How a healthier future for Hollywood is becoming a reality

The business of Hollywood, Health & Society is mostly behind-the-scenes; the program consults on dozens of critically-acclaimed television shows to ensure that health storylines are depicted as accurately as possible. But lately, HH&S has been in the spotlight itself, featured in a recent Pacific Standard Magazine article and gaining momentum as the go-to source of medical and climate change knowledge for shows such as “Parenthood,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Breaking Bad”.

(Courtesy of Hollywood, Health & Society)

(Courtesy of Hollywood, Health & Society)

In addition to its mission to educate and ensure accuracy in depictions of health in entertainment, Hollywood, Health & Society also works to increase the visibility of television storylines dealing with the pressing matter of climate change, as well as related health threats such as extreme weather and infectious diseases.

“We’re really here to support the entertainment industry in helping them to gather the most up to date and accurate information for their storyline,” Kate Folb, director of the program, said. “So we are kind of like a one stop shop for writers.”

Founded in 2001 and funded by the Centers for Disease Control, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the California Endowment and others, Hollywood, Health & Society is a non-profit program at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center.

HH&S serves as a resource of knowledge for a wide variety of television shows, from ABC soaps to NBC dramas and cable hits such as “Mad Men,” “Dexter” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

The organization’s services are completely free and provided at the request of the writers and showrunners.

“We don’t pitch storylines per se,” Folb said. “We don’t presume to know what’s best for show. If a writer is interested in writing a storyline about HIV/AIDS, they will contact us. In terms of being proactive, we’re constantly reaching out to shows to let them know we’re here.”

If a writer is crafting a storyline about leukemia, HH&S will bring leukemia experts into the writer’s room.

“I knew absolutely nothing about infectious disease when I called HH&S,” “NCIS” Executive Producer Scott Williams, whom the program recently worked with on an episode entitled “Homesick,” said. “They put me in touch with some of the foremost authorities in the country the very next day. The help they provided was nothing short of imperative to my writing process.  They are a tremendous resource.”

For timely topics such as the Affordable Care Act, the subject of Hollywood, Health & Society’s most recent entertainment industry event on July 22, panels of experts, television writers and producers will speak about how health care, climate change and popular culture interplay.

Hollywood, Health & Society will also occasionally take writers on bus tours around Los Angeles to help further immerse them into their storyline’s subject. Among Hollywood, Health & Society’s recent writers field trips include a stop at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to speak with climate scientists, and a visit to South Central LA to learn about food insecurity.

“We find that when we take writers to the source, it gets them to understand story matters and meet individuals,” Folb said. “That’s a big part of what we do for our writers; connecting them with experts, but also everyday people who are living with these topics.”

In addition to consulting on critically-acclaimed dramas which tend to skew toward older viewer demographics, HH&S has also been working closely with shows aimed toward younger viewers, such as the Hulu series East Los High, and on nearly every episode of the new ABC Family show “Chasing Life,” about a woman in her early twenties who is diagnosed with leukemia.

Though, for the time being, shows depicting inaccurate health and climate change storylines outnumber those with truer portrayals, HH&S operates through positive, rather than negative, reinforcement.

“We don’t play the blame game or finger point; we’re not watchdog group,” Folb said. “There are times when I see a show that is attempting to address a subject that I think they could probably use our help, and we’ll reach out to them and let them know we’re here.”

Among Hollywood, Health & Society’s positive reinforcement strategies is its annual Sentinel for Health Awards, honoring television storylines which address topics of health in an exemplary manner. Shows that submit for consideration are first judged by CDC experts and scientists for accuracy, and then by television writers and producers to determine which show, in addition to being accurate, depicted a storyline in the most compelling way.

While HH&S doesn’t conduct formal research on how the accuracy of television storylines has increased since it began, the uptick in entries for the annual Sentinel for Health Awards is telling: having only received about fifteen submissions in 2001, the awards now receive upwards of seventy submissions each year, according to Folb.

The program does, however, track the types of health storylines being addressed on television each year with its TV Monitoring Project.

