Senior members of CNN news team discuss Ferguson and our changing journalism landscape with students

(left to right) USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Erna Smith, CNN producer Wendy Brundige, Journalism School Director Willow Bay, and Senior VP for Editorial CNN, Andrew Morse at a journalism forum held on January 21, 2015 at Wallis Annenberg Hall. (Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg)

(left to right) USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Erna Smith, CNN producer Wendy Brundige, Journalism School Director Willow Bay, and Senior VP for Editorial CNN, Andrew Morse at a journalism forum held on January 21, 2015 at Wallis Annenberg Hall. (Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg)

On Wednesday, Andrew Morse, Senior Vice President for Editorial CNN U.S., and Wendy Brundige, Supervising Producer at CNN and USC Annenberg alumna, joined journalism school director Willow Bay for a conversation about breaking news in the digital age in professor Erna Smith’s Journalism 201 class: History of News in Modern America.

The in-depth discussion focused on how CNN tackled coverage of the social unrest seen in Ferguson, MO during the later half of 2014 as well as the recent attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The speakers also offered students advice on how to break into the evolving journalism world and stressed the importance of understanding how technology has changed the role of a journalist.

Of Ferguson, Morse recalls sending CNN correspondent Sara Sidner into a challenging situation with “a lot of differing points of view” and “a lot of unknowns.”

“In Ferguson–and certainly in the immediate aftermath–there wasn’t a great sense of safety,” Morse said. “[Uncertainty about] where the crowds would begin forming, where the police would begin deploying… It was really difficult at times to determine where was safe.”

Leading up to the highly anticipated grand jury announcement of whether police officer Darren Wilson would face indictment for shooting and killing Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, Morse said CNN prepared for all possible scenarios.

“Big news organizations plan it out almost like an army going to war,” Morse shared. “How do we prepare for–what I think everybody thought was inevitable–which was some sort of unrest on the streets? You have a plan A. You have a plan B. You hope for the best and you make real-time decisions.”

Despite these preparations, CNN still received criticism for what some saw as too much focus on the impact Ferguson had on its reporters rather than focusing on the local community. For Morse and Brundige, such criticism highlights an underlying shift in the relationship between the news anchor, the news consumer and the news itself.

“We are not immune to the fact that people are critical about that and, quite frankly, we take it seriously,” Morse said. “The story should never be about ourselves. That said, I think if you look at some of the most compelling stories or storytellers–whether it is Diane Sawyer at ABC (who will go through a natural disaster area and bring you along with her better than anyone else in the business) or Anderson Cooper at [Hurricane] Katrina–they’ve changed the way we report in the field. [Cooper] was able, through his personal experience, to call out government incompetence. I don’t think you can report simply as unemotional observers anymore.”

For Brundige, as more people turn to platforms like smartphones and tablets to get their news, there is a higher demand for an authentic voice from reporters.

“I think it’s much more personal than it has ever been,” Brundige said. “The idea of the “voice of God” broadcaster that we used to have–that does not exist on the internet. It’s a one-on-one experience. So the people that are telling you what’s happening need to just be sharing it like they’re your friend. And that’s a hard thing to do.”

If the question of safety played a large role in CNN’s thinking about its Ferguson coverage, this was doubly so as the organization grappled with whether to publish the contentious cartoons at the heart of the tragic incidents at Charlie Hebdo.

While CNN ultimately decided to not run the cartoons out of fear that doing so might threaten the safety of journalists in CNN bureaus across the Middle East, Morse said it “was the single most difficult, biggest, complicated decision” he has made in the 25 years he has worked in journalism.

The end of the discussion gave students an opportunity to ask Morse and Brundige for advice on getting their feet in journalism’s door and keeping them there as well.

Pushing back on the common fear that success is a matter of connections, Brundige reminded students that “you do know somebody because you’re at USC Annenberg. Take advantage of that and intern. Internships are how I got into the business. Be willing to work when other people don’t want to.”

Morse shared that the key to success is to never give up.

“Giving up is the biggest mistake. This is a really hard profession to break into. It just is,” Morse said. “There are a thousand reasons to talk yourself out of going into this field. So don’t give up.”

For more images from this event, visit the USC Annenberg Flickr page.

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Quoted: USC Annenberg in the News – Week of January 19


At USC Annenberg, we don’t just cover the news, we make it. “Quoted: USC Annenberg in the News” gathers a selection of the week’s news stories featuring and written by Annenberg’s leaders, faculty, staff and others.

Stacy Smith

Stacy L. Smith

Multiple news outlets featured the work of Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative on questions of diversity, inclusion and representation in the entertainment industry.

Lights, Camera, Taking Action

The New York Times featured research by Professor Smith finding that women are still grossly underrepresented in Hollywood films.

