Co-director of Bitch Media Discusses Intersection of Feminism and Pop Culture

Co-founder of Bitch Media, Andi Zeisler, (left) joined USC Annenberg School of Communication director, Sarah Banet-Weiser (right), for conversation about why pop culture matters to feminism, activism and social justice.

Co-founder of Bitch Media, Andi Zeisler, (left) joined USC Annenberg School of Communication director, Sarah Banet-Weiser (right), for conversation about why pop culture matters to feminism, activism and social justice. For more images from the event, visit USC Annenberg on Flickr.

Few would deny the power that popular culture and media have over the way we understand and form opinions about the world around us. We consume media almost constantly, perpetually shifting our social and even political beliefs. But how can either modes of influence act as a locus of activism for gender equality?

On Tuesday, co-founder and editor of the non-profit feminist media organization Bitch media, Andi Zeisler came together with students, faculty and members of the USC Annenberg community in the Wallis Annenberg Hall auditorium for a discussion exploring just how pop culture has impacted the many waves of feminist action across history.

The event, titled “Don’t Just Change the Channel: Why Pop Culture Matters to Feminism, Activism and Social Justice,” was opened by director of the School of Communication Sarah Banet-Weiser before Zeisler dove into a presentation hitting eight major points — noting the power behind harnessing pop culture as a positive force in advocating for feminism among other social issues.

Founded by Zeisler and high school companion Lisa Jervis “on the idea that if nobody speaks up, nothing is going to change,” Zeisler said it wasn’t the magazine’s slightly scandalous title that raised eyebrows when Bitch first launched in 1996.

“Having the word ‘feminist’ in the magazine subtitle has been far more controversial than having the word ‘bitch’ in the title,” Zeisler explained. “That’s because the word ‘bitch’, for better or worse, has become part of our cultural lexicon. Yet ‘feminist’ is still one of those words that people find very hard to understand.”

While Zeisler said “really exciting” improvements have been made in the diversification of women represented in pop culture, the everyday sexism seen in the media Bitch originally set out to bring attention to and critique has not completely vanished in the almost 20 years since the magazine’s inception.

“I tend to feel a big part of what people misunderstand about feminism is that it’s still very relevant despite the fact that some of what earlier feminists fought for has come to past,” Zeisler said. “There’s this idea that some women gained some ground in some areas, feminism happened and we’re all done. That’s absolutely not true.”

Now more than ever, Zeisler said we must pay attention to how we consume products of pop culture because, as she put it, the stories media tell are the ones we believe. Presenting images of women in mainstream media to the completely full auditorium of attendees, it became clear that many of the deep rooted stereotypes and narratives surrounding what it means to be a woman in modern society are largely connected to what we see in film, television and music.

The over-sexualization of women in alcohol advertisements, violence against women within the fashion industry and the laser-point focus on female celebrities’ bodies by tabloids were just a small sample of pop culture hypocrisy brought up by Zeisler.


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

Zeisler also addressed feminism as a trend, recently popularized by Beyonce’s version of female empowerment through music and actress Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign to “convert” men to feminism. Although grateful for the revival of gender equality by a more conventional, seemingly less radical group of feminists, Zeisler said it is crucial to remember the corporate motivation behind selling the idea of feminism for profit.

“The aspects of feminism that are currently amplified in media and pop culture are the friendliest and sexiest ones. Popular feminism doesn’t challenge identities so much as it offers nips and tucks to a larger un-feminist status quo,” Zeisler said.

First-year USC Annenberg Ph.D. student Courtney Cox agreed with Zeisler’s assertion that for every two steps made forward in feminism, we often move one step back.

“A lot of people are very excited that feminism is now popular and cool, so I thought it was great to consider what might be negative about mainstream feminism,” Cox said. “It’s useful to think about for every good thing happening in pop culture, there are some bad sides as well.”

But Zeisler didn’t use the presentation to just point out what is currently wrong in the intersection between feminism and popular culture. Technological revolutions by way of the Internet have bolstered feminist activism from grassroot movements to a widespread, digital crusade anyone can invest in.

“The Internet and new technologies have [made] activism not only more accessible, but less of a burden,” Zeisler said of the potential to effect social change through memes and Tumblr posts. “You no longer have to define yourself as an activist to do activism in a consistent and meaningful way.”

Audience members were also able to ask Zeisler questions, spanning topics from celebrity intervention into feminism, the political implications of companies selling feminism and the importance of educating youth on media literacy.

