Annenberg hosts talk on role of journalism in presidential election

Students, faculty and staff discussed the next steps facing America following the results of the presidential election at a public

forum Tuesday afternoon in Wallis Annenberg Hall. “The 2016 Presidential Election: Where Do We Go From