Not only are there fewer female roles on screen, but there are fewer women behind the camera: women only directed 4.4 percent of the top 100 box-office domestic releases between 2002 and 2012. The story highlighted the work of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative.

PGA Program Strives to Boost Number of Female Producers in Hollywood

Variety cited the work fo Professor Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative in context of a look at the Producers Guild of America’s Women’s Impact Network, a national committee of 200 members that aims to change the disparity between men and women in the film industry.

Smith’s research highlights this disparity, finding that an underwhelming 16.7% of of the 1,228 directors, writers, and producers working on the 100 top-grossing films of 2012 were women.


Professor Smith was quoted in a Bloomberg News article following the public outcry over the Academy Awards’ failure to nominate “Selma” for an Oscar. A nomination for Selma director Ava DuVernay would have been the Academy’s first nomination for a film directed by a black woman.

“This illuminates the larger lack of diversity we see in Hollywood films,” Smith said. “Last year, ‘12 Years a Slave’ created the perception that things in Hollywood were getting better. In reality, it was just business as usual.”

Popular misogyny: a zeitgeist

Sarah Banet-Weiser

Sarah Banet-Weiser

Communication school director Sarah Banet-Weiser contributed an essay on the role of feminism in the current cultural climate to Culture Digitally.

“This mediated feminist landscape is difficult to comprehend fully, for certainly all feminisms are not the same, nor do they have the same goal. A celebrity endorsing feminism in terms of whether they are one or are not one often ends up commodifying and reifying feminism, so that feminism becomes a sort of product, easy to either embrace or reject, rather than a historically complex series of movements and activism. “

State of the Union

Los Angeles’ KTLA-TV featured a segment on the State of the Union viewing party held at the Wallis Annenberg Hall. The story showed the building’s digital media wall and shared thoughts from several different students.

Amazon Chases Netflix with foray into film production

Jeffrey Cole

Jeffrey Cole

The Los Angeles Times tracked Amazon’s recent jump to film production, this following the success of similar forays into original production by streaming sites such as Netflix.

Director of the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future Jeffrey Cole spoke about Amazon competing with Netflix’s original programming.

“Amazon Prime is now a threat to Netflix,” Cole said, “and now with successful original programming and theatricals, it’s a movie studio and a network, with very deep pockets.”

Sunday Review

Vice Dean and School of Communication Director Larry Gross

Larry Gross

Asked to share what he’s been reading, watching and thinking about by the New York Times, sociologist Howard Becker cited an arts email list run by Annenberg Vice Dean & Professor Larry Gross.

Seriously? Some make a living playing videogames

Dmitri Williams

Dmitri Williams

Professor Dmitri Williams was quoted in Malaysia’s English-language The Star in article on professional video game players.

“As long as there are people who want to watch entertainment, there is going to be a price to watch talent playing out that entertainment,” Williams said. “It’s a long shot to make a living at playing videogames. That said, it is real and it does happen.”

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A night of thought-provoking insights from Silicon Valley entrepreneur, investor and author Peter Thiel (VIDEO)

Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Investor and Author Peter Thiel visited USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and gave a talk and was involved in a discussion with Journalism Director Willow Bay and Alexander Cox from J.P. Morgan. The talk took place in Wallis Annenberg Hall on January 22, 2015.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur, investor and author Peter Thiel (Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg)

On Thursday, Annenberg journalism and communication students, engineers from Viterbi, innovators from the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy and entrepreneurs from across USC gathered at Wallis Annenberg Hall for a night of thought-provoking insights from investor Peter Thiel.

Thiel graduated from Stanford University and was a founder of PayPal. He was an early investor in Facebook and also created the Thiel Foundation and Fellowship, which is geared towards promoting innovation and “freedom in all its dimensions.” His current billion-dollar venture, Palantir, provides big-data tools to the NSA, CIA, domestic law enforcement, corporations and non-profits interested in mining large, heterogenous data sets.

Willow Bay, director of the journalism school, introduced Thiel with a nod to one his signature provocations: paying young “Thiel fellows” $100,000 to skip college and go directly into entrepreneurship.

“[You’ve] sparked a debate between learning and formal education,” Bay said, “but you have an open invitation to come back and teach here at Annenberg.”

Thiel had just stepped off a flight from Berlin but did not miss a beat, giving the assembled audience a powerful lecture on innovation and the need to keep “searching for secrets.” Elaborating on themes contained in his new book on economics and society, “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future,” Thiel urged listeners to keep developing themselves and their skills, and to also refuse pessimism when it comes to pursuing their dreams and ideas.

“It’s self-defeating telling ourselves ‘it’s impossibly hard’ or that there are no more secrets left to find,” Thiel said. “[Innovation] involves something idiosyncratic. It will come from a new category no one is thinking about.”

