?” Having edited both young reporters and seasoned pros her entire career, Bellantoni sets a high bar, both in her classes as a professor of professional practice, and as the head of the media center. “My best advice for anyone wanting to cover politics is, go deep on everything,” Bellantoni said. “You can’t be shallow when it comes to politics. When you’ve asked every question, go back and ask five more. People want deep storytelling that helps them understand the world around them — and that includes knowing the truth, whatever that truth may be.” One of her earliest initiatives as media center director was the creation, in response to student demand, of a Politics Desk for Annenberg Media. Reporters and editors from Spring 2019 19

that desk covered not only the 2018 midterm elections, but on-campus events, such as a Fall appearance by controversial conservative speaker Ben Shapiro. “There were protests, and there were also many, many students in a very long line to hear what he had to say — not because they were necessarily subscribing to everything he had to say, but because they wanted to expose themselves to it,” Bellantoni said. The student journalists who covered that event had a responsibility to cover it fairly and include all perspectives, whatever their own beliefs might be. “Sometimes, that’s easier said than done,” she added. Bellantoni stresses that student reporters need to be more careful with word choice when writing about politics than almost any other subject. “Show, don’t tell. That’s a basic journalistic tenet — and it allows you to be fairer when covering politics.” Providing students access to state-of-the-art facilities, expert faculty, and prominent guest speakers and lecturers are among the many ways USC Annenberg prepares students to lead the national conversation around politics. “During the time that I’ve been here, which is over 20 years, we’ve seen the tools change,” Cowan said. “And as the tools have changed the way we think about politics, we have stayed current and remained experts on political communication.” Cowan’s career as both a journalist and an academic is inextricably connected with U.S. politics, from his work on reforming the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process while still a law student in 1968, to serving as director of Voice of America under President Bill Clinton. After serving as dean of USC Annenberg from 1996 to 2007, Cowan became founding director of the school’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy (CCLP). CCLP’s mission to engage students with communications professionals and the political process is, by necessity, a bipartisan one. In collaboration with media partners, the center’s student fellows covered both the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions in 2008, 2012 and 2016, and will do so again in 2020. CCLP also brings a wide range of speakers from the world of politics to campus, both at public events and in classrooms. In March, CCLP and other politically minded campus groups hosted Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy III in Wallis Annenberg Hall’s Forum. “In my own class in a couple of weeks, my guest will be Karl Rove, it might shock you to hear,” Cowan — a lifelong Democrat — said of the well-known Republican campaign strategist. “It’s really important that students be exposed to a whole range of points of view.” Engaged alumni and parents also help deepen and broaden the political conversations at USC Annenberg. R. Rebecca “Becki” Donatelli is a USC alumna (she earned a BA from USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1975) whose relationship with USC Annenberg began when her daughter enrolled as a journalism major. A Republican political consultant, online political pioneer and founder of the Campaign Solutions firm, Donatelli recalls being impressed by how her daughter Elizabeth Donatelli (who graduated with a 20

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bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism in 2004 and is now a broadcast and online journalist) learned the craft. “They taught her how to run the camera, carry the camera, be a one-man band — how to get down to the actual mechanics of being a working reporter,” she said. “She was really prepared, as a graduate, to walk into any newsroom and get to work.” When Becki Donatelli decided to help contribute to USC Annenberg, she knew she wanted to draw on her own expertise and connections to add to the conversation around politics and policy at the school. She has spearheaded two initiatives: First, the Donatelli Expert-in-Residence series brings leading figures in politics and political communications to USC Annenberg. Early highlights included Washington, D.C., luminaries such as political commentator Cokie Roberts and NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. A recent appearance by Politico Editor Carrie Budoff Brown focused on the importance of facts above all else in today’s highly polarized political climate. In addition to such “rock stars” at the top of their field, Donatelli says the Expert-in-Residence program also brings in speakers who might not be so well known, but who truly understand D.C. government and politics, and who can share their experience with students. “It is critical that these students be exposed to a variety of voices,” Donatelli said. “If you just hear one thing or one side, they will not be effective advocates or journalists.” While the Expert-in-Residence series brings outside political experts to USC, Donatelli recently organized another initiative that does the reverse. A D.C. trip, first held this Spring, brought 19 students to the nation’s capital to meet with administration officials, members of Congress, and other government figures. The visit included a luncheon hosted by Donatelli at the Press Club, where students heard from a panel that included members of her Campaign Solutions team. “The goal has always been to offer insight into how government works, and how the natural outcome of political campaigns leads to governance,” Donatelli said. “Right now, we have a divided government, and a divided government only works if all sides are willing to talk to each other and try to reach a compromise. The students on the trip got to see that in action.”

Based on such curricular and extracurricular foundations, USC Annenberg alumni have been building successful careers in politics for decades. Brenda Gonzalez, who earned a master’s degree in strategic public relations in 2017 and serves on the advisory board for the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, had already worked in government communications at the local, state and federal levels when she started her graduate studies. She knew that her degree would bring her skills she could use in her work as press secretary for then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, but was surprised to learn how ubiquitous political conversations were, both inside and outside the classroom. “I honestly did not think my classes would touch on political PR as much as they did,” she said. “In almost

every class, we discussed the news of the day — which, of course, always had to do with politics.” Gonzalez, who now works as state press secretary for Harris’ U.S. Senate office, said that discussions about politics were everywhere at USC Annenberg, especially during the 2016 election cycle. “It was inspiring to see how many students were engaged in the future of our country, no matter their personal party affiliation,” she said. After taking the “Crisis Management in Strategic Public Relations” course with Brenda Lynch, an adjunct instructor and senior partner at Finn Partners, Gonzalez said she realized that no matter where she worked, she would need to have, and be able to execute, a crisis communications plan. “The skills I gained from this class were so valuable to my political communications career,” she said. “Politics and PR go hand in hand.” The same can certainly be said of journalism. Jacki Wells Cisneros, an alumna who earned her bachelor’s degree in communication arts and sciences in 1995, says the importance of well-trained, ethical, vigilant journalists to the political process is evident every day. Cisneros adds that USC Annenberg gave her the skills she needed to excel at covering politics. “But I didn’t realize the responsibility that was on my shoulders until I was well into it,” she said. “It wasn’t until I started working at an investigative unit at KCBS that I really understood the need for political journalism, and the impact you could have.” Her time as a working journalist also gave Cisneros an appreciation of the need for a diversity of perspectives in a newsroom, especially when it comes to the coverage of politics. After she and her husband Gil Cisneros won $266 million in the MegaMillions jackpot in 2010, they were determined to give back to the causes that meant the most to them — including USC Annenberg’s mission to train the next generation of journalists and communicators. The Wells Cisneros Scholarship goes to one Latino USC Annenberg student each year. “As Latinos, we felt that it was important that the stories of the fastest-growing demographic in the United States should be told at USC Annenberg,” Jacki Cisneros said. “It’s important in any workplace to have different perspectives represented, especially if it’s your job to tell stories and cover many different communities.” The political expertise of USC Annenberg’s graduates is also keenly felt not just in the press corps covering the most contentious issues and campaigns, but also the people crafting the messaging for those campaigns. Alumnus Steve Grand earned his MA in communication theory and research in 1990 and his PhD in communication in 1995, but he had begun working as a media consultant on Republican political campaigns even before that. “It’s like I was a really good tennis player, but I didn’t really understand the mechanics of why that was,” Grand said. “The master’s curriculum at USC Annenberg gave me a lot of helpful insights about running a business, including the business of government. On the PhD side, I learned research methodology, which I put into my own research on visual metaphor and persuasion. I was able to put this academic theory behind what I was doing in the real world. In my doctoral work, I started breaking