At the core of Zeisler’s presentation was the idea that pop culture’s significance in our lives is immutable and the crucial need to utilize a feminist lens on media to better understand women’s perceived role in society.

“The question at the heart of every wave of feminism has always been, are women human beings with the same liberties and rights as men?,” Zeisler said. “And that question, despite everything that is going on with feminism being a hip new club, is contested every day in politics, in entertainment, the workplace, in court and in academia.”

For those studying media or interested in paving a career in the field, Zeisler offered advice on how to bridge those passions with feminism.

“Figure out what you’re most passionate about because [pop culture] a big subject and it can be pretty daunting. Then figure out how to incorporate your feminism into that” Zeisler said. “These days it’s easier than ever to make your own media.”

Watch the event below:

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Meet the Master (Student) Behind Neon Tommy’s Social Distribution


Alex Gold Neon Tommy_2

Alex Gold in the new USC Annenberg Media Center

Despite being one of USC’s newest student publications, Neon Tommy has established itself as one of the top student-run digital news sources in the country. The online magazine boasts an impressive list of alumni who now work at major media corporations like Time, Inc. and Yahoo! News.

Alex Gold, a second year Master’s of Strategic Public Relations student, is working from the inside out, helping the editorial staff at Neon Tommy create strategies for promoting stories through social media.

What is your title at Neon Tommy?

I am the social media director, which means that I lead a team that promotes stories across all social media platforms and is responsible for driving a large portion of our traffic to all the great content on Neon Tommy.

 When you say “all” social media platforms, which ones do you mean?

We create high-quality native content across on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.

 Wait a minute … did you just say Google+?

I did. It’s a medium that not only shouldn’t be forgotten about, but it’s incredibly important. Google pretty much owns the internet in the US and, therefore, a huge part of our web traffic and almost all SEO (search engine optimization) is tied to Google. An important aspect of its algorithm is Google+, so when you post a story, it factors heavily into its search value. If someone +1s that story, it has potential to be recommended to the rest of that person’s network.

Furthermore, Google+ recently released its business insights for pages. This enables us to monitor our actions on the platform in real time. This is big news within the tech community because it really opens the portal up as far as analytics goes.

It all boils down to understanding your audience and your users’ behavior. Google Analytics has a feature called user flow, which enables you to track where they come from, how much they navigate your site and when they leave. We’ve targeted our audiences through social, so the readership tends to stay longer and is more apt to read other stories we cater to them.

You’ve sold me on Google+, but how do you promote a story on Instagram or Pinterest?

Surprisingly, a large amount of our social traffic comes from Pinterest—almost as much as Twitter. Basically, we take the pics from the stories and pin them up as links back to the articles. Visual/social platforms like Pinterest and Instagram are baked into our thought process when we’re selecting images for stories, and the team actively looks at which of these pics would do well on those media.

How do you manage updating all these platforms at once?

From a process standpoint, we’ve developed a workflow in which social media is baked into the writing process. Once writers have crafted their stories, they are responsible for sending their drafts to editors with suggestions for promotion on Facebook and Twitter. Editors then review stories for accuracy, grammar, etc. and mark them ready for promo. From there, web producers publish and promote the stories on Facebook and Twitter. Then the social media team promotes every story on Google+ and Pinterest.  When it comes to Tumblr and Instagram, I really encourage the team to be selective and curate the content when posting.

Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we don’t, but I always try to encourage creativity among team members. Every week I put together a weekly roundup to recap what worked and what didn’t. We’ve gamified the process to encourage friendly competition and continued education across our organization. As a leader, I prefer to motivate our team with a balance of positivity, encouragement and constructive criticism. In that sense, I’m much more of a cheerleader than a micromanager. I’m very hands-off and will only step in if there is a recurring problem with the functionality of our system.

Can you take me through a typical day (if such a thing exists)?

Every day is different, and there are always new fires to put out, but I’m always monitoring social media analytics. I go through each twitter handle to see what’s generating traffic and what isn’t. All Neon Tommy social media accounts are linked to my phone, so I get real-time notifications that let me respond and engage in two-way communication with our readership.

At the end of the week, I put together my roundup email with “best three” and “worst three” social media content pieces. The goal is to get our staff thinking about individual posts and tweets as stand-alone bits of content and to strive to make them as high-quality as possible. In addition to it being informative, I try to give it a team-building element by using funny GIFs and memes. We also keep a tally of who is most frequently on the “best of” list with every monthly winner getting a prize.