Watch full video of Peter Thiel’s remarks:

“I read his book and wanted to hear him elaborate on concepts from the book,” Marshall masters student Anthony Vassallo said. “One of the concepts he asserts is that you need to monopolize a function to play in a bigger market. He makes a lot of aggressive statements and I wanted to hear more about that off the pages of his book.”

Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Investor and Author Peter Thiel (left) visited USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and gave a talk and was involved in a discussion with Journalism Director Willow Bay (right) and Alexander Cox from J.P. Morgan (center). The talk took place in Wallis Annenberg Hall on January 22, 2015.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur, investor and author Peter Thiel at Wallis Annenberg Hall. (Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg)

After his remarks, Thiel, J.P. Morgan banker Alexander Cox and director Bay asked an initial set of questions about Los Angeles as a tech destination and the founding of PayPal. Questions from the audience focused mainly on the growth successful startups, but author and School of Communication professor Robert Scheer wondered whether technologies like those pioneered by Palantir could have negative implications for privacy and democracy.

Thiel’s response was it is only through the deployment of more sophisticated technology that we become truly secure. “I think the [goal] for information technology is more security with fewer privacy violations,” Thiel said.

The overflow event filled much of Wallis Annenberg Hall, with the crowd spilling out of the auditorium and into the forum space, where attendees watched a livestream of Thiel’s remarks on the media wall. For director Bay, the new building’s ability to host multifaceted discussions was one of the most exciting parts about the event.

“I think his message is about thinking in unconventional ways; not simply following conventional wisdom; not simply following the conventional path,” Bay said. “And I think in journalism there have never been more opportunities to do that. There have never been more tools available to really push the boundaries of what we know across platforms and across formats.”

Following the question and answer period, Thiel signed copies of “Zero to One.”

For more images of Thursday’s event, visit the USC Annenberg Flickr page.

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Former Journalism School Director Dies at 90, Los Angeles Times Pays Tribute

The Los Angeles Times reported William Woestendiek, director of the Annenberg journalism school from 1988 until he retired in 1994, died Friday, Jan. 15 at the age of 90.

As managing editor of the now-defunct Houston Post, Woestendiek oversaw the newspaper’s expose of government corruption in a Houston suburb that resulted in widespread reforms and a Pulitzer Prize in 1965. The Arizona Daily Star, with Woestendiek in the executive editor’s post, won a Pulitzer in 1981 for its investigation into financial irregularities within the University of Arizona’s athletic department.

“A newspaper shouldn’t be above its readership– not aloof and arrogant,” Woestendiek said in 1983 while working as the executive editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It should be opinionated, even outrageous, but it should be sensible, informative, controversial and, above all, fair.”

Read more here.

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Will Hollywood Earn a ‘D’ on Diversity?

MDSCIThe Academy Award nominations for the 2015 Oscars were blasted for their lack of diversity.

But excluding women and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups is a hallmark of Hollywood — not an oversight. This year’s snubs didn’t surprise researchers at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who since 2006 have chronicled the lack of diversity behind and in front of the camera.

USC Annenberg today is launching a new initiative to enhance diversity across the entertainment industry.

The project will rate and reward media companies based on how inclusive they are. The ratings will study the content media companies produce — and also the diversity within their internal ranks. The USC Annenberg Comprehensive Analysis and Report on Diversity (CARD) will serve as Hollywood’s diversity “report card,” charting how the major entertainment players fare when it comes to hiring, casting and content.

USC Annenberg researchers will catalog the chain of command at major media companies to examine diversity in executive suite decision-making. In addition, several aspects of on-screen diversity across film, TV, and digital content — such as gender, race/ethnicity, and LGBT representation — will be assessed and graded.

The Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC Annenberg, led by Professor Stacy L. Smith, will oversee the analyses for the USC Annenberg CARD. The MDSC Initiative is a think tank of research scientists and more than 100 graduate and undergraduate students. The group conducts yearly studies of diversity across media content.

Professor Stacy L. Smith and Marc Choueiti,  MDSC researcher and project administrator. (Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg)

Professor Stacy L. Smith and Marc Choueiti, MDSC researcher and project administrator. (Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg)

“In 2013, there were 17 films among the top 100 grossing movies that featured not one black or African-American speaking character. Across 600 popular films between 2007 and 2013, just two were directed by black women,” Smith, director of the MDSC Initiative, said.

“Clearly, not one group or one company is solely responsible for the lack of diversity on-screen or behind the camera,” Smith said. “We need a broader look at who is doing well, and who needs to step up their game. The USC Annenberg CARD will do just that.”

In addition to scoring companies based on the criteria listed above, USC Annenberg will seek out nominations for individuals who have meaningfully contributed as leaders to diversity in entertainment. These individuals will be honored with an award in early 2016.