down the voter decision process and thinking about it in a rigorous academic way.” Grand says that working at USC Annenberg with such renowned professors as the late Ev Rogers and the late Jim Beniger left a lasting impression on him. Active on several Republican Senate campaigns in 2018, Grand says he put his research to work helping a Super PAC in Josh Hawley’s successful campaign in Missouri against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill. “She was known for having a private plane and had gotten in some trouble for using it,” he said. “So, we designed this plane metaphor that literally flew through a lot of the campaign ads. The notion about a metaphor is that, in a very short amount of time — like a 30-second TV ad — you can say a lot of things.” Grand came to campus shortly before the 2018 elections to speak with Bellantoni’s students in the Annenberg Media newsroom about political strategy and communication (he and Bellantoni had met teaching as Institute of Politics Fellows at Harvard’s Kennedy School), showing them some of his campaign ads and engaging with them about their messaging and effectiveness. He says that USC Annenberg’s tradition of fairness and vigorous debate allows students to learn from experts on politics on both sides of the party divide. In addition to covering politicians and working for them, USC Annenberg alumni have also had an impact as elected officials themselves. Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford earned a master’s in communication management (along with his law degree) in 1990. Yorba Linda Mayor Tara Campbell, who in 2018 became California’s youngest female mayor, got her bachelor’s degree in 2015, double-majoring in political science and broadcast and digital journalism. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who earned a master’s in communication management in 2005, says the messaging and communication skills he learned help him every day he’s in office. “I’m very grateful to have a communications background, particularly when it comes to crisis management issues,” he said. “I am also the ambassador for this city, and I learned a lot of those skills in my studies at USC.” Garcia says that a class he took with Professor of Communication Thomas Hollihan was particularly formative for him as both a professional communicator and a politician. “The class helped me understand some of the theory behind my own personal political beliefs,” Garcia said. “Tom has a great way of explaining the foundations of both being a liberal and a conservative and what those really mean. I really walked out of that class understanding the reasons why I believe what I believe. I also came away understanding the importance of communicating your message appropriately in politics.” Garcia emphasized that the lessons he learned at USC Annenberg about the shaping of political narratives remain relevant to this day. “I am amazed that some of these themes that we discussed when I was a student, we’re living through right now,” Garcia said. “For any student that’s interested in political communications, or policy, or being part of the media covering the political discourse, USC Annenberg is a great place to be.” a

Gabriel Cortés (MS, journalism, ’19) contributed to this report.

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t’s a sunny los angeles day. Professor of Communication François Bar has brought a new cruiser bike, along with its curious cart, to Sixth Street at San Pedro Street, where some unhoused Skid Row residents have come to know him by name. He isn’t out for a leisurely ride; the cart is an experiment designed with and for the homeless residents as a means to bring more electric power and internet accessibility to the area. Los Angeles, with its racially, ethnically and economically diverse population, provides the perfect backdrop to experiment with initiatives that seek equality. For many USC Annenberg faculty and students, Los Angeles is more than a place to be studied. Many, such as Bar, take the next step of turning their findings into actions that improve the lives of their fellow Angelenos, often through partnerships with local governments or community-based nonprofits. In Bar’s case, he has traveled the developing world studying the “digital divide” — how poor communities’ lack of access to high-speed internet shuts them off from information and opportunity in the digital age. But it turned out that the best case study was much closer to home. “The worst neighborhood in the entire state of California in terms of broadband internet use is actually two blocks down the street from USC,” Bar said. “Here on campus, we have the fastest internet.” Bar and his team have joined forces with USC Price’s Spatial Analysis Lab and the London School of Economics to map and quantify the disparities. “We’re finding things you would expect,” Bar said. “Poor people get less


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internet. Black and Latino people get less internet. And many of the trends are unfortunately worsening.” Determined to turn their research into positive action, Bar collaborated with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), an organization that serves the Skid Row population, to try to co-design solutions for their lack of internet access. After much fieldwork and experimentation, what they learned was, while access to broadband internet is indeed a problem, what was more pressing for the community was their inability to charge their phones. If a phone doesn’t have power, internet access is a moot point. With this in mind, Bar and the LACAN team designed a solar-paneled cart to be towed behind a bicycle. The cart is equipped with a mobile charging station for 12 devices that also functions as a hotspot. In addition, a PA system mounted to the back plays music designed to attract community residents. Bar says their ultimate goal isn’t just to step in for City Hall and completely solve the problem. However, as the team deploys their charging cart and conducts long-term collaborative research with community partners — really getting to know people, what they need, and the obstacles they face — they can empower Skid Row residents to develop sustainable solutions suited to their everyday practices. “You must be designing with end-users for real conditions,” Bar said. “This kind of bottom-up design is more likely to be appropriate. Things that are just deployed from the top tend to not work.” Photos by Damon Casarez

FRANÇOIS BAR, professor of communication, pulls a solar-paneled cart designed to provide power to Skid Row residents’ mobile phones. The project was made possible through collaboration with the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

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Giving Data to the People


One of the most recent studies from the Crosstown project, led by Kahn, looked at nearly three years of weather and accident data to determine what times of the day are most hazardous to drive in wet weather in Los Angeles.

Back on the University Park campus, Professor of Professional Practice Gabriel Kahn is focusing on a wholly different group of end-users: L.A.’s regional journalists who are struggling with data and information access in the age of shrinking newsrooms. The former Wall Street Journal L.A. bureau chief helped create a joint news project called Crosstown, a website that serves as a portal to the most succinct-yet-robust data about how Los Angeles lives, moves and breathes, presented in articles and infographics. Crosstown’s data-driven storytelling seeks to keep Angelenos informed on what’s actually happening in their neighborhoods, on their roadways, and in their air. Kahn says his interest in the project was sparked by the “meltdown” of the funding model for local media. “The economics are pretty straightforward,” Kahn said. “If you cover a small area, your ability to derive income from the journalism you produce, there’s a cap on that. Doing traditional media that way is not sustainable.” Dean Willow Bay recognized the potential for innovation by pairing engineers with journalists and teaching them how to speak each other’s languages. After securing a grant through the Annenberg Leadership Initiative to explore the idea, she asked Kahn to head up the effort. This became Crosstown. Knowing that a successful project would need to combine serious data science with serious storytelling skills, Kahn brought in fellows from both USC Annenberg and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Inside the west lobby of the Annenberg School of Communication building, students from USC Annenberg’s journalism school and doctoral fellows from USC Viterbi’s Integrated Media Systems Center sit across from one another, furiously typing. Journalism sophomore Nisha Venkat works on the weekly University Park blotter. Shirsho Dasgupta, who is pursuing a master’s in journalism, puts the finishing touches on a comprehensive neighborhood safety report. Computer science PhD student Giorgos Constantinou scans pages and pages of crime data. All the while, managing editor Lauren Whaley, who earned her master’s in specialized journalism in 2010, fields urgent, last-minute questions from the students via her laptop. The initial footwork was intense: Fellows had to design, create and populate databases for crime, traffic, and air quality analysis from scratch. The lack of stan-

between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesday?’ And the engineers’ answer is, ‘How do you define accidents?’” Constantinou, who’s in charge of breaking down the crime database, became a key figure in unraveling communication complexities. As he crawled through police records from all across L.A. County, he found that intercity police departments didn’t even use the same coding for the same crimes. But now, Constantinou, Kahn and the team at Crosstown possess the single-most comprehensive crime database for L.A. County. Sophomore journalism major Joshua Chang has used this data to write multiple pieces, such as, “Hate Incidents on the Rise in Los Angeles,” which breaks down the reports of “incidents” not deemed criminal, but of definite interest to citizens. Further, every article features incisive infographics, and a separate “Neighborhood Tracker” map section allows anyone to access data for their specific neighborhood. Kahn says Crosstown articles are often linked to the Los Angeles Times Essential California newsletter, but because of the breadth of information in any given piece, other local outlets use Crosstown’s data to investigate the stories on their own. “We want people to draw meaning from these articles and graphics,” Kahn said. “Giving them these tools and information is how they can advocate for themselves and their communities.”