“We look at a snapshot of shows that are on primetime and cable,” Folb said. “We look at how they handle health and climate change topics. We get kind of a pie chart of what they’re addressing and can see where the holes are, for example maybe there are no shows addressing HIV/AIDS.”

The center also conducts research on the impact television storylines have on viewers’ knowledge and behaviors, which often show that even the most minor television plots can have more impact than many commercials and public service announcements.

“Part of this is because when you’re watching your favorite show, you’re really rooting for your favorite character, you’re engrossed in the story, you’re there with them,” Folb said. “If important information is addressed in a show, you absorb it to a deeper level than with a commercial, where you know they’re trying to sell you something and your defenses go up.”

For example, Hollywood, Health & Society consulted on an eight-episode storyline about the BRCA breast cancer gene on the CW show “90210,” which Folb said resulted in a lot of positive feedback from viewers.

“I think it’s is a good idea to bring [breast cancer] up as a storyline on entertainment tv because it creates awareness,” one viewer said. “I had never heard of the BRCA gene before watching the 90210 episodes. They presented it in an interesting and educational way.”

The idea that narratives are more effective at conveying health information than a simple recitation of facts was addressed by a collaboration of researchers from USC Annenberg and the Keck School of Medicine recently, who in June won the National Institutes of Health Common Fund 10-Year Commemoration Video Contest for their work “Transforming Cancer Knowledge, Attitudes & Behavior Through  Narrative.” Viewer engagement with media is also a topic of intense study by USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center and Participant Media.

“We take that very seriously with shows that are dealing with health topics,” Folb said. “We work to support shows to make sure that the support they’re providing with health and climate is accurate.”

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Annenberg’s first Institute on Diversity was a success this summer

Diversity can often be just a buzzword or an easily traded form of corporate capital, but it’s also an area of intense interest to those studying media and culture. For graduate students pursuing research in the field, there hadn’t been a place for serious intellectual discussion of diversity or the sharing of work — until now.


Photo courtesy of Jeremy Rosenberg

This summer USC Annenberg held the first annual Summer Institute on Diversity in Media and Culture. Twenty doctoral students from around the country gathered on USC’s campus to create “an energizing intellectual space to talk about all this stuff, to get feedback on their work, and to start a larger national conversation about diversity in media in the field of communication,” Institute leader Sarah Banet-Weiser said.

Banet-Weiser, a USC Annenberg professor and now director of the School of Communication, wants diversity — or “difference,” as she prefers — to be a calling card for Annenberg. “The summer institute was our first project [as part of that] overall mission, and I was thrilled with the result.” she said. “For me, to talk about an institute of diversity, media and culture is to think through issues of race, gender and overall difference in media.”

Despite little in the way of promotion, the Institute received over 80 applications (including some from abroad) for the first installment’s 20 spots. With an eye towards becoming an annual gathering, Banet-Weiser said they will likely expand to include international students as the interest was so high.

Along with the 20 students, 10 professors participated in the Institute.

“We had our faculty, from Annenberg, who are doing this kind of work but we also had four visiting faculty from other universities who are leaders in the field,” Banet-Weiser said. These leaders included: Herman S. Gray, professor of sociology at UC Santa Cruz; Rosa-Linda Fregoso, interim chair of Latin American and Latino studies at UC Santa Cruz; Beretta Smith-Shumade, director of communication at Tulane University; and S. Craig Watkins, professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at UT Austin.

“The students gave presentations and then we gave them specific feedback, “Banet-Weiser explained. “With this group of faculty in the room, it was such an opportunity for the students because you’re not going to get all of us together like that.”

Altogether, the gathering made for a lively conversation not just about diversity but media as a whole. Research on diversity in the field of communication has historically focused on representation — looking at television or film for characters of color or different socio-economic backgrounds — but the Institute also considered recent technological changes in media, the reach of these representations, and the meaning behind all of it.