The USC Annenberg CARD builds on the school’s commitment to diversity and entertainment. USC Annenberg is home, for example, to the new Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA), a research center examining inclusivity across media industries. IDEA’s goal is to make positive, long-lasting change and facilitate civic engagement.

“The mission of this new institute and report card is integrated into everything we do,” said USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III. “This is not a sidebar; this is core to our school’s vision.”

To cite just a few examples: USC Annenberg is the recipient of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC)’s Equity and Diversity Award, in 2012. That same year, at the request of the Federal Communications Commission, USC Annenberg convened a national consortium of 30 social scientists, legal scholars, journalists and communication experts to examine media ownership rules and their effect on localism and diversity. And last year, the Women’s Leadership Society at Annenberg M{2e} formed with the aim of disrupting the male-dominated media and entertainment industries and building new opportunities for the future generation of thought leaders.

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Quoted: Week of January 12


At USC Annenberg, we don’t just cover the news, we make it. “Quoted: USC Annenberg in the News” gathers a selection of the week’s news stories featuring and written by the school’s leaders, faculty, staff and others.

Who was missing from the Oscar nominations?

When the Oscar nominations were announced Thursday morning, Twitter was quick to respond with #OscarsSoWhite trending on the social platform. Of all 35 people nominated for acting, writing or directing awards, only Mexican film director Alejandro González Iñárritu is non-white.

The Los Angeles Times cited research by professor Stacy Smith and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. MDSCI has released several studies of minorities and women in film, concluding that “inclusivity and diversity are not valued by Hollywood decision makers.”

Leave these western ways behind when dining in Asia

Mike_Chinoy_photo_Jan_2012Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the USC US-China Institute, a program of USC Annenberg, was quoted by the BBC in a story about Asian cuisine.

Chinoy offered advice on local traditions, such as while Chinese would pick fish fresh from the tank, “Thais, being serious Buddhists, would never want to suffer the bad karma of singling out any living being for death.”

“Rice liquor [poured out] under the table is a China survival skill,” he also noted.

Public Sales Of Google Glass To End Later This Month

Hernandez-Glass_275.ashxUSC Annenberg’s resident Google Glass expert, professor Robert Hernandez, was quoted in an NPR story about Google’s recent decision to pull the wearable tech from stores and transition into a new phase.

This new phase has not been shared publicly beyond the fact that the Google Glass team will be moving “from concept to reality.” Hernandez said he’d like to see Google sell Glass 2.0 at a loss if it means getting the device into more hands.

“All these different critiques — it’s distracting, it’s immersive, you’re not gonna pay attention to your life — those were comments and a narrative written by folks who really didn’t interact with Glass, and if they did, it was only for 15 minutes.”

It’s now a little easier to get to Cuba, and you can buy cigars with credit cards

Suro_Roberto_121x183Professor Roberto Suro has traveled to Cuba many times with his students. In a interview on KPCC’s Take Two, Suro talked about about what it means now that travel there is easing up.

“The big change for ordinary folks is that you’re not going to have to go through a lot of paperwork to prove that you’re in one of the designated categories of people allowed to go to Cuba,” Suro said.

Another change is that there will be more regularly scheduled commercial flights to Cuba.

Arabs’ Public Diplomacy Vacuum

Seib_Phil_121x181In a new column for The World Post, Vice Dean Philip Seib wrote about the Charlie Hebdo murders and how the attack has “reinforced anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment that, even when invisible, always simmers just beneath the surface of public opinion in much of the West.”

Seib went on to discuss that these sentiments could be combated if Arab states were to stop ignoring public diplomacy.

Amazon joins Netflix in raising the TV stakes

ColeThe Los Angeles Times quoted director of USC Annenberg’s Center for the Digital FutureJeffrey Cole, in a story about the television industry’s shift from traditional broadcast models towards streaming services like Netflix and

Amazon is fresh off winning its first Golden Globe for best television series for breakout comedy-drama “Transparent,” as well as a recent announcement that Woody Allen is set to write and direct a new series for the site.

“Every pay-TV service has used the same playbook. They start by playing other people’s content and then move into creating original content,” Cole said. “Amazon had moved it into hyper speed.”

How Satire Happens

KaplanM2Following the tragic incidents surrounding French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center, shared with The Jewish Journal his experience leading the nation’s oldest college humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.

“Freedom of speech must include the freedom to outrage. If you have to fight fire with fire, you have to fight indecency with more indecency. Rudeness subverts oppression. Crudeness ventilates orthodoxy. Laughter strips the emperor naked. Satire is a check on power,” Kaplan said, defending Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons.

Of college campuses today, Kaplan also said many of the stories he published in The Harvard Lampoon during the 1970s would now be cause for action from university disciplinary boards.

How ‘Harry Potter’ fans won a four-year fight against child slavery

Jenkins_121pThe Washington Post quoted professor Henry Jenkins in a story about the fair trade activisim of The Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that he has studied.

