This past summer, Sylvia Wang '18 attended a summer program at the University of Southern California called "News Reporting in the Digital Age."
During the summer of 2016, I attended a summer program at the University of Southern California (USC). The program I enrolled in was called “News Reporting in the Digital Age.” After five months of excitement and expectation, I stepped onto the campus of USC on June 19th. Huge, clean, and beautiful were the first impressions I had of the USC campus. The 226-acre campus is fully decorated with USC’s colors of cardinal and gold. The blue sky above me was immaculate, and the exhaust left by the jet aircraft only decorated it in a rather pleasant way. My thinking was entirely immersed in the image above me, but my USC Summer School experience officially started with a Trojan faculty saying: Welcome to USC!
The moving-in process was smooth. The students in the program were all put into an apartment zone called the “Cardinal Garden,” with suites that were typically shared among two or four students. In my case, I shared a suite with three other roommates. My roommates were from all across the nation, and we were all enrolled in different courses. One of my roommates was in the theater course, one was in the creative writing course, and one took the neuroscience course. My roommates were the first friends I made during the program. We got closer and closer by regularly going to breakfast and dinner together, and the common space in the suite encouraged conversations as well.
The distance between the Cardinal Garden and where I had my class was a 10-minute walk. Skateboards were common on the USC campus, and people could buy their own USC skateboards in the school store. Since my course was about journalism, the classroom where I had classes was located in the building of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. We used the classroom that the USC students use for classes on regular school days, and we also had opportunities to go into the newsroom to further explore the culture of the digital age.
“Freestyle” is how I describe my journalism class. Open discussions and debates were the two key components of the course. Students were encouraged to speak about their opinions whenever they wanted during the class, as long that the information was relevant to the topic. We spent more than half the class time having conversations with each other. The topics were mostly about political and social conflicts in the US, since it was important for journalists to be immersed in floods of news all the time. During the four weeks of the program, we went on “field trips” every Wednesday to interview people. We traveled to the Santa Monica Beach, the Downtown Art District, and the Grand Central Market to interview people about their opinions on the issues such as gun control, the presidential election, and the Los Angeles Transportation System. Our interviewees were total strangers to us, but we had to make them want to answer our questions while having their voices being recorded. The basic information we had to acquire included their name, age, occupation, and political stances. Additionally, we had to get a headshot of each of our interviewees with their approval. When the professor first gave us this assignment, we thought it to be an impossible mission.
On the Wednesday of the first week, regardless of our oppositions, we were dropped off at the designated locations, and we went to people and asked their opinions on gun control without knowing any of their background information, not even their names. Students were divided into several small interview groups. I was in a group of three girls, and we quickly targeted our first interviewee: a middle-aged man who was sitting at a table while reading newspapers. We walked up to him, and our stress was greatly relieved when he kindly agreed to all of our requests. Once we got the first interview down, we were less worried about where this assignment was going. For the first interview day, each student from the class got at least two quality interviews (fulfilling all basic requirements), some students even got five of them. The homework for each Wednesday night was turning one or two interviews into individual profiles of the interviewees. During the next day’s class, the students would read their completed profiles to the entire class. The fellow journalists would make suggestions toward each other’s articles.
Other than the interviews we did on the Wednesdays, during the four weeks of the course, we also did a major project on the swing states related to the 2016 Presidential Election. The class was divided into several groups of two, and every group was assigned a swing state. Students were asked to interview people in the service industries, the education industries, different kinds of organizations, and the government. My partner and I worked on the result prediction of the state of North Carolina in the 2016 Election. In order to gather information about people’s opinions from North Carolina, we made around 200 phone calls to local citizens including record store owners, Newspaper editors, professors from the universities, and even Sheriff Tony E. Perry from the Camden County in North Carolina. It was more difficult to do phone interviews than when we could talk to the interviewees face to face. My partner and I looked up places and phone numbers on Yelp, on various universities’ websites, and on the government yellow pages. The first phone call we made was to a local restaurant in Harnett, NC. When we told the person who answered the phone that we were journalists from USC who wanted to interview him about his opinion on the upcoming Presidential Election, he said: “f*** off and go shoot yourselves.” My partner and I were in total shock. That was the first response we got, but luckily, it was also the worst response we got.
Among the 200 phone calls, only about 10 people answered with valuable information. Some people blamed us for interviewing workers in places like restaurants and coffee houses, but those were people who we had to interview in order to cover the opinions of all citizens in North Carolina. We spent two weeks making phone calls, getting rejections from people in North Carolina, and composing the article. Our prediction was that North Carolina would narrowly go for Clinton (which … proved to be wrong). During the process of interviewing, we sometimes had to work according to the time difference in North Carolina. We had to give up our lunch time to do the interview with Sheriff Perry, but it was worthwhile because of the insights we acquired. (The completed article could be found in the Highlander Newspaper Issue#2).
The USC program as a whole organized weekend trips to the Santa Monica Beach, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the Orange County Fair. It was good to spend time with friends during the weekend without worrying about the interviews and the school work. Other than the experience of being a journalist, friendship was what I gained from the program. My journalism course has a group chat, and we often share ideas with each other in the chat. One of my roommates sometimes Facetime me, and we talk about our schools and some USC throwbacks.
After taking the journalism course at USC, I had a much better understanding of the role of journalists in the current society. I am proud of the fact that many people who want to be journalists are those who want to eliminate inequalities by reporting unjust cases. My experience at USC made me realize how much impact news reporting could bring to the world. I am now considering pursuing Journalism in college.