“It’s how difference is mobilized in media and how do we make sense of it,” Banet-Weiser said. “In a moment of shifting conditions, of technology and circulation and digital media, we wanted to ask how do we get beyond representation. What can we do as scholars to think about getting beyond representation, to really think through how difference is circulated in the media and how audiences understand it? Does it make a difference?”

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Richard Fisher Talks Monetary Policy at USC Annenberg

Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, visited USC Annenberg on July 16 to discuss U.S. monetary policy. The event was the first hosted by Willow Bay, the new director of the School of Journalism, as well as Dean Ernest Wilson.

In case you missed it, check out the video of the discussion below.

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Monetary Policy Debate to be held at USC Annenberg

Money talks, and the topic of discussion will be the Federal Reserve on Wednesday morning.

richard-fisherRichard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, is scheduled to speak about U.S. monetary policy at 8:30 a.m. on July 16, in Annenberg Room 204. Dean Ernest Wilson and Willow Bay, new director of the School of Journalism, are hosting the event — the first under Bay.

The event will focus on the Federal Reserve’s “punchbowl,” a term made famous by William McChesney Martin, the longest serving chairman of the Fed, when he said it was the Fed’s job “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.” As the U.S. is still recovering from the economic downturn of 2008, raising interest rates at peak economic activity post-recession is increasingly relevant.

Fisher, who is a member of the Federal Open Market Committee — the people responsible for the punch bowl — will comment on the punch bowl’s effects on the economy and why he advocates for taking it away when the party gets going.

“I look forward to sharing my comments on the current state of U.S. monetary policy,” Fisher said. “I plan to address concerns about the Fed’s role maintaining the stability of the financial system.”

A previous discussion about the Federal Reserve was held at USC Annenberg in 2013. Read more about it: “Prof. Mitchel Y. Abolafia Offers Further Remarks on Central Bank Transparency”


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Wallis Annenberg Hall Construction Update

With less than 50 days until the grand opening of Wallis Annenberg Hall, here is an updated look at the latest developments, courtesy of USC Annenberg Facilities and Technologies team member Joel Zink and the regularly updated construction blog, “Building Wallis Annenberg Hall.”

June 19: Check out the video below to see the building’s completed exterior, landscape and hardscape from Lazarro Plaza (on the corner of Childs and Watt Way, next to Cromwell Field).

Wallis Annenberg Hall Broadcast Control

Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg

June 23: “With a plethora of video and audio production equipment, the broadcast control room is the nerve center of the TV production areas,” writes Zink. “With equipment coming online, the complicated connectivity of these areas is the focus of the broadcast integrators.”

June 25: Carpenters have been hard at work in the media center. According to Zink, the central video switcher, audio switchers, headphone panels and intercom panels are all “cut into the desktops of custom millwork.”

Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg

Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg

June 27: As the grand opening approaches, the contractors are preparing to train USC Facilities Management and Annenberg Facilities staffs on aspects of the new building, such as door hardware, backup generator operations, and window shade operation and upkeep. “This allows for the groups who will maintain the building to ask questions and gain valuable insight to the various systems,” writes Fink.

July 1: Last week, training sessions began in the media center. People are learning how to use equipment such as the video switcher, audio transport system, media halo and intercom system. According to Zink, “the training sessions are usually in conjunction with the commissioning of the system and are done by experts brought in specifically for the startup and training.”

More photos of Wallis Annenberg Hall are available here.

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USC Annenberg welcomes Banet-Weiser and Bay as directors of Communication and Journalism Schools


Wilson Bay Banet-Weiser

Brett Van Ort/USC Annenberg

Cue the sparklers and the USC Trojan marching band, as USC Annenberg has much to celebrate this 4th of July week. On July 1, the Annenberg community heartily welcomed Sarah Banet-Weiser and Willow Bay on their first official days as the new directors of the Communication and Journalism Schools at USC Annenberg.

Both are well-positioned to take their helms during this transformative moment for USC Annenberg. In mere weeks, the School of Journalism will greet its first cohort of nine-month Journalism M.S. students. This new degree will correspond with further curricular changes, as well as the grand opening of Wallis Annenberg Hall, the 88,000-square-foot building loaded with sophisticated technology located in the heart of the USC campus.