“The idea of civic imagination is, before we can change the world, we have to imagine what a better world would look like, we have to imagine ourselves as political agents,” Jenkins said. “I would say is what the Harry Potter Alliance does very well is foster the cultural imagination.”

The following is a selection of Quoted stories from the winter holiday.

Boston 2024: Why Bid to Host the Olympics?

Abrahamson_180pAnnenberg professor Alan Abrahamson was quoted in an NBC Chicago 5 story about the negative economic risks posed if Boston hosts the 2024 Olympic Games, which he disagrees with.

“It’s totally worth it. You cannot put a price on dreams. That’s what the Olympics are all about it,” Abrahamson said.

Boston recently won out against Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C. for the United State’s bid and will now go up against international options like Rome, Berlin and Hamsburg.

Despite some public opposition that the games would be too costly to fund and recover from, Abrahamson said this is the best chance the United States has had for a Summer Olympics since Atlanta last hosted in 1996.

Chattanooga Touts Transformation Into Gig City

Jonathan TaplinAn Associated Press story featured in the New York Times discussed professor and Annenberg Innovation Lab Director Jonathan Taplin’s  efforts in Chattanooga, Tenn., the first U.S. city with gigabit-per-second internet speeds.

Now considered an emerging tech hub, Taplin says the entertainment industry is also taking notice of Chattanooga and its potential contributions to filmmaking. According to Taplin, directors like James Cameron want to create films at double the current ultra-high definition standard and Chattanooga’s fiber optic network “could handle that today.”

How to Go Rogue Respectfully

HernandezR_121x163.ashxIn a column for PBS Mediashift, professor Robert Hernandez gives advice on how to take risks in the newsroom and classroom without crossing the boundaries.

Hernandez offers a five step plan to “disrupt the system,” hallmarking the need to be respectful, smart, communicate, promote and celebrate and build a new, digital culture over time.

“The nut graph, if you are in a tl;dr state of mind, is don’t wait for the leadership to notice you, empower you or even take care of you. You and your friends and colleagues have to do that yourselves, and this is the era to do it,” Hernandez wrote.

New Appraisals of Violent Extremism

SeibVice Dean Philip Seib commented on the fight against violent extremist organizations in the Middle East in a column for The World Post, which he says will require policy implementation from the State Department and other U.S. agencies.

Seib praises a speech by Rashad Hussain, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, that stresses the need for partnerships among governments and NGOs  encouraging young Muslims to enter professional or humanitarian work and a report from Al Jazeera warning against the dangers of the Islamic militant group Daesh.

But Seib says it will take more than “reaching these young men and women” to effect permanent reform.

“As this process continues, lessons should be learned and remembered. Once Daesh is defeated—and it eventually will be— other violint extremist organizations will arise. The struggle against them must continue until the political and social environment that has fostered their growth is fundamentally changed,” Seib wrote.

UC Davis newspaper struggles to resume print publication

MarcCooperWhile UC Davis’ student newspaper The California Aggie continues to search for a publisher that will fund the revival of its print edition, professor Marc Cooper told The Sacramento Bee he wasn’t surprised at the paper’s shortcomings.

“Most newspapers are struggling to meet the bottom line with the properties they have. Newspapers are cutting back, not expanding,” Cooper said.

Now $60,000 in debt, Cooper thinks The California Aggie should instead focus on creating a more accessible website and mobile app for its digitally savvy college student demographic.

Sikh Americans tell their story with first-ever Rose Parade float

Winston_200pProfessor Diane Winston questioned the Sikh community’s decision to use a float in the Rose Parade as a messaging tool.

In the KPCC story, Winston noted that it’s very low-tech and old-fashioned approach.

“Will everybody wake up the next day and understand that turbaned men are Sikhs and not Muslims? I doubt it.” Winston said. “These things happen over time. It’s not like a flash-bang.”

Internet expert Douglas Thomas on the hacking of Sony Pictures

Thomas_93pProfessor Douglas Thomas shared his knowledge on internet security and cybercrime in regards to the North Korean linked Sony Hack in a column for The Los Angeles Times, which he says is “extremely difficult” to punish by law.

“How do you talk about trespass — for example — in a virtual world? Trespass is predicated on the idea that your body is someplace it shouldn’t be. But when you’re on your computer in your mom’s basement, that’s no longer true. You’re looking at things you shouldn’t be looking at,” Thomas said. “It’s not a crime to walk up to someone’s car and look in the window and admire their stereo. It’s only a crime when you open the door and pull that stereo out.”

Thomas is weary of any law that will be enacted as a result of the attack, though.

Pop Politics: John Lewis Says Selma is ‘Long Overdue’

Murphy_163p.ashxInterviewed on Sirius XM’s “PopPolitics” and featured on Variety, professor Mary Murphy said as a result of the cyberattack on Sony, moviegoers will see a change in content on the silver screen.