Investing In Our Community

The work of students and faculty is only one aspect of USC Annenberg’s positive impact on Los Angeles. Alumni can be found in a myriad of roles throughout the city and county, taking on a wide variety of challenges facing the community. Ilir Lita, who earned his bachelor’s degree in communication and media studies in 2002 and his master’s degree in professional writing in 2010, is director of programs at the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, an independent, nonpartisan organization that seeks to bridge government services and philanthropic dollars with initiatives that can have a long-lasting impact on L.A.’s economic future. “We serve as an incubator to leverage private dollars focused on innovation,” Lita said. “The idea is that there’s bureaucracy, but how can we jumpstart innovation within city government by piloting programs?”


dardization for collecting and distributing this kind of information between agencies complicated these tasks. “It took us a long time to figure out how the journalists could ask the questions that the engineers would understand,” Kahn said. “The journalists can ask, ‘How many accidents occur on the 10 freeway heading west 26

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Lita recalls stepping inside City Hall for his interview and thinking, “This is where I’m supposed to be, driving change at the local level.” He now acts as a kind of conduit, getting all sides to communicate their needs and desires. Each of their 30 programs has its own “origin story” with key players, but Lita is the matchmaker.

ILIR LITA is director of programs for the Mayor’s Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Angelenos.

PAMELA PERRIMON, mobile museum educator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, takes the archaeology experience on the road. The truck goes to underserved schools in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

As Lita describes it, the Mayor’s Fund simply helps the city work better. One of their biggest accomplishments has been the L.A. College Promise, guaranteeing one full year of community college for free to Los Angeles students. They also have programs for homeless resources, sustainability, volunteerism, housing, and youth employment, including one that seeks to increase the representation of women in STEM careers. And then there’s the Mayor’s Young Ambassadors, which takes Los Angeles youth to embassies throughout the world to learn about international civics. “They just came back from Tokyo, and they’re going to Paris this spring,” Lita said. The efforts of the Mayor’s Fund to bring more women into STEM fields builds on Los Angeles’ tradition of leadership in science and technology. Whether it’s the rich history of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the relentless archaeological excavations in the La Brea Tar Pits, or the environmental policy initiatives that have made this area a bellwether for combatting climate change, L.A. has always been on the cutting edge of research. Pamela Perrimon, who earned a master’s degree in global communication in 2018, spends her days connecting the next generation with the rich history and bright future of L.A. tech. As community scientist and mobile museums educator with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles,

can be a good thing, understanding science in the news, being able to look at the political implications, that is all of absolute importance.”

Reporting on Homelessness

Communicating the facts of complex issues is one of the most important ways USC Annenberg students, faculty and alumni can drive positive change in Los Angeles — whether they’re raising the science literacy of L.A. youth, or telling humane, nuanced stories about the community’s seemingly intractable problem with homelessness. “There is a lost tribe of people who most people want to ignore,” said Mary Murphy, associate professor of professional practice. “Our students are not letting people ignore this huge homelessness crisis, which surrounds every community in Los Angeles.” Murphy, who has volunteered at The Midnight Mission in Skid Row for 30 years, teamed up with Professor of Journalism Sandy Tolan to devote their “Reporting on Urban Affairs” class to covering the L.A. homeless population. But before her students could do deep, meaningful reporting on homelessness, Murphy found that most needed a crash course in the basics — which stereotypical representations in the media hadn’t taught them.


she figures out how to best package not just the basic information educators would bring to K-12 classrooms, but also how to convey the passion behind scientific discoveries and research. “The way I like to do things is theatrical, and that’s almost antithetical to how we normally think about STEM, which can be perceived as rote or abstract,” Perrimon said. “I like to think of it as telling a story about scientific process, keeping things open-ended, so people feel free to ask questions, because that’s what science is about.” The museum brings two different programs — one for younger grades, one for older — all over L.A., with a focus on marine science and the archaeology of the indigenous Native American people. The program ensures that kids who live far from the Exposition Park neighborhood where NHMLA is located can feel connected to the city’s scientific heritage. Perrimon, a native of Boston, cites the “Becoming L.A.” exhibit for solidifying her Angeleno identity and for opening her eyes to SoCal’s innovators. “I’m consistently surprised by how active citizen science is in L.A., and how it’s something I initially felt was very much hidden,” she said. “There is such a vibrant environment of citizen science programs everywhere that it’s becoming so much more accessible than ever before.” Perrimon added that accessibility and science literacy are essential for good citizenship. “Science is being politicized and misconstrued,” she said. “The communication process between the scientists and the community isn’t always easy, but being able to understand the process and knowing that a question that isn’t answered

“The myth was that homeless people are all either mentally ill or addicted, and that is not true,” Murphy said. “The students will say, ‘I had no idea there were so many homeless students at USC,’ or, ‘I had no idea that so many people lived in their cars,’ or, ‘I had no idea that so many people were evicted.’ ‘I had no idea there was so much racism!’ But this is the truth, and their job is to report the truth.” Murphy says she and Tolan don’t believe in “hitand-run interviews,” where you “run down to a homeless person, stick a mic in their face, and say, ‘What’s it like to be homeless?’” Her methodology echoes that of François Bar: Both require their researchers to go back again and again to get to know their subjects. Murphy is also adamant that her students find new ways to cover the homeless. “We want them to do text and video, to spend time, to speak to solutions,” she said. “One of the things we really emphasized is, when you’re doing the stories, talk about what would be the solution to the problem, and not just the problem. Our goal as journalists across USC Annenberg is to help find solutions to this crisis. Our local government needs help in finding solutions, and that’s what we’re trying to do.” She cites multiple students’ work being published in outlets such as VICE and the Huffington Post. “It’s what’s most exciting to Sandy and me. The students enhanced my comprehension of the homelessness crisis in a way that no other media outlet I was reading had done.” To Murphy, it’s imperative to cover the issue correctly and with humanity. “The next time you walk by a homeless person, don’t ignore them,” Murphy added. “They’re Los Angeles, too.” a


In April, Murphy and Sandy Tolan hosted “A Conversation about L.A.’s Homelessness Crisis.” They introduced the USC Annenberg community to people experiencing homelessness as well as those working in politics and nonprofits dedicated to helping address this issue.

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The Power of Podcasting BY


The closet is small.

A single bare bulb illuminates clothes on hangers, shoes tucked into corners and small foam panels, artfully arranged to dull the sound of traffic passing outside her Los Angeles apartment. Paola Mardo stands inside, door closed, speaking into a mic clipped to a stand. A recorder perched atop a folded stack of shirts monitors sound levels. Mardo begins reading her script from the iPhone she holds. “I was 15 years old when I moved back to the U.S. and it was [pause] awkward,” Mardo says, introducing herself and her podcast, Long Distance, to a nascent group of listeners. Mardo, who earned a master’s degree in specialized journalism (the arts) in 2017, is a self-described “1.5 generation” Filipina. She was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Manila and Kuala Lumpur before moving back as a teen. In one of the early episodes of the podcast she began after she graduated, Mardo talks about what it was like coming to the United States. She remembers being in a history class and finding only a half-page dedicated to America’s occupation of the Philippines, whereas “in the Philippines you’re taught so much about America.” According to Mardo, who was also a Sony Pictures Entertainment Fellow while at USC Annenberg, hers was a population that didn’t have a voice in mainstream media. This was her way of tapping into those stories. Colin Maclay, research professor of communication and co-host of the podcast How Do You Like It So Far?, believes that shows like Mardo’s demonstrate the powerful connections podcasts can form. Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

