Journalist Julie Chen visited the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism on Tuesday as a guest speaker for Professor Mary Murphy’s entertainment, business and media course.
Chen, who co-hosts CBS’ The Talk and the CBS reality series Big Brother, graduated from the Annenberg School in 1991.
Murphy said that Chen, along with Barbara Walters, Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric have expanded the role of female journalists on American television. Annenberg Dean Ernest Wilson III said it was fitting to welcome Chen as one of the first guests in the new Wallis Annenberg Hall.
“I applaud the example she presents to the Annenberg school, which is 80 percent women,” Wilson said.
During her time at Annenberg, Chen said she and her fellow students were told it would be beneficial to take a job in a smaller news market but she was reluctant to leave Los Angeles and worked for four years behind the scenes at the local ABC station before taking a job at a local news station in Dayton, Ohio.
“I looked at that job as a super long business trip,” Chen said.
She admitted that she has faced sexism and racial discrimination throughout her career. While in Dayton she was told she would not get the opportunity to anchor the newscast because she was Asian and, therefore, didn’t look like the market the newscast was attempting to reach.
Chen admitted publicly on The Talk last year that she had eyelid surgery but emphasized to Murphy’s class that it was not an attempt to look less Asian, though some in her family were offended by her decision.
“I met with an agent who looked at my resume tape and was saying you have to [get the surgery] to look more interested. During your cutaway shots you look bored. This guy said ‘You get it done, you will go to a top ten market.’ I did.” Chen said.
Chen said that while women in the news industry have made great strides, society still treats women differently from men, and it will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future.
“I feel there is a level of sexism when a woman can’t go gray if they’re in front of the camera but a man can,” Chen said.
But that was only one of many difficult decisions Chen would face. After moving to New York and starting work as a newsreader for CBS, she was approached about hosting a new reality show called Big Brother. At the time, Chen said she was still doing the morning news in New York and her dream was to work for 60 Minutes. She was told she could continue doing morning news, but if she did not take the job hosting Big Brother it could be considered insubordination because she was a CBS employee.
“They said they needed someone who knows how to ask questions on live TV and I asked ‘Am I forever sealing the door on 60 Minutes?’ and [the person in charge of the news division] said ‘yes,’” Chen said.
Chen, who is married to CBS President and CEO Les Moonves, said that after she had a baby she wanted to stay in Los Angeles permanently rather than move between Los Angeles and New York. When the opportunity came along to be a co-host on The Talk, it was intriguing.
Chen is the only journalist by trade who sits on the panel which consists of Chen, Sheryl Underwood, Aisha Tyler, Sharon Osbourne and Sara Gilbert. Much of the show consists of interviewing celebrities rather than covering hard news stories as Chen did early in her career.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Chen said. “It’s not as important, but at this age and stage of my life I have a five-year-old, I can’t get sent to the Middle East because I may not come back.”
Joshua Guerra, a sophomore psychology major, said it was interesting hearing about the variety of subjects Chen had the opportunity to cover.
“I’m considering studying journalism,” Guerra said. “I don’t watch The Talk and I didn’t know much about Julie [Chen], but it was interesting that she made such a big jump in her career.”
Freshman public relations major Alena Beas said she follows celebrity culture and news closely and was excited to have the opportunity to speak with Chen in person.
“Annenberg always discusses how they are able to bring important, well-educated guest speakers, and tonight they did,” Beas said.
For sophomore psychology major Melissa Hatch, the fact the Chen was a USC alumna was the most exciting part of the event.
“She was in our place not too long ago and, being a woman, it was great to see how she made it so far,” Hatch said.