“The short term fallout will be people will maybe stop making movies which have controversial characters or plot lines about countries that we have a great fear of,” Murphy said. “In terms of Hollywood, I think it really is going to make people pause creatively. I don’t like that and people are angry that they say the hackers won. But Hollywood also has to figure out a way to really have a better security system for their internet because this cannot happen again.”

Like many of those in the entertainment industry, Murphy also foresees big changes to the executive suite at Sony and acknowledges a mistake that might have cost The Interview’s wide release.

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Forum on Charlie Hebdo Sparks Conversation about Freedom of Expression

Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist for International New York Times

Patrick Chappatte, an editorial cartoonist for the International New York Times

In the wake of the tragic attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, USC Annenberg released a statement affirming “the global human right to freedom of expression and to a free, independent press.”

On Tuesday, a special noontime forum focused on those rights. Students, faculty and members of the USC Annenberg community gathered to discuss freedom of expression and the responsibilities of journalists and communicators given that freedom.

The event was opened by directors of the communication and journalism schools, Sarah Banet-Weiser and Willow Bay, respectively, before being turned over to moderator Vice Dean Philip Seib. The forum included special guest and USC Annenberg visiting fellow Patrick Chappatte, who works as an editorial cartoonist for International New York Times. Chappatte is also French, and counted members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff among his colleagues and friends.

Seib began by sharing a quote from former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who said in 1962: “My view is, without deviation, without exception, without any ifs, buts, or whereases, that freedom of speech means that you shall not do something to people either for the views they have or the views they express or the words they speak or write.”

“That is a good summary of where American law and American principles are in terms of freedom of speech,” Seib said. “And there’s not really much debate about that as a principle not only in the United States, but in much of the world today. That principle is enshrined.”

The room, filled to the brim with about 150 people, then collectively turned to a series of thorny questions: whether there are any limits to these freedoms, what role editorial policy plays in expressing those freedoms, how the question of audience affects this debate, and what responsibilities (if any) people in communication fields are called to uphold.

Professor Manuel Castells noted that when discussing the content of Charlie Hebdo — satirical articles and cartoons that mock religious groups, political beliefs, cultural traditions and more — it must be discussed in the context of French society.

“The meaning of communication depends not only on the sending and the content of the message, but of the context of the reception of the message,” Castells said.

Editorial cartoonist Chappatte added that the meanings of these cartoons can be difficult to understand, “even in the day of Google Translate.” This is especially true for those reading and watching from the United States where, as Chappatte put it, there is a constant “worry about people that could be offended by a picture or images.” Chappette argued that Charlie Hebdo was free of forms of “political correctness” prevalent in the U.S. because of the nature of their work and its locale.

“If you look at Charlie Hebdo yes, you have those big-nosed, ugly characters, but you have to understand their specialty is to pick at any establishment, any power, any individual,” Chappatte said. “Most people in their cartoons were ugly because they were denouncing that most people see the ugly in everyone.”

After the attack, news outlets were tasked with deciding whether or not they would publish the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Some news organizations opted not to publish the cartoons, noting cultural sensitivity. Professor Judy Muller felt that the debate about whether or not to republish the controversial content was “kind of moot.” The cartoons are easily accessible online, thus giving many editors another reason not to publish.

Does relying on the wide digital availability of the images undermine freedom of expression? The subject was widely discussed in the news, particularly in stories about an exchange between Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times who elected not publish the cartoons, and USC Annenberg professor Marc Cooper, who thought they should have been published.

Noting this exchange, Seib asked “Should offensiveness override the right to publish?”

Francesca Bessey, senior opinion editor for Neon Tommy

Francesca Bessey, senior opinion editor for Neon Tommy

Francesca Bessey, senior opinion editor at Neon Tommy, had to answer this question recently as she recently ran a column on Charlie Hebdo in which she and the writer elected not to publish the cartoons in the column, but rather link to another site where they could be viewed.

“They’re there for you to see whether people make the editorial decision to release them or not,” Bessey said. But this is more than a question of newsworthiness, Bessey continued. “There is another question there and that is, can images be harmful? And I think that if you look at any horrific and tragic incident in the world’s history, we can see how imagery and media can be extremely harmful.”

While images can indeed be harmful, that is not their intention, Chappatte responded. The aim of editorial cartoons is not to offend, he said, it is the same aim that a journalist or commentator has: “to make a comment, to analyze, to denounce, to say something,” Chappatte said. “And in the process, you can offend.”

The job, of writers and editors, cartoonists and commentators, is to balance freedom of expression and the responsibility of expression, Chappatte said.

Dean of USC Annenberg, Ernest J. Wilson III, said this was why the school leadership felt it was important to hold the forum. He wanted to have a discussion that allowed for “all of us to interrogate our responsibilities.”