“Since anyone can create a podcast, it’s always possible to find your audience,” he said. “Success doesn’t mean finding 500,000 people. It could be finding 50 people. There’s this new medium and, finally, it can be meritocratic.” USC Annenberg has always been on the front lines of teaching the theory and practice of emerging content delivery systems. Now, with podcasting cresting, the school’s faculty members are not only investigating the economic and cultural implications of podcasts, but becoming practitioners as well. Meanwhile, students and alumni are taking advantage of the storytelling, reporting and marketing skills learned in their classes to create their own podcast series. The Early Days Maclay explains that he was working at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University when the new form emerged. “If you go back — way, way back — to 2003, there are two podcasts often credited with being the first ever,” he said. Maclay notes that while some believe the podcast originated with journalist Christopher Lydon at the Berkman Klein Center, others think it started with former MTV video jockey Adam Curry. But whoever pioneered the form, Maclay points out that then-Berkman Fellow Dave Winer developed the software that launched a listening revolution by transforming an RSS feed from text to an “enclosure,” which allows audio to be transmitted and received through devices capable of playing MP3 files. Carrie Poppy describes some of the first podcasts as “friends, usually two guys, documenting their friendship.” Poppy, who graduated with a master’s in journalism in 2015, started a podcast in 2011 with Ross Blocher Spring 2019 31

called Oh No, Ross and Carrie. Today, the show garners about half a million downloads every month. Poppy still believes that podcasts, at their heart, are about friendship and familiarity. For the first decade or so of their existence, podcasts slowly grew in popularity. In 2005, the New Oxford American Dictionary declared “podcasting” its word of the year. In 2012, Apple added a new dedicated podcast app to the iPhone. By 2014, there were more than a billion podcast subscribers, setting the stage for what happened next.

Success doesn’t mean finding “ 500,000 people. It could be

finding 50 people. There’s this new medium and, finally, it can be meritocratic.


StoryCorps “The shows are short, and there are usually 2-3 good stories in each podcast. It’s about family interviewing loved ones, so everything is very raw and authentic.” –Heather Ritchie ’13, Sr. Marketing Communications Manager, AT&T


Traditional radio shows such as This American Life started to turn out podcasts in 2014, coupling the journalistic approach of radio with the familiarity and casualness of podcasting that Poppy referenced. “Both worlds have something to offer each other,” Poppy said. “But I’d say the turning point for podcasting was Serial.” Serial, which has been downloaded more than 300 million times, is a true-crime podcast created by This American Life, a weekly public radio show that has been around since 1995. Season one of Serial re-investigates the 1999 murder of an 18-year-old high school student by her ex-boyfriend. The boyfriend was convicted of the crime; over the 12-episode podcast, host Sarah Koenig sorts through all the documents and trial testimony, and even re-interviews people who knew the two students. “Serial made people realize that this kind of engaged storytelling could really pull them into something that they would want to keep listening to,” said Willa Seidenberg, a professor of professional practice who founded Annenberg Radio News in 2007. George Lavender, vice president of content at Wondery, one of the largest podcast publishers in the United States, adds, “I think we’re only a fraction of the way into the exploration of this new medium. You’re seeing an explosion both in terms of content and the kinds of stories being told.” The USC Connection By now, scores of USC Annenberg faculty and alumni have started their own podcasts. Seidenberg, who taught some of those alumni in her audio journalism class, knows that students need more than just technical aptitude to produce a podcast; they also need journalistic training. “I think we recognize there are a lot of trends happening that we need to respond to,” Seidenberg said. “We might be sending our student out to jobs where they’re asking, ‘Hey, we want to start a podcast, you know about this?’ We want them to be able to say ‘yes.’” Seidenberg and Lavender co-taught a new podcasting course in Spring 2019. “Telling stories in audio — where there are no visuals — encourages a certain kind of observational journalism that is a very useful strength,” Lavender said. “And I think that fundamentally is a good skill for journalists to have.” 32

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Binge Mode “Each season is an immersive look at obsessionworthy content. The thoughtfulness, humor, and care the hosts use in crafting each episode is a love letter to the stories that make our lives a little more enjoyable.” –Ian Hurley ’17, Associate Editor, Pacific Standard Magazine

Poppy admits she came to journalism “sideways.” By the time she enrolled in graduate school, she had already been co-hosting and co-producing her podcast for four years. She was approached by a magazine editor who commissioned her to write a piece about her reporting adventures for their show, and realized she had “accidentally become a reporter.” In order to formalize her learning, she chose to go back to graduate school, applying only to USC. “For me, it was really just, ‘I want to be better at this.’ And I’m definitely better at it,” Poppy said. Mardo also learned the skills necessary to craft a compelling story by taking radio journalism classes at USC Annenberg. “There is a lot of research and interviewing that goes into each podcast,” she said. “The journalism part of me always wants to make sure that I get all the points across.” Riding this wave of fervor for podcasting, USC Annenberg faculty partnered with USC Visions and Voices earlier this year to host a two-day conference on the “Power and Pleasure of Podcasting” to bring their podcasting expertise to the broader USC community. Henry Jenkins, University Professor of Communication and Journalism, moderated the sold-out kickoff event, likening the intimacy of listening to a podcast to someone “whispering in your ear.” On opening night, a diverse group of podcasters from across the country discussed their career paths and their shows. Melinna Bobadilla and Brenda Gonzalez from the podcast series Tamarindo went “live” from the event to their followers. “We like to say we are Latinx voices at the intersection of politics and pop culture,” Bobadilla announced.

is a lot of research and “ There interviewing that goes into

each podcast. The journalism part of me always wants to make sure that I get all the points across. PA O L A M A R D O

#HelloMonday “The featured guests are intelligent, revered leaders with surprisingly human perspectives. The host asks real questions about the tactical execution of their philosophies. Love the routine dose of inspiration on the first day of the week.” –Cory Welsh ’10 and ’17, Sales Performance Consultant, LinkedIn Learning

Day two was filled with workshops that covered the podcasting landscape, production basics and the business of podcasting. One of the presenters, Keri Hoffman from PRX, a leading audio media organization and early entrant into podcasting, asked the attendees to think of podcasts as audio-on-demand — wide-open and filled with possibilities. Listen Up These wide-open opportunities have led to broader entertainment implications for content creators and brands, who are starting to think of podcasts as a way to connect with consumers. Companies such as meal delivery service Blue Apron and beauty products retailer Sephora are now producing their own series to speak directly to potential customers. For McDonald’s, a podcast was created to help illuminate an incident that turned into a minor communication crisis. Fred Cook, chairman of public relations firm Golin and director of the USC Center for Public Relations, offers an example of how Golin developed a three-