Other than that routine, though, my goal is to constantly make Neon Tommy a better experience—both for readers and for our team. To that end, I’ve started a continued education initiative, in which I’ve offered social media courses for our staff. Social media training is mandatory for all incoming writers, editors and web producers. With such a large staff—150 writers, 50 web producers, 20 editors and an executive editorial board—it’s important that everyone is on the same page with respect to promoting our stories.

Social media is incredibly nuanced—especially something like Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm—so not only are we dealing with a fickle audience, our platforms constantly change as well. We write about news, which is always interesting and that helps, but it comes down to creating a marketing pitch for each individual story.

How would you describe the experience of working a PR position within a publication alongside journalists?

It’s an incredible space to be in, and it’s exciting to come to work every day. Annenberg is breeding the next generation of great minds in the media field—which includes both journalism and PR. We recognize the need to work together. Journalists recognize the need to market their own stories, and their PR colleagues can help them create the ownable hashtags and other elements necessary to get those stories out there to the people who want to read them. We’re all wordsmiths who work really well together, so it’s a union that works. Everyone at Annenberg is top quality, so it’s never backtracking.

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Covering Multicultural Communities

One day, it’s duck eggs (pictured above) as a popular street food — the next, it’s immigrant votes, nail salons, tofu, war orphans, refugee gay rights, English learners, the Post Office as cultural connector, and so on. I dig my beat covering multicultural communities and breaking news for the Los Angeles Times. I love and am grateful for its tempting menu of new faces, shy chatter, fascinating lives. What matters to me is balance, a sense of history, whimsy and being an alert listener — the crafting of that art. I immerse myself in the work expecting surprises and trying to find symmetry. Plenty of times, I stumble on folks who don’t want to talk, not having dealt with reporters or ever witnessing a free press. I try to honor their experiences, hoping to turn their dramas into something compelling. Their voices reflect the poetry of our collective voices. Every day, I celebrate the written word and the hope that storytelling can illuminate our soul.

—Anh Do (B.A. Print Journalism ’89)

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Augmented Reality, Not Just for Gaming


By Anne Bergman (MA, Print Journalism, ’94)

AR3Augmented Reality Total Immersion is not just for gaming any more. Last fall, USC Annenberg Professor Robert Hernandez led a group of students through an immersive storytelling experiment that revealed nuances of the Los Angeles Public Library, while simultaneously providing a glimpse into the future of journalism and communication. Students created an app featuring digital content layered over real-world visual markers that can be viewed via mobile device. Students designed content that accessed the library’s special collections of rare books, translated Greek epigraphs, revealed how the library structure has evolved over the years, and even presented a full-on puppet show.


Further experiments in this immerse technology span a diverse spectrum: Artists such as BC “Heavy” Biermann from RE+Public, scientists from NASA/JPL, even a Tokyo aquarium which wanted to boost attendance to its penguin exhibit, are already effectively fusing AR to their work. What’s around the next curve? Hernandez says that it will likely be the merger of AR with wearable, immersive technologies. Sony, Epson, and of course, Google with their Glass platform, have all entered the wearable arena. This fall, Hernandez will lead an entire course focused on creating apps for Google Glass, which he says will be a “strong baby step, creating content that I see as essentially augmented reality.”

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Annenberg Advantage Mentor-Mentee Meetup Event


About 50 Annenberg alumni mentors and current student mentees attended a dinner event at Wallis Annenberg Hall, where USC Marshall Associate Professor of Clinical Management Dr. Sharoni Little guest spoke about the nature of mentorship relationships.

Little led the program, titled “Building, Leveraging and Maximizing Relationships,” which included an exercise in which mentors and mentees answered questions about each other — an exercise that highlighted the importance of getting to know each other on a personal, as well as a professional basis.

Part of the USC Annenberg Advantage initiative, the mentorship program matches current students with alumni in their respective fields, encouraging the pairings to meet at least once a month. Now in its sixteenth year under the guidance of the alumni office, the program hosts on-campus events for all of mentor/mentee pairings at the beginning of each academic semester.

View the full photo gallery of the January Mentorship event.

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Disney CEO and Vanity Fair Editor speak at USC Annenberg


Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, and Graydon Carter, Editor of Vanity Fair, in conversation at USC Annenberg on February 17, 2015. For more images from the event, visit USC Annenberg on Flickr.

What does the future hold for media in the digital age? This is the question that students and faculty at USC Annenberg are faced with, and are trying to answer each day.

Tuesday afternoon, the question was posed to two of the most influential people in media: Chairman and CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, and Editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter.