“I’m proud for all of us for coming together as a community of shared values to talk about these kinds of issues,” Wilson said. “I think it does underscore the importance of journalism education, communication education, public relations education, so that we can bring this contextualization when terrible, messy, global, confusing things happen.”

To contextualize, to continue to embrace freedom of expression in a responsible way, Chappatte offered this advice: “We need to criticize more than ever, but we need to listen at the same time. This is the struggle.”

“It all happened in blood and it’s going to change forever the way we think, the way we work,” Chappatte concluded. “It will always be in the shadow [of Charlie Hebdo].”

Visit our Flickr album for more images from the Charlie Hebdo forum.

Visit our Flickr album for more images from the Charlie Hebdo forum.

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Knight Chair program awarded $1.25 million to expand online religion coverage by Religion Dispatches

Cordpromomprehensive reporting efforts on the changing landscape of American religious practice and theological thought will see significant expansion in 2015, as a result of $1.25 million in grants awarded to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the Luce Foundation.

Diane Winston, USC Annenberg’s Knight Chair in Media and Religion, will direct this effort.

The grants will fund a new editor and freelance reporting budget for Religion Dispatches, the award-winning online journalism magazine based at USC Annenberg. The magazine is one element in the Knight Chair’s ongoing effort to advance specialized reporting.

Lilly Endowment awarded $1 million for a project titled “Remapping American Christianities;” and the Henry Luce Foundation awarded $250,000 to pursue “Innovating Coverage of Theology.”

In addition to funding freelance reporting and a new editor, the grants will allow Winston to convene thought leaders who will help chart new directions to cover territory overlooked by other websites and print publications, Winston said.

Also, the grants will support greater collaboration between editors of Religion Dispatches and the Knight Chair with students at USC Annenberg.

“The next generation of reporters should understand the importance of religion in the daily lives of Americans and learn how ordinary people look for and find meaning, identity and purpose,” Winston said.

The Endowment grant for “Remapping American Christianities” aims to take a fresh look at Christianity’s increasingly diverse expression in the United States, Winston said. As diversity continues to increase, the old, monochromatic paradigm of Christianity in America no longer applies.

“We’ll be looking at differences among Christians along racial, ethnic and theological lines, but also at how people come together and the new ways they express their beliefs,” Winston said. “What does it mean to be Christian in 2015, and how do you find community and identity – even outside the church?”

The Henry Luce Foundation grant will fund journalism that explores how theological practices and discussions are changing in the 21st century.

Diane Winston

Diane Winston

“Historically, theology has taken place in ivory towers,” Winston said. “Today, especially with access to online resources, conversations happen instantaneously and globally. People are constructing religious and spiritual meaning in new and different ways – and they’re doing it not just in churches and academic settings but on TV shows, in classrooms, online and at Starbucks.”

The result, she said, are more democratic and participatory discussions that change the way people construct meaning as well as address the “ultimate questions” about religion and spirituality.

Both projects align with the core mission of Religion Dispatches, a site that projects it will have 2.7 million unique visits in 2014. The site was nominated for Webby Awards three of the last four years for its coverage and commentary on religion, politics and the arts.

The grants will help Religion Dispatches broaden and deepen its coverage by developing its presence at USC, where Winston will bring together scholars, clergy advisors and academic experts. The university offers rich resources of expertise, including the Office of Religious Life, the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the School of Religion.

“A lot of outlets are either corporate-owned or really off the grid,” said Religion Dispatches co-editor Lisa Webster. “We’re unusual – a nonprofit publication that’s housed at a major university. It’s an experiment and a laboratory for new ways of publishing. Both of these grants give us the opportunity to explore what this kind of model might look like for the future of journalism.”

The reporting, which will be delivered via multiple platforms, also will have the advantage of the cutting-edge resources of USC Annenberg’s new Wallis Annenberg Hall. Students and editors will work alongside faculty experts and use the up-to-the-minute digital production tools of the building’s expansive Media Center. The stories will be delivered via the new multi-use audio, video and podcast studios.

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USC Annenberg Statement on the Charlie Hebdo Attack

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism expresses our deepest condolences to the victims of the unconscionable Paris attacks. We vigorously affirm the global human right to freedom of expression and to a free, independent press. #JeSuisCharlie


(This statement can also be found at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy’s website:

Using terror to intimidate and throttle free speech is not new. And it must not be allowed to succeed.

We, as members of the Carnegie-Knight consortium of journalism schools, stand with all those who defy murderous efforts to silence a free and open media.

We are sad and we are angry at the brutal assault on our colleagues in Paris.

But we will not be silenced.