episode podcast after a shortage of McDonald’s Szechuan sauce caused a marketing fiasco. In the first episode of the cult cartoon series Rick and Morty’s third season, Rick ranted to his grandson Morty that his very existence depended upon the hope that he might acquire McDonald’s discontinued Szechuan sauce of the late ’90s. The joke fueled fans to create a social media campaign to convince McDonald’s to bring back the sauce. McDonald’s caught wind of the campaign, decided it was a great idea — but underestimated the crowds. The fast-food giant ran out of the sauce quickly, and people were angry, causing major disturbances at their restaurants across the country. “Rather than sending out a press release or having a spokesperson on TV talking about why there was a shortage, we made a podcast with behind-the-scenes interviews,” Cook said. “It helped tell the story in a humorous way and was a different mechanism for delivering a message.” While marketing firms seeking to build brand affinity are venturing into podcasting, Hollywood is taking advantage of podcasts’ reach and popularity as a trove for discovering series content. Both Dirty John and Homecoming, two series that are now on Bravo and Amazon, respectively, started as podcasts. Serial is now a four-part documentary on HBO. In February, two podcasting companies, Gimlet and Anchor, were purchased by Spotify for $340 million; in March, Spotify purchased crime content studio Parcast for an estimated $100 million. This potential for explosion worries Maclay. What if Apple, he asks, which has been “relatively benevolent” to this point, decides it wants to own podcasting? He believes these large-scale investments into the medium can alter the kinds of content and voices that will be heard. He wonders, “As big money pours in and search algorithms change, will you start seeing these novel and important voices effectively disappear?” However, Maclay still sees the accessibility of podcasting as having great potential in the United States and around the world — particularly in developing nations. In countries where media and journalism are centralized, censored, or both, podcasting, with its relatively low production and access costs, is a promising way to share critical narratives. “Amid dynamic change, we need to collectively reaffirm what we love about this medium and ensure that new entrants, technologies and business models support its long-term health, rather than crassly commercialize, claim value and otherwise undermine this powerful platform for human connection,” he said. In giving voice to one marginalized community, Mardo aims for a complex, nuanced approach to her storytelling. “A lot of the stories you hear in the mainstream media about our community are immigrant struggles or the drug trade, but I wanted to show that our community has layers,” she said. One of the stories she produced was about a bar owned by three Filipina women; another highlights an undocumented couple who were high school sweethearts in the Philippines and then reconnected 40 years later on Facebook. “Right now, there’s no better time to be an independent producer in podcasting,” Mardo said. “Everyone wants to make a podcast, and if you can create something captivating enough for an audience to listen to while doing something else, whether that be driving to work, exercising, doing the laundry, then that’s a win. It’s like your podcast, the tape you’re using, the sound design, the narration, helps build the world you want to share.” a

Carrie Poppy’s Guide To Watering and Growing a Podcast 1

Develop an idea. You may think you already have one. That it is so obvious it doesn’t need stating. But guess what? A lot of people skip this step. Make your show about something.

CARRIE POPPY Co-Host and Founder of Oh No, Ross and Carrie



Decide on episode length.

Create a brief, compelling log line.

If your show is really compelling, you can get away with 90-minute episodes. Remember: The length of a show doesn’t imply quality. If you’re going to make it long, earn it.

There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts; you need to be able to explain what you’re doing in a single sentence. The more specific you are, the better odds you have of building an audience.



Determine a release schedule. While some podcasts are able to build a fan base by releasing once a month, most shows are weekly.

Select your production team. Podcasting is more work than you expect. So, I recommend having at least two people on your team, even if they’re in entirely behindthe-scenes roles.

Budget $300 or more.


You’re going to need at least this much to get the bare-bones equipment and services for your first year. Great equipment is upwards of $2,500.

7 Monitor sound. There are two basic ways to record: your computer or an external recording system. Pair with decent headphones to ensure good sound quality. At least one person should monitor sound the entire time.

8 Edit well.




Obtain a hosting service. Services such as Apple Podcasts are like a GPS that helps potential listeners find you.

When you listen to a good podcast, how often do you hear people pause or say “um”? Good podcasting is in the editing. Look for free editing software.

Create social media accounts.

Stay the course.

While social media can propel your show forward and put you in contact with fans, it can also attract trolls.

Don’t let praise, bullying, or kindhearted but misapplied criticism sway you too far from what your heart tells you to make. This podcast belongs to you, your teammates and no one else.

10 Submit your podcast. There’s more to streaming than Apple iTunes. Add your podcast to as many streaming services as you like.



Pitch your show to networks and advertisers. Wait until your show is doing well — at least 10,000 downloads an episode. This might be years down the line.

13 Connect with other professionals. Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you should work by yourself. Look online, there are podcasting meet-ups everywhere.

Have fun, be curious and listen hard.


Can ‘Game of Thrones’ Teach Us About the Meaning of Life? B Y D I A N E W I N S T O N , O R I G I N A L LY P U B L I S H E D O N T H E C O N V E R S AT I O N

DIANE WINSTON holds the Knight Center Chair in Media and Religion.


It’s easy to see why the popular television series Game of Thrones has so many fans: Its episodes feature complex characters played by good-looking actors engaged in exciting battles rendered with state-of-the-art visual effects. But as a scholar of American media and religion, I believe there’s something else going on as well: Game of Thrones storytelling gives its audience the opportunity to contemplate and debate fundamental concerns about the meaning of human life — issues that are central to all world religions.

Game of Thrones 101 The HBO show is based on science fiction and fantasy

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writer George R.R. Martin’s book series — “A Song of Ice and Fire” — and was adapted by writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for television. It made its American debut in April 2011. The plot, at its most basic, is a power struggle: who has it, who wants it and how they plan to get it. Interwoven are themes of honor, justice, revenge and redemption layered between issues of ethics, morality and familial bonds. Further complications involve incest, angry gods and avaricious bankers. Game of Thrones has been lauded for its acting and production values, although some critics have objected to graphic depictions of violence, torture and rape.

us that even the greatest religious figures are human beings who succumb to temptation. Likewise, Game of Thrones heroes strive for greatness amid trials of ego and enticements. Jaime Lannister, one of the bravest and most honorable knights in the Seven Kingdoms (the series’ setting), loses sight of his mission due to an incestuous relationship with his sister, Cersei. Daenerys Targaryen, called “Breaker of Chains,” seeks power so she can help others. Nevertheless, she ruthlessly kills those who stand in her way. And Jon Snow, who believes himself a bastard, is resurrected for an unknown purpose, thrust into leadership and tasked to lead a seemingly futile mission. As viewers, we can spend hours on social media dissecting the how, what and why of these characters. They hold our imaginations because their quests for meaning, purpose and identity echo our own — albeit writ larger and with dragons. And just like sacred texts that, for centuries, have helped believers reflect on right, wrong and the gray zone in between, Game of Thrones spurs audiences to see beyond their daily woes — and to consider the meaning and purpose of their own lives.

Television as Sacred Text There’s no denying that the series is eminently entertaining. But, I would argue it’s also something more: an opportunity for viewers to reflect on the human condition. Game of Thrones storytelling is both instructive and inspiring, encouraging viewers to evaluate their own lives and choices. Although it’s not divine revelation, the show, like many sacred texts, highlights men and women whose human frailties do not define them. Take the stories in the Hebrew Bible, which many Jews, Christians and Muslims believe is the word of God. Biblical figures drink, deceive and engage in violence, incest and familial conflict. Jacob, for example, one of the biblical patriarchs, took his older brother’s birthright when he tricked their father into blessing him as the firstborn. David, the shepherd boy who became king of the united Kingdom of Israel and Judah, slept with another man’s wife, then sent the man to slaughter and married his widow. Yet despite faults, these biblical heroes have a stirring sense of their duty, destiny and responsibility. They do their best and make their actions matter. Stories like these, which have parallels in religions worldwide, enable believers to confront their own shortcomings and strive for lives of consequence. They remind Photo courtesy of HBO

Religion and Popular Culture So, why is the series so successful? People seek inspiration and instruction from popular culture when institutional religion no longer speaks their language. Music, art, literature, film and television fill a void for growing numbers of Americans who opt out of church or never had a religious affiliation. Today, hip-hop artists regularly explore spiritual themes just as painters and filmmakers have done for decades. Television may have been deemed a “cultural wasteland” once, but digitization and the subsequent explosion of cable and streaming options have enabled a new golden age. Creative storytelling, featuring complex plots and complicated characters, has raised religious, spiritual and ethical questions that fuel viewer discussion. In the late 2000s, for example, a science fiction television series, Battlestar Galactica, probed the ethical issues around torture, suicide bombing and “othering” enemies. In the mid-2010s, a crime drama series, Breaking Bad, explored whether the ends justified the means. More recently, the HBO science fiction series Westworld forced viewers to consider the moral challenges posed by artificial intelligence.