The special event, “Managing Media in the Digital Age,” was moderated by Willow Bay, director of the School of Journalism. Bay introduced the two before handing it over to Iger, her husband, to lead to conversation with Carter. From magazine publishing to Disney princesses, an overflowing audience in Wallis Annenberg Hall was treated to anecdotes and advice from the media managers.

Starting with Vanity Fair, Iger asked Carter about the state of the magazine business and print versus digital.

As a monthly magazine, Vanity Fair covers news in a way that is “halfway between the first onslaught of the story, and a book,” Carter said. But in addition to the expectation of strong monthly content that tackles stories in a wider context, there is also the expectation that the brand offer content online in a more time-sensitive manner.

“How important is it that it exists in atoms instead of bits?” Iger asked Carter of continuing to publish a physical print magazine.

Carter explained there has been a generational shift in the consumption of media. He offered the example that 10 years ago, parents would have had a stack of Disney films in their living room. Then five years ago it would be a collection of DVDs. Now, there’s no physical object because those same films are being streamed online. Vanity Fair has experienced that same evolution, with their website and tablet edition, while maintaining their original magazine.

In discussing the magazine itself, Iger asked Carter about the role of longform journalism, now that stories can be broken down into lists or 140 character tweets. Length doesn’t matter, Carter responded, because its well-done people will read it.

“A great 30-page magazine article ends before you know it,” Carter said.

Soon the conversation turned to what sells content, and Carter turned the tables on Iger — taking on his more natural role of interviewer instead of interviewee. He asked the Disney CEO about the media company’s audience: Disney would grab kids’ attention around age two and would lose them around 10. Mixed in would be parents and grandparents, of course, but there were large generational gaps that Disney couldn’t seem to fill.

“We just had to get better,” Iger said. “We had to make things that were … more likeable.”

Iger explained that these conversations often centered on whether Disney should change its standards, adding more violence or “saucier language.” Rather than change Disney, Iger looked at acquiring other properties to fill these roles, like Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm.

The conversation eventually transitioned into a question-and-answer session with the audience. Jonathan Taplin, professor and director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, noted the increased prevalence of piracy — he even mentioned how easy it was to find The Avengers online via a simple Google search.

“Do either of you think Google could be more supportive of the creative community?” Taplin asked.

Iger said he has spoken to Google, and that over time the search-engine has become more receptive. However, it is a “whack-a-mole” situation due to the sheer volume of pirated material that exists. Iger said the important thing for people to understand is that content has value.

“The distribution of pirated goods really has no value to society,” he said.

The final question was asked by a student, who was curious what Iger and Carter look for in young employees and what advice they’d give USC Annenberg students. Iger noted the value of classroom and practical experience, specifically commenting on the USC Annenberg Media Center as a great example of how these two qualities can come together.

“I benefitted a lot from showing an interest in learning and doing at the same time,” Iger shared. His went into his first job as a production assistant with more practical experience than his colleagues.

Carter said simply: “If you can write a great, really charming letter, you can get in to see anyone.”

Look through audience reactions to the event in our Storify recap of Disney’s Bob Iger and Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter visit to USC Annenberg.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 11.30.45 AM

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Storify: USC Annenberg Welcomes Disney’s Bob Iger and Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter

What does the future hold for media in the digital age? This is the question that students and faculty at USC Annenberg are faced with, and are trying to answer each day.

Tuesday afternoon, the question was posed to two of the most influential people in media: Chairman and CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, and Editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter.

The following is a Storify recap of the audience’s reactions to the special event, “Managing Media in the Digital Age.” For the full story on their visit, click here.

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Quoted: Week of February 9


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 USC Annenberg’s leaders, faculty, staff and others.

What Jon Stewart’s departure means for Viacom

Jonathan Taplin

The stock of Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, fell about 1.5 percent Wednesday after “fake news” icon Jon Stewart announced he will leave the network’s marquee program, “The Daily Show.”

But some analysts, including professor Jonathan Taplin, say the situation could be worse.

“Viacom is suffering the same way almost every major TV network is. In the 12-to-17 age range and the 18-to-49 age range, the year-over-year declines in people watching traditional TV are in the 12 percent range. Now if you project that out for a few years, that’s pretty scary.”

Eight Developments That Are Disrupting the TV Industry

Jeff Cole

Ad Age quoted professor Jeffrey Cole on developments that are disrupting the TV industry at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting.

“The behavior of recent college graduates often indicates the direction of the market. When people reach this phase, they start to eliminate those things they grew up with and are no longer willing to pay for. This now includes giving up TV sets in favor of other devices.”

