SOC Journo Update

Investigate. Innovate. Inform.
Now is the time. SOC is the place.

Covering Breaking News

SOC Journalism students are covering this historic year in news where it happens — on the ground covering local and federal government, getting up close and personal with candidates and voters in presidential primaries, and reporting virtually, from home, on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Before spring break, our students were in the field in New Hampshire and South Carolina, covering town halls, rallies and election day results. Along with colleagues from the SOC/SPA joint political communication program as well as non-communication students focused in politics and government, they filed dozens of stories after talking with candidates, voters, pollsters and national news correspondents. 

After spring break AU transitioned entirely to online education, which didn’t stop our awesome Journalism faculty and students from covering this challenging story, even while it was happening to them. All our courses — ranging from reporting to ethics to media studies — went online in less than a week.

Grad students produce weekly broadcast from their homes

Grad students in Prof. Terry Bryant's COMM. 722 (Advanced TV Production) didn’t let the lack of on-campus classes slow them down. The students collaborated remotely to produce their weekly newscast.

This was the graduate students’ first attempt at a remote newscast. They were told first to stay out of harm’s way, and follow all health precautions if they did venture out.

They met online in the morning to go over stories then spent the day writing and shooting and editing video. One student anchored the newscast from her home. Two other students put all of the stories in the newscast. It was a true team effort.

Watch the full broadcast.

AU students fan out across NH, SC to cover primaries

SOC Prof. Lynne Perri led the effort to take students to New Hampshire in 2008, 2012 and 2016 as the experiential component of a presidential primaries course. The goals are to learn how primaries are covered by the media as well as to explore what voters think and how campaign strategists work.

This year, the class expanded to include South Carolina.

The students range from sophomores to graduate students, and their majors include political communication, journalism, political science, history, international service and CLEG. They each contributed stories, photos and videos to our journalism publication, The Wash.

In New Hampshire, students were talking to people in diners, outside polling places in exit poll interviews for the Boston Globe’s Instagram account as well as outside a Trump rally in Manchester on the eve of the primary.

And in South Carolina, a second group of students hit the ground running, talking to movers and shakers such as Rep. Jim Clyburn, meeting candidates face-to-face and reaching out to voters to gauge their attitudes before the primary.

Read more.
Watch a highlight video from New Hampshire.
Watch a highlight video from South Carolina.

SOC students partner with The Nation on election stories

This semester Prof. Sherri Williams is leading a national student journalism project with The Nation magazine called Vision 2020: Election Stories from the Next Generation.

Students in her COMM. 588 Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting class, as well as students from other campuses, will produce intersectional enterprise news stories about the concerns young people have about the election.

On Feb. 10, before social distancing and the pandemic, her students reported on the Racial Justice Summit and Congressional Briefing at the Rayburn House Office Building.

For updates about the project check out #Vision2020Nation.

News execs, filmmakers debate future of investigative broadcast journalism

Decision-makers behind the creation of network news, investigative podcasts, documentary films and non-fiction cable and streaming programs gathered at the School of Communication on Feb. 22 to talk about the future of investigative journalism in an event co-sponsored by the Journalism Division and the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

Cindy Galli, chief of investigative projects at ABC News, discussed the thriving “true crime” podcast market and how the network’s traditional television investigative unit expanded its format to include audio storytelling.

Executive Producer for CNN Films and CNN Originals Katie Hinman told students and young professionals that collaboration between documentary projects and news investigations is on the rise.

Cindy and Rob Dorfmann represented Strong Island Films, a production company that specializes in adapting works of investigative journalism into cable and streaming shows. They urged reporters to think about secondary markets to expand their audiences and increase the impact of their work.

Mark Greenblatt, senior investigative correspondent at Scripps and a manager at Newsy, said the number of digital outlets for investigative journalism is expanding rapidly. Students were able to network directly with the panel members over lunch.

Investigative Broadcaster in Residence Chris Halsne organized the half-day symposium. Veteran investigative reporter Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, ombudsman and public editor at PBS, moderated and talked about the importance of diverse voices in the newsroom. Professor and Interim Dean of the School of Communication Laura DeNardis spoke about the University’s commitment to increasing computer-assisted reporting skills and diversity in the next generation of journalists.