Since 2016, USC Annenberg has been a member of The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit publisher of commentary and analysis, authored by academics and edited by journalists for the general public. The Conversation’s articles are free to read and free to republish on a Creative Commons license, and USC Annenberg faculty authors have been republished in outlets such as The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek.

What Would Jon Snow Do? These same questions, I argue, preoccupy many among Game of Thrones metaphysical musers: Can a compromised hero find his moral compass? Are children doomed by their parents’ mistakes? Do the gods care about humanity’s fate? The series, an alternative to the everyday world of bad boyfriends, sullen children and missed deadlines, offers wider possibilities for a fulfilling life. Most of us will never ride dragons, walk through fire or face armies of the undead. But we may, in quiet moments, confront questions of meaning, identity and purpose, and ask ourselves WWJSD — What Would Jon Snow Do? a Spring 2019 35


USC Annenberg Magazine


He’s a creator by design By Greg Hardesty

Journey of Discovery “At the end of the day, being creative makes me happy. And happiness is the ultimate currency,” says Scott Lewallen, co-founder of the social networking app Grindr.

Scott lewallen ’03 wasn’t sure what exactly to expect when, as a freshman, he signed up as a communication major at USC Annenberg in 1998. It turned out to be a great call. Diving into such topics as the human psyche and group mentality, Lewallen quickly took to the school’s emphasis on putting theory to practical use. Lewallen would go on to make a name for himself as co-founder and senior vice president of product and design for the hugely popular social networking app Grindr. Every day, millions of gay, bi, trans and queer people around the world use Grindr to connect. Lewallen, in fact, first connected to the gay community when he came to USC after keeping his sexual orientation private throughout high school. “Coming out was quite different when I was freshman at USC,” Lewallen said. “Being gay was not nearly as visible or accepted as it is today. I wasn’t confident enough in my sexuality to walk into the campus LGBT center and introduce myself. Instead, I joined a fraternity, came out there, and grew a tribe of friends at USC and in West Hollywood. “That experience and those pain points directly influenced my intention to design Grindr as a tool to make it easier for gay guys to meet and form their own communities.” Lewallen grew up in a conservative Catholic family in the South Bay, where he attended Palos Verdes Peninsula High School. A mentor there, USC alum and Peninsula High Activities Director Jim Kinney, inspired him to become a Trojan. Kinney recognized Lewallen’s creative talents in class — and also through the brand and graphic design business, Mezic Media, Lewallen launched as a teen. The name, he said, is an amalgamation of magic and mischief. “My process is very organic and intuitive,” Lewallen explained. “I’m perpetually curious, I love to learn, I’m an empath and extrovert, and I trust my gut. There is some element of mischief in any journey of discovery. The reward of an ‘ah-hah!’ moment at the end of the rainbow is an intangible feeling of awe and elation that I can only describe as magic.” Six years after he earned his degree from USC, Lewallen would dip into his toolbox of magic and mischief again to help launch Grindr in March 2009. Lewallen was approached with the idea in response to Apple’s call for new apps on its recently launched App Store. “As a single gay man I jumped at the opportunity and challenge to disrupt online dating and solve a very specific problem,” Lewallen says. “It made perfect sense to combine location and iPhone into a mobile experience that connected gay men instantly.” Lewallen got to work, tapping into a design aesthetic that is bold, edgy and loud. He created the Grindr logo, designed the user interface and user experience, and helped develop the name and branding. Lewallen left Grindr in March 2013 in part, he says, because he felt his creative engine had stalled. “The company had matured into a wildly successful and recognizable business. I made my mark. It was the right time to move on and explore new opportunities,” Lewallen said. He returned to Mezic Media, but also runs a media production house, Prince Mafia, and an art business, Inked by Skut, where he donates a portion of proceeds to LGBT charities. Lewallen, now 39 years old, thrives on juggling his various creative career pursuits. “I need to create daily,” he said. “It can be something as small as a sketch on a bar napkin, or a massive trade show booth for a client. My ritual is all about creation. It helps me grow personally and professionally.” a Photo by Cody Pickens

Spring 2019 37

Digital Divides Doctoral students tackle net neutrality through policy and critical race theory investigations.

MELVIN L. FELTON (BA, print journalism, ’05), recognized by The National Bar Association for legal excellence, joined Sanders Roberts LLP.

The issue of “net neutrality” — requiring internet providers to allow high-speed access to all content, rather than favoring their own — remains one of the most hotly debated questions in the world of communications policy. But what about those communities that are still struggling to gain access to the internet? Communication doctoral candidates Matthew Bui and Rachel Moran teamed up to explore this issue, combining Moran’s policy expertise with Bui’s training in critical race theory. “You can’t worry about net neutrality until everyone in your community has access,” Moran said. Their recent paper, “Race, Ethnicity, and Telecommunications Policy Issues of Access and Representation: Centering Communities of Color and Their Concerns,” which won the 2018 Charles Benton Junior Scholar Award, delves into three case studies of how three advocacy groups — the NAACP, the Free Press and the Tribal International Carrier — sought to make themselves heard. “We didn’t feel we were being innovative at first, but we started to realize that nobody’s really done this type of research before,” Bui said.

Rachel Moran was the Oakley Endowed Fellow at USC for 2018-19.

Matthew Bui researches the social, cultural and spatial implications of urban communication.

CYNTOIA BROWN Freedom Through Film Cyntoia Brown, whose conviction for murder drew widespread public attention following Daniel H. Birman’s 2011 PBS documentary film Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, was granted clemency by the governor of Tennessee earlier this year. The documentary, produced and directed by Birman, who is also a professor of professional practice, recounts Brown’s tragic childhood, which led to her running away and being forced into prostitution. On Aug. 6, 2004, she was picked up by a 43-year-old man, went back to his home and, claiming she feared for her life, shot and killed him. She was given a 60-year prison sentence. Birman and his team, including adjunct professor Megan Chao (MA, 38

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journalism, ’08), filmed the documentary over six years. On Jan. 7, Brown received clemency. “What we’re seeing is a rare moment when we can trace a profound social impact to the work of documentary filmmaking,” Birman said.

JOEY KAUFMAN (BA, print and digital journalism and religion, ’13) left the Orange County Register to join the Columbus Dispatch, where he will be covering Ohio State football.

MARCY MIROFF ROTHENBERG (MA, journalism, ’77) is the author of Ms. Nice Guy Lost — Here’s How Women Can Win (BookBaby). She also blogs on politics and women’s issues at DemWrite Press. DIANNE MOLINA (BA, English and psychology, ’99 and MA, broadcast journalism, ’01) is a marketing communications consultant for Apple and presented her team’s Apple News+ project on the Apple stage.

RADHA JHATAKIA (MA, communication management, ’16) is managing editor for Brown Girl Magazine and program manager of content for the Grace Hopper Celebration, the largest conference for women in tech.

BILL OWEN (BA, telecommunications, ’53) recently published his eleventh book, Do You Remember? The Visual History of Early Radio and TV (Saint Johann Press). .

PAULA DANIELS (BA, journalism, ’77) of the Center for Good Food Purchasing, has been elected as an Ashoka Fellow for her visionary work to reimagine valuesbased procurement for healthier, more sustainable food systems. JAY BERMAN (BA, journalism, ’61 and MA, journalism, ’74) published his first work in the 34th Parallel Magazine, “Bright Stripes and Broad Stars.” Berman spent 50 years in newspaper journalism and journalism education before his retirement in 2011.