However, Cole says this generation’s interest in television is greater than any previous generation, they just want to watch, “what they want, where they want, and, importantly, they don’t want to spend $85 a month.”

Who will replace Jon Stewart?

Communication professor Tom Hollihan

Professor Tom Hollihan spoke to USA Today about The Daily Show’s future replacement.

Without question, Comedy Central will take its time finding a worthy successor to formidable fake-news anchor Jon Stewart, who announced Tuesday that he’s leaving The Daily Show when his contract is up.

Hollihan says Stewart’s successor will face a daunting task.

“He’s a supremely talented interviewer, very quick-witted and sharp and he’s clearly well-read and well-informed. There is something about his kind of charm and his ability to connect with viewers non-verbally that I think will make it difficult for anyone to fill his shoes. There are other people who have established their own brand, but Stewart is a unique player.”

ABC News and Variety also quoted Hollihan on the Stewart departure.

Social Media Keeps Up Pressure on NBC Over Brian Williams’s ‘Mistaken’ Iraq Story

Karen North

Recode quoted professor Karen North on social media’s power to hold public figures accountable.

Critics have turned to Twitter to lampoon Brian Williams’ explanation that he had ‘misremembered’ his account of the 2003 Iraq events. The hashtag #BrianWilliamsMisremembered is now attached to dozens of creative images online.

Digital media experts say the incident demonstrates the power of social media to hold prominent figures to account for their words and actions.

North says,

“When you talk about the democratization of the digital age, if people can speak their minds, and if they find a way to make it resonate with enough people or the right people, then they can force the issue to come to light.”

The LA Times also quoted North on the murder trial of a teen accused of sending a selfie with the body on Snapchat.

The Sacramento Bee also quoted North.

PopPolitics: Beau Willimon on ‘House of Cards’ New Season; Eve Ensler on Movies and Masculinity


Professor Mary Murphy was quoted in Variety, discussing actors driving the anti-vaccine movement.

On the radio broadcast, Murphy discussed the prominent role of entertainment industry figures like Jenny McCarthy in driving the anti-vaccine movement, as well as plans among some celebrities to start to a draft-Elizabeth Warren effort.

Pop Politics, hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 P.M. ET on Sirius XM’s Channel 124.

Huffington Post Bets People Will Read Good News – And Share It, Too

ann jour students

The announcement of Annenberg’s “What’s Working” partnership with the Huffington Post was quoted by NPR.

Under the deal, USC journalism students who produce stories, videos or other content on positive developments or constructive solutions to enduring problems will work with Huffington Post editors to get them posted on the site.

Leader of the initiative Arianna Huffington said she hopes the new project can help bring out the best in the site’s users.

Brian Williams’ future uncertain as NBC News launches investigation


NBC News recently celebrated Brian Williams’ 10 years as anchor of “NBC Nightly News” with a promotional campaign that stressed trust and experience.

However, Williams’ false statements regarding his accounts of his trip on a military helicopter during the 2003 invasion of Iraq have triggered an internal investigation at NBC News into the anchor’s version of his story.

The LA Times article quoted Professor and former broadcast news reporter Judy Muller.

“If you are a journalist, your basic job description is reporting the truth, so if you are caught telling a lie – intentional or not – your credibility is going to be seriously impaired. At the very least, in the age of instant judgement, you will be Twittered into a punch line.”

Up to Friday, Williams’ apologies have failed to alleviate the criticism and comments from crew members on the flight that was attacked.

The LA Times and KNX 1070 also quoted Muller on the Williams incident.

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USC Annenberg Media Center Reacts to #AdviceForYoungJournalists

The Twittersphere erupted earlier this week when #AdviceForYoungJournalists became a trending topic after journalist Felix Salmon offered some thought provoking “words of wisdom” to aspiring newsies.

The USC Annenberg Media Center — conglomerate that includes Annenberg TV News, Neon TommyAnnenberg Radio News and other student media outlets — came together to flip the switch on the popular hashtag by offering #AdviceFromYoungJournalists. In the video below, USC Annenberg students ask their predecessors to take notice of a revitalized generation of news writers and producers.

ATVN also weighed in on the hot-button issue during their nightly newscast, giving professors and USC Annenberg alum Ashley Riegle the opportunity to extend their own pieces of advice.


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Annenberg…Of Course

Want to get a preview of what classes to take? Thirty seconds is all you need to get a better idea. Watch, as professors provide a snapshot of the courses they teach!


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