Described by Annenberg Dean Ernest Wilson III as “a renowned scholar, an award-winning author, a beloved teacher and an effective leader,” Banet-Weiser joined the School of Communication faculty in 1999. Her book Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture won the 2013 Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association. She is currently editor of the American Quarterly, the flagship journal of the American Studies Association. “I couldn’t be happier that she has agreed to take on this role,” said Dean Wilson, “and continue to build on the foundation of excellence in scholarship and education that the School is known for.”

A seasoned journalist, Bay is a producer, digital news editor and national broadcast and global cable television news anchor, who has worked for Bloomberg TV, CNN and the Huffington Post among other outlets. “The breadth of Willow Bay’s experiences, skills and talents is extraordinary,” said Dean Wilson when announcing Bay’s appointment. “Her leadership will help our innovative school aggressively continue our path of creating – and defining – the digital future.”

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USC Annenberg lauded across Los Angeles

LA Press Club LogoUSC Annenberg faculty, students and alumni need to start building some shelves for the numerous accolades they earned this week.

At the Los Angeles Press Club honors held on June 29 at the Los Angeles Biltmore. The awards recognize “high-caliber journalism” and “call attention to the Los Angeles area’s fine journalists while promoting excellence in new and emerging media.”

Truthdig, a political news website founded by USC Annenberg professor Robert Scheer and alumna Zuade Kaufman took first place for “Website News Organization Exclusive to the Internet.” In honoring Truthdig, the judges commented: “Insightful, timely writing, without pulling any punches. Very good, no-nonsense design, and an impressive line-up of contributors.”

Marty Kaplan, who holds the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society and is director of the Norman Lear Center, tied for first place for “Best Entertainment Criticism” for his Jewish Journal essays: “The Future of Technology; Fear of Fun” and “CBS vs. Time Warner Cable vs. You.”

Student-run Neon Tommy competed against professional news organizations such as the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and The Hollywood Reporter. The web publication took home two top prizes. In the Online category, for “News,” the Neon Tommy team behind “USC Students Decry Racial Profiling by Authorities” took first place, with the judges noting: “This detailed and thorough reporting addresses the frustration and injustice of racial profiling and long-standing problems for both minorities and the LAPD.” Neon Tommy reporters also earned first place in the “Investigative” category for “Special Report: Investigation Into Sexual Assault at USC,” with judges highlighting the “Well researched, in-depth analysis of campus sex culture.”

Neon Tommy photographer Charlie Magovern took second prize in the “Sports Photo” category, with “USC v. West Alabama,” while Cortney Rae Riles, took third in the “Entertainment Feature” category for “The Real ‘Scandal’ – That Isn’t Discussed.”

Competing against fellow youth media also proved successful for Annenberg students, as Joy Wang of USC’s Annenberg TV News” landed the top prize in the “Best Reporting – Broadcast, Podcast or Stream” category for “Protestors Demand Higher Wages for Fast Food Workers,” while ATVN’s Raishad Hardnett took third for “Digital Era Hits Drive-in Theaters.” ATVN also scored second place for best news website.

Other notable mentions include: Annenberg Ph.D. candidate George Villanueva sharing second place for best multimedia package; alumnus Gary Baum, taking first and second places in the magazine “news investigative” category; alumnus Drew Tewksbury sharing second place in the social media category for KCET’s “Artbound”; and adjunct professor Vince Gonzales sharing first place in the “Documentary” category for “LA Experiment.”

Gonzales’ work on “LA Experiment” was also noted by the Los Angeles area Emmys, which nominated Gonzales in the Information Segment category and then again for the Information/Public Affairs series category, with colleagues and fellow Annenberg faculty Rebecca Haggerty and Judy Muller for KCET series “SoCal Connected.”