IRW, FRONTLINE, NPR release Plastic Wars

FRONTLINE and NPR, in a co-production with the Investigative Reporting Workshop, teamed up over the last seven months to examine the crisis in plastic waste in the environment. The result: “Plastic Wars,” airing Tuesday, March 31, at 10 p.m. ET nationwide (check local listings). 

The program's producers found that despite efforts to reduce the use of plastic, the industry is scaling up new production and promoting a familiar solution: recycling. But it’s estimated that no more than 10% of plastic produced has ever been recycled.

Writer-director Rick Young, correspondent and reporter Laura Sullivan, co-producer and reporter Emma Schwartz, co-producer Fritz Kramer and IRW-FRONTLINE Fellow Orion Donovan-Smith (SOC, MA '19) reveal how plastic makers for decades have publicly promoted recycling, despite privately expressing doubts that widespread plastic recycling would ever be economically viable.

NPR will air a story from the investigation the same day the program airs, March 31, on All Things Considered (see stations and local broadcast times at, with additional radio pieces airing in the coming weeks. And both FRONTLINE and IRW will publish additional stories online. IRW also plans to host a screening and meet-the-producers event in September, which will be free and open to the public.

Journalism Division Director Amy Eisman features work by SOC alumni and current journalism students on a Brag Board outside her office. Email her an update.

Other Updates

  • Prof. Terry Bryant spoke with Radio Free Europe about the closing of the Newseum and its impact on journalism.
  • Prof. Margot Susca talked on Friday, Feb. 28, with Cox Media Group about misinformation and the coronavirus. Susca, who also is an assessor with the International Fact Check Network, stressed the importance of using trusted news sources for information about the coronavirus and sees this "infodemic" as a test of social media sites policing fake content in these crucial months before the election.
  • Profs. Jeremiah Patterson and Sherri Williams led the Culture of Collaboration event on Feb. 6 and met with student media to discuss how staffers can collaborate on inclusive stories and amplify the work. This was the third such meeting Patterson and Williams hosted in the past two years on behalf of the SOC Diversity Committee. They are guiding student publication editors through a collaborative project, to be launched this spring.
  • Breanna Edwards (SOC, BA '12), editor for news, politics and issues at Essence magazine, spoke to the Prof. Sherri Williams' COMM 588 Race, Ethnic and Community Reporting class about covering race and gender in politics on Feb. 17.
  • Barbara Wall, SOC adjunct communication law professor and former Senior Vice President & Chief Legal Officer of Gannett, was awarded the most prestigious award of the ABA Forum on Communications Law on Feb. 7 for more than 40 years of dedicated service to the Media bar. 
  • Zach Cohen (BA '14) and Casey Wooten (SOC, MA '13) headed up the National Journal's Impeachment coverage over the winter and continue to report on legislative developments.
  • AU’s Her Campus online magazine touts Journalism faculty Prof. Margot Susca and award-winning adjunct Prof. Kimbriell Kelly, of the Los Angeles Times, as Badass Female Professors.
  • Casey Ek (SOC, BA ’16) (right) won two awards for his news photography from the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest for weekly newspapers. He volunteered this announcement for the Brag Board because “I'd hope to send the message to SOC students who pass the board that local journalism can be just as rewarding as working in the big leagues.” Congrats.
  • Madeleine Simon (SOC, BA '17), senior editor of Changing America, a new section of The Hill, that focuses on meaningful trends and topics around the country, wrote about women disproportionately burdened by the social and economic impact of the coronavirus.

Note from Journalism Division Director Amy Eisman

To our students, alums and media partners, we are thinking of you at this time. The path isn’t easy, as the world we live in changes daily. Still, I’ve been impressed, from my home laptop, to see so many SOC stars lead the way in national, regional and local media coverage from primaries to COVID-19. Thank you for all the important work you do.
Investigate. Innovate. Inform.
Now is the time, SOC is the place.
Support #AUJournalism.

SOC Journo Update is a publication of the Journalism Division, from American University's School of Communication. Read more about storytelling in the digital age and see our faculty.
Copyright © 2020 AU School of Communication, Journalism Div, All rights reserved.

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