RACHEL V. SCOTT (BA, broadcast journalism, ’15) was promoted from Good Morning America digital associate producer to ABC News producer/ reporter covering the White House. EMILY GEE BERGER (BA, political science and public relations, ’12 and MA, strategic public relations, ’14) has been appointed the co-executive director at Grades of Green and managing director for their New York City office.

Illustration by Suzanne Boretz; Photo courtesy of Dan Birman


Austin Maddox Center on Public Diplomacy

The fellowship program at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy offers students an opportunity to develop their own research and interests as well as interact with practitioners and international leaders. Over winter break, CPD fellow Austin Maddox, who graduated from the MS in journalism program in May, traveled to India to cover a three-day conference on soft power. “As a journalist, I was on my own, trying to figure out how to make everything work, so it involved a lot of thinking on the fly,” she said. “I had to trust in my skills while knowing I had done thorough research on the topics being discussed.” Maddox, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from USC Dornsife in 2016, said she learned both the value of self-confidence and how to approach a story with integrity.


“From the Beach to Broadway: Sam Darnold,” The Front Row, hosted by Jeff Fellenzer

“Episode 28: Taking Risks: Comedy as Tool for Social Justice,”

How Do You Like It So Far?, hosted by Henry Jenkins and Colin Maclay “Willow Bay,” The Career Stories Podcast with Natalie Brunell, hosted by Natalie Brunell


Allissa V. Richardson, “Dismantling Respectability: The Rise of New Womanist Communication Models in the Era of Black Lives Matter,” Journal of Communication Rabindra Ratan, Joseph Fordham, Alex Leith and Dmitri Williams,

“Women Keep it Real: Avatar Gender Choice in League of Legends,”

Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking


The JOVRNALISM team, led by Robert Hernandez, won a Webby

Award in the student category for their immersive series, The Deported. Stacy L. Smith was named one of “50 Agents of Change Empowering Diverse Voices in Hollywood” by The Hollywood Reporter.


Social Media Entertainment: The New Intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, by David Craig Craig, clinical professor of communication, argues that social media is a space where content creators are forging something completely new.

Rupture: The Crisis of Liberal Democracy, by Manuel Castells Public Diplomacy, Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age, by Nicholas Cull

Photo courtesy of Austin Maddox

Spring 2019 39



#BeingReal How authenticity of Instagram models affects buying decisions. By Mira Zimet Like most 16-year-olds, Minji is a daily Instagram user. Her aunt, Eunjin “Anna” Kim, assistant professor of journalism, observed how the teen often compared herself to the images she saw carefully curated across the platform. This inspired Kim and her Pennsylvania State University co-researcher Heather Shoenberger to investigate the influence that body-positive advertising campaigns such as Dove’s #RealBeauty and CVS’ “Beauty in Real Life” have on women. “A lot of advertising research is disconnected from what happens in the real world,” Kim said. “It’s generally theoretical and might not have implications for what’s going on in the market. We wanted to bridge the gap between theory and practice and start to look at whether authentic — or perceived authentic — body image was important in pushing a consumer to purchase.” For the study, which has been accepted into the Journal of Advertising Research, Kim and Shoenberger recruited 326 female participants (ages 18-75) who already had an Instagram account. For the analysis, they chose to focus on the responses of millennials (ages 18-41), which netted them 205 usable respondents with an average age of 28.86. Participants were shown Instagram images of women in swimwear or lingerie. Some of the images had been left “as is,” including body “flaws,” such as stretch marks or birthmarks, while others were digitally enhanced. The participants were randomly divided into four conditions: plus-size model/not digitally enhanced; plus-size model/digitally enhanced; thin model/ not digitally enhanced; thin model/ digitally enhanced. Each condition featured either three thin models or three plus-size models. 40

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The subjects were asked to scroll images for at least 20 seconds and then were asked questions on what items — if they had been scrolling with an intent to purchase — they would consider. Other questions addressed their attitude toward the ads they had viewed. Kim and Shoenberger found that when an Instagram ad depicted a non-digitally enhanced plus-size model, participants preferred the ad and were more likely to purchase the product depicted in the ad. If the model was already thin, respondents remained indifferent if she was digitally enhanced or not. It was the perception of authenticity they viewed in the non-digitally enhanced plus-size model that led them to believe the ad was “real and truthful.” “Our research provided exciting support for our theory, and more importantly, the findings suggest that consumers may respond favorably to the use of un-photoshopped models in advertising campaigns,” Shoenberger said. “As poor body image infiltrates every aspect of our Western culture, we believe it may be possible, with further research, to determine if the use of un-airbrushed models in advertising may begin to repair or even reverse the damage done to body image by countless images of unattainable bodies,” Kim added. “This is exciting news for consumers and brands.” Eunjin “Anna” Kim, assistant professor of journalism, was recently honored with the Mary Alice Shaver Promising Professor Award from the American Academy of Advertising. The award is given to a junior faculty member who has demonstrated excellence and innovation in advertising teaching and research.

23% 33% Ad attitude was 23% more positive when participants saw non-digitally enhanced, plus-size models.

33% intent to purchase increase when participants were exposed to nondigitally enhanced, plus-size models compared to their thin counterparts.

“Being memorable and creative is not enough. Authenticity is the key to brand success by winning a consumer’s trust and heart.”


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Adichie is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and the author of six books, including Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her “The Danger of a Single Story” is one of the mostwatched TED talks of all time, and TIME magazine has named her among the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Danai Gurira, an actor, playwright and activist best known for her roles as Okoye in the film Black Panther and as Michonne in the television series The Walking Dead, introduced Adichie and spoke of their collaboration in adapting Americanah into a television miniseries. “Her body of work proves that great storytelling … is courageous and unflinchingly pursues the truth,” Gurira said. During her remarks, Adichie explored fake news, the link between critical thinking and empathy, and the importance of listening, reporting and humanizing. MEDIA’S GENDER REVOLUTION This panel discussion about women in journalism covered everything from reporting on sexual harassment to fighting for funding. Cindi Leive, senior fellow at the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, moderated a panel that included Dean Willow Bay; Marsha Cooke, senior vice president of content strategy at VICE; and Kim Masters, editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter.

Strength of Character

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie affirms the power of storytelling to reframe discourse.

“I seem these days always to be in search of what is affirming,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “I am desperately drawn to what is meaningful, what is human, what is beautiful.” The Nigerian author, cultural critic and feminist spoke to a crowd of hundreds gathered in the Wallis Annenberg Hall Forum as she was honored with the USC Norman Lear Center’s 2019 Everett M. Rogers Award for her inspiring contributions to the global conversation about gender, race and identity. 42

USC Annenberg Magazine

Everett M. Rogers Award Presented since 2007, the award honors Rogers, the late USC Annenberg professor whose Diffusion of Innovation is the second-most-cited book in the social sciences.

R.A.P. LESSONS: BRIDGING RACE, ARTS, AND PLACEMAKING Featuring an opening-night discussion among Associate Professor Taj Frazier and artists Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas of Question Bridge about the links between art, pedagogy and social change, this event was presented in collaboration with Visions and Voices and introduced a six-week video exhibition. MOVING THE NEEDLE: WOMEN IN MUSIC In celebration of the progress women have made in the music industry since the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report was released in 2018, the center hosted a panel discussion on how

to further amplify women’s voices. Moderated by Associate Professor Stacy Smith, the event included executives, musicians, producers, lawyers and engineers. A CONVERSATION WITH CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN Politico Editor Carrie Budoff Brown and Christina Bellantoni, director of USC Annenberg’s Media Center, discussed the responsibilities of reporters and their own experiences covering presidential campaigns. The event was part of the R. Rebecca “Becki” Donatelli Expert-inResidence series. ‘COME FROM AWAY ’ The Center on Public Diplomacy hosted an event to discuss the Tony Award-winning play Come from Away and its role in teaching the importance of public diplomacy. The conversation was moderated by Josh Kun, director of the School of Communication. Panelists included the Mayor of Gander, Newfoundland, where the story took place; the director of the Center Theatre Group; and Cynthia Stroum (BA, journalism and public relations, ’72), who was one of the play’s producers.