Annenberg faculty member Alan Abrahamson was recently bestowed the 2014 Track & Field Writers of America Adam Jacobs Award for excellence in online journalism. Professor Abrahamson said:

“For me, this is a very special award. For one, it was voted on by my peers….To win in the emerging field of online journalism, and about the sport that I have been so very passionate about for so many years is, as I say, a special moment. “

And last, but not least, the Los Angeles Times honored Annenberg alumnus John Adams with an innovation award for rebuilding their website “from the ground up, working tirelessly in 2013 to create the infrastructure that has made our new site a success. He has been on the front lines in the newsroom, coaching everyone on best digital practices. And he will continue to play a major role in making both creative and efficient. His belief in the quality and mission of this news organization is reflected in the long hours he has dedicated, by choice, to make sure the site is excellent.”

Fight on!

Calling all USC Annenberg faculty, staff, students and alumni: If you’ve recently been honored for your work, we’d love to know about it. Tweet it out and make sure to include @uscannenberg.

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USC Annenberg Faculty and Staff Member Team up to Present at Professional Management Workshop

Power of WordsUSC Annenberg clinical professor Susan Resnick West and director of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Services Cindy Martinez will be presenting at the 74th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management for the second year in a row.

The meeting, which will be held at the beginning of August in Philadelphia, is expected to draw more than 10,000 students, academics and professionals, and will offer professional development workshops, all focused around a particular theme. The theme for this year’s presentations is “The Power of Words.”

“Words allow people to convey and interpret meaning, hence potentially to influence perceptions, emotions, attitudes, decisions, and associated behaviors,” reads the announcement of this year’s meeting theme.

Susan Resnick West

Susan Resnick West

Resnick West and Martinez will be participating in a session called, “’That Was Great!’ More High Impact Exercises for Teaching or Consulting on Organizational Change.” They will demonstrate and explain how to facilitate three short story telling exercises, which will involve using metaphors, creating six-word memoirs, and manipulating visual word clouds.

All three activities “center on the power of words to understand how we create meaning during times of change” and have been used in Resnick West’s USC Annenberg course CMGT 508: Communicating Strategy and Change.

Cindy Martinez

Cindy Martinez

Though Resnick West is the primary instructor for the course, offered online and in the classroom, Martinez has also served as an instructor for the course. Additionally, the pair works closely on the course and other pertinent research.

“I enjoy her insight and creativity and we have a great deal of fun both with the class and the workshop,” Resnick West said of working with Martinez.

Susan Resnick West
Cindy Martinez

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Philip Seib named USC Annenberg Vice Dean

Philip Seib. Photo by Maggie Smith

Philip Seib. Photo by Maggie Smith

Professor Philip Seib, a noted scholar, writer and public intellectual, has been named Vice Dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III announced the news today; Seib’s position is effective July 1.

“I look forward to working with Phil in his new role as Vice Dean,” Dean Wilson said. “I have already come to rely on Phil’s good judgment and superior leadership and management skills as part of his past roles here.”

Seib joined the USC faculty in 2007. He serves as a Professor of Journalism and Public Diplomacy, and Professor of International Relations. He is a past director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, an institution considered the gold standard of its kind.

USC Annenberg is composed of a pair of schools, the School of Communication and the School of Journalism. Seib’s combination of skills and experiences in both academia and industry, along with his areas of expertise in a variety of fields central to USC Annenberg’s mission, made his disciplines-spanning selection as Vice Dean an obvious choice.

“Among my goals is to make sure that there is more common ground shared by the School of Communication and School of Journalism – that there is a real USC Annenberg presence,” Seib said. “We have a lot of talent, and sometimes people are hesitant to cross lines between the two schools. I’m going to encourage people to do more of that crossing of lines.”

Added Seib: “I’ve been at Annenberg for eight years now; I’ve been teaching for more than 30 years. I’ve been working both on the journalism side, and, through my work in public diplomacy, on the communications side, so I have bridges built already in multiple directions, and now I’m interested in creating a large and broad bridge between the schools.”