Lorraine Branham, Dean, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University (view personal statement)

Chris Callahan, Dean, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University

Steve Coll, Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

Lucy Dalglish, Dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

Brad Hamm, Dean, Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications, Northwestern University

Rod Hart, Dean, Moody College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin

Alex S. Jones, Director, Shorenstein Center on the Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Susan King, Dean, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Maria Marron, Dean, College of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Ed Wasserman, Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley (view personal statement)

Ernest Wilson III, Dean, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California

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Meet the Graduate Student Who Helps Keep the Media Center Running Smoothly

640-master-classAni UcarIn its first semester in operation, the USC Annenberg Media Center has been running like the newsroom it was intended to be, thanks largely to student journalists like Ani Ucar, who serves as the news director for Neon Tommy.

“The vision for a converged newsroom really attracted me,” Ucar said of choosing the two-year M.A. Journalism program. “Even though I’m a student, I really want to feel like I’m in a newsroom.”

During her two years at USC, Ucar has served as the Neon Tommy news director, a host for Annenberg Radio News, and a reporter, multimedia journalist and graduate student project associate for ATVN.

“I think this is a great playground for people to figure out what they want to do while also building those skills to be a multimedia journalist,” Ucar said. “I never thought I would have loved radio for instance, and I was the host of ARN for both semesters last year, and I fell in love with it.”

In addition to directing news production at Neon Tommy, Ucar also operates as a reporter for the outlet. Helping to provide live, nearly round-the-clock coverage of the Ferguson protests in South LA in November was among the most memorable moments of her journalism career at USC.

“I love that kind of storytelling,” Ucar said. “You can’t report on those kinds of things unless you’re right there with boots on the ground.”

Ucar, who will graduate in May, completed her undergraduate education at UC Davis with a double major in communication and psychology and a minor in writing. Though she’d always loved writing, serving as the news director for Davis’ student-run television station, and covering the Occupy movement during her senior year was what really sparked her interest in pursuing journalism.

Growing up around Los Angeles, Ucar said USC was always a dream school. Though she had other journalism graduate programs to choose from, she said that even after visiting other schools, USC still stood out as her first choice.

“When I got here it was very refreshing,” Ucar said. “It just seemed like the institution really was embracing the forward-thinking of what the industry is moving towards right now.”

The location of USC Annenberg, especially as compared to her undergraduate experience at Davis, was especially appealing to Ucar, and has made her in-the-field reporting, whether for ATVN, ARN or Neon Tommy, an even more valuable experience.

“When you’re sent out to stories you’re competing with all the local outlets,” Ucar said. “You’re standing right next to the Times, right next to the Weekly, right next to KNBC, and that’s a great, invaluable experience that you wouldn’t get if you were in a small town.”

In addition to her on-campus responsibilities, Ucar interned with LA Weekly, for which she spent five months reporting on the wing of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Men Central Jail dedicated to housing gay inmates. The piece has since been shared more than 40,000 times.

A photo by Ani Ucar that accompanied the LA Weekly story.

A photo by Ani Ucar that accompanied her LA Weekly story, “In the Gay Wing of L.A. Men’s Central Jail, It’s Not Shanks and Muggings But Hand-Sewn Gowns and Tears.”

Ucar said that while she’s been floored by the success, she’s still a bit in awe over the culmination of many months of reporting, researching, and countless journalistic skills learned at USC Annenberg.

“The things I’ve learned in my broadcast classes with David Daniel and Barbara Pierce, and my reporting classes with Jack Leonard, Matt Lait, Scott Glover … they taught me everything I knew going into that,” Ucar said. “The things that I’ve learned here already, and the fact that I have another semester of learning, is just incredible, and I’m so thankful that I’ve had such incredible professors that are not just professors, they’re truly mentors.”

Being taught by faculty who are both instructors and professionals working in the field has been one of the most impactful aspects of Ucar’s graduate school experience. Their advice proved especially insightful in helping her to navigate the often tricky reporting assignments for LA Weekly. Ucar said the accessibility of the USC Annenberg faculty was evident from her first visit, and that having instructors with a current, working knowledge of the field allows students to be even more confident and prepared as beginning journalists.

Being taught by a wide range of professional journalists has also allowed Ucar to try her hand at platforms and concentrations that she had never previously considered, from crime reporting to coding.

“They are still in the industry while also teaching us, so we get to hear both sides.,” Ucar said. “I feel like that has been so crucial to my experience here because it’s opened my eyes up to so many things I never thought I would have loved.”

Though Ucar isn’t yet sure where journalism will take her after graduation, she’s most interested in video. The cross-platform training, and mentorship, she’s received at USC Annenberg will help her to be adaptable in any facet of the field.

“I think this school has the best balance of all worlds, really, whether you’re interested in audio, text, video, this program will prepare you in any of those specific fields and also in a converged sense,” Ucar said. “There’s so many opportunities here, and so many skilled people who are willing to help you not only through the finish line, but past it.”

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