Photo by Katie Chin



USC Annenberg alumna and real estate professional Stephanie Argyros has been elected to the USC Board of Trustees. As a principal with the Costa Mesa-based real estate firm Arnel, Argyros oversees a portfolio of residential and commercial properties

throughout Southern California. She is also a director of the Argyros Family Foundation and an advocate for children’s health, education and well-being initiatives. “Not only is Stephanie Argyros a highly regarded leader in her profession and a great Trojan, she is a dedicated community volunteer,” USC interim President Wanda M. Austin said. “Her civic leadership makes her an ideal addition to our board, and we very much look forward to her insight and contributions.” A California native, Argyros graduated from USC in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and has remained involved with the university. She serves on the USC President’s Leadership Council and is a member of the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Board of Overseers. “My favorite thing about USC is its strong sense of family,” she said. “I’m so proud to be a Trojan and incredibly honored to join the USC Board of Trustees.”

TOP INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM AWARDS Pulitzer Prize and Selden Ring USC Annenberg alumnus Matt Hamilton of the Los Angeles Times was part of a team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting. Hamilton (MA, journalism,’14) and Times colleagues Harriet Ryan and Paul Pringle were recognized for what the judges called their “consequential reporting” of a series that exposed accusations of sexual abuse against USC campus clinic gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall. “Grateful to share this with two tenacious colleagues and the scrappy staff of the @latimes,” Hamilton tweeted. “To the many brave sources who spoke to us — thank you.” Another USC Annenberg alumnus, Emmanuel Martinez (MA, digital reporting, ’14), was named a 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Explanatory Reporting. Martinez and his reporting partner Aaron Glantz of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting were honored for their series “Kept Out,” which detailed housing discrimination across the United States. Martinez and Glantz also won the 2019 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting administered by USC Annenberg. “These reporters epitomize great investigative journalism,” said Mark Schoofs, visiting professor, who joined USC Annenberg in the Fall to expand the school’s long-standing commitment to teaching investigative journalism. “Through tenacious and rigorous reporting, they exposed urgent problems and spurred change, showing what journalism can achieve.” Photo by Angela Marklew

Matt Hamilton is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times Metro section. He has covered legal affairs, crime and breaking news across California.

Emmanuel Martinez is a data reporter for Reveal. He works with reporters to acquire and analyze data.

USC ANNENBERG STUDENTS AND ALUMNI GARNERED 14 AWARDS at the 2018 L.A. Press Club’s National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards. Alumni winners included: Justin Chang (BA, print journalism, ’04), first place, “Has Horror Become the Movie Genre of the Trump Era?” (Los Angeles Times); Todd Martens (BA, print journalism, ’00), third place, “In a Diverse Political Climate, E3 Shows that Maybe Video Games Had it Right all Along” (Los Angeles Times); Amy Kaufman (BA, print journalism, ’08) third place, “A Voice of Defiance” (Los Angeles Times); Tiffany Taylor (BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’14), second place, “Seth MacFarlane Used ‘Family Guy’ to Drop Hints About Weinstein, Spacey Sexual Misconduct Claims” (The Hollywood Reporter); Peter Musurlian (BA, broadcast journalism and political science, ’83), second place, “Holocaust Soliloquy” (Globalist Films and KLCS); Benjamin Gottlieb (MA, broadcast journalism, ’12), second place, “Remembering Rock Icon Tom Petty” (KCRW); Benjamin Gottlieb, third place, “What Happens After You Win an Oscar?” (KCRW); Philiana Ng (BA, communication, ’09), second place, “Texas Forever: Taylor Kitsch is Doing Hollywood His Way” (; Kristopher Tapley (MA, print journalism, ’09), third place, “In Contention” (Variety); Christina Schoellkopf (BA, history and broadcast and digital journalism, ’15), second place, “Hollywood History in the Making: Harvey Weinstein’s Arrest” (Los Angeles Times).

MICHAEL NYMAN ( BA, sports information, ’86) was honored with an alumni merit award at the 86th USC Alumni Awards. BO CHAN (BA, communication, ’15) was promoted from marketing and communications manager to head of marketing communications at Native Union and was included in The Loop HK lifestyle website, which covers the best of Hong Kong, as a “30 under 30.” SAMANTHA BERGUM ( BA, broadcast and digital journalism, ’18), along with Stacy Scholder, director of Annenberg TV News, accepted the national Student Murrow Award for Excellence in Video Newscast from the Radio Television Digital News Association on behalf of Annenberg Television News. CORIANDA DIMES ( BA, public relations, ’12) was named as one of the 35 rising stars of Madison Avenue by Business Insider. JERRY TING (BA, public relations and political science, ’14), founder and CEO of Evisort, was named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” list. SABENA SURI (BA, public relations, ’12) was named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” list in the retail and e-commerce category for BOXFOX, Inc. NATHAN WALTER ( MA, communication, ’17, PhD, communication, ’18) was honored with the 2019 ICA/NCA Abby Prestin Dissertation of the Year Award in the area of health communication.

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Heather Rim Twelve years of Girl Scouts taught Heather Rim leadership skills at a young age. But it was her grandmother — with her refrain: “head high, shoulders back” — who taught her the art of business. When Rim was 10 years old, her grandmother gave her 100 shares of Wendy’s stock as a gift. After that, the two only ate Wendy’s burgers and together watched the ticker scroll on their television, calculating its worth. “Understanding and appreciating how a publicly traded company works was critical to instilling that business sense in me early on,” Rim said.

1 The job market was “hot” when Rim graduated from Azusa Pacific University in 1996 with a bachelor’s in marketing. She joined KPMG’s marketing team as a coordinator, then became marketing manager at Countrywide (now Bank of America), where she raised her hand to join the company’s newly formed eBusiness division to manage online advertising.


Tech startup ImproveNet snatched Rim up during what she called “the wild, wild West of the internet boom.” She built a reputation for understanding the connection between technology and communication, which led WellPoint to recruit her to help launch their first intranet. Rim met Clinical Professor of Communication Rebecca Weintraub at a conference. Weintraub sold Rim on the communication management master’s program. “It was a great differentiator for me and accelerated my leadership development,” Rim said. On the heels of receiving her master’s in 2003, Rim was promoted to director of corporate and investor communications.


USC Annenberg Magazine

Photos courtesy of Heather Rim


Her next stop was the Disney ABC Television Group. Her team created a powerful employer brand, “Create What’s Next,” which became Rim’s career mantra. Rim honed her executive skills through board service with the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles and, later, the Pasadena Symphony, United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Downtown Women’s Center.

“I have two young children who are watching the choices I make and listening intently to the words I say. I feel a deep responsibility to show them that anything is possible if you believe, if you put your heart and soul into it, if you’re passionate and hungry and fierce.” Heather Rim (MA, communication management, ’03) Los Angeles, California


Rim moved to Avery Dennison to become their vice president of global communications, overseeing corporate communications and the Avery Dennison Foundation. Exploring sustainability methods, Rim traveled with the Rainforest Alliance to Uaxactún in Guatemala to learn about the supply chain and its impact on the environment. “This created a sense of adventure, wonder and excitement about the world for me.”


In 2015, Rim was recruited by infrastructure giant  AECOM, where she now serves as the chief marketing and communication officer for the global organization. “My charge as a leader is to rally and empower people, to remove obstacles so that others can be successful — and to inspire my team to create what’s next.”

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