As a faculty member, Seib’s research interests include the effects of news coverage on foreign policy, particularly conflict and terrorism issues. He is author or editor of numerous books, including Headline Diplomacy: How News Coverage Affects Foreign Policy; The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict; Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America into War; Beyond the Front Lines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War; New Media and the Middle East (2007); The Al Jazeera Effect (2008); Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy (2009); and Real-Time Diplomacy: Politics and Power in the Social Media Era (2012). Seib is also the editor of the Palgrave Macmillan Series in International Political Communication, co-editor of the Palgrave Macmillan Series in Global Public Diplomacy and co-editor of the journal Media, War and Conflict, published by Sage.

Seib’s elevation to Vice Dean comes during an era of great imagination and invention at USC Annenberg. In recent years, for example, the school has opened the cutting-edge Annenberg Innovation Lab; launched the popular Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship initiative; experimented with wearable computing, augmented reality and 3-D printing; and emphasized creative collaborations across industries and disciplines. The USC US-China Institute and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy are among the school’s leading in-house international and policy programs.

In Fall 2014, the School of Journalism will welcome its first cohort of nine-month Journalism M.S. students. This new degree will correspond with the grand opening of Wallis Annenberg Hall. This technologically transformative, 88,000-square-foot building located in the heart of the USC campus will feature a three-story media wall as well as professional-quality video, radio and vodcast studios and a digitally converged media center for the school’s award-winning, student-run, online, broadcast television, documentary and radio news outlets and PR agency. USC Annenberg’s current on-campus home, the modernist marvel designed by famed architect A. Quincy Jones, will remain an active academic building as well.

Seib is the latest addition to USC Annenberg’s remade administrative leadership team. Previously, the school announced that on July 1, Prof. Sarah Banet-Weiser will become Director of the USC Annenberg School of Communication, and Willow Bay will become Director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

USC Annenberg Vice Dean Larry Gross, a professor and outgoing director of the School of Communication, is taking a sabbatical beginning July 1. “Larry Gross has been a valuable contributor to the well-being of the School of Communication and to USC Annenberg as a whole,” Dean Wilson said. “We all look forward to his return in a year from sabbatical.”

Dean Wilson also said: “USC Annenberg has a new building, a new program, and a new era. This is a great time to be a Trojan, and a great time to join us as we invent the future.”

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a national leader in education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. With an enrollment of more than 2,200 students, USC Annenberg offers doctoral, graduate and undergraduate degree programs, as well as continuing development programs for working professionals, across a broad scope of academic inquiry. The school’s comprehensive curriculum emphasizes the core skills of leadership, innovation, service and entrepreneurship and draws upon the resources of a networked university in a global urban environment.
Contact: Anne Bergman, USC Annenberg,

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Norman Lear Center’s Johanna Blakley Talks About the ‘Free Culture’ of the Fashion Industry on TED Radio Hour

Johanna BlakleyWhen it comes to the fashion industry, Johanna Blakley, managing director and director of research at the Norman Lear Center, says that it’s okay to copy the work of others. In fact, the industry thrives on it.

Blakley was recently featured on National Public Radio’s TED Radio Hour to discuss what originality means in the “free culture” of the fashion industry.

People may be surprised to learn that reproducing an item of clothing is completely legal because the fashion industry has very little intellectual property protection.

In turn, it’s a place where “copying is the rule, not the exception,” said TED Radio Hour host Guy Raz.

“The genius is really in curating things from the past and reviving them in the present,” said Blakley, adding that most trends come from a large archive of preexisting designs that have just been reimagined.

The segment is part of a TED Radio Hour series that explores copying the work of others while still being innovative and asking the question: “What is Original?”

Listen to her TED Radio Hour segment here. Also, check out Blakley’s 2010 TED Talk on the same topic:

TED Radio Hour is a collaborative show, put on by NPR and non-profit organization TED, that incorporates TED Talks into radio segments around different themes and ideas.

Raz was selected as this year’s speaker at the USC Annenberg James L. Loper Lecture in Public Service Broadcasting. Prior to his lecture, he also stopped by USC Annenberg for a study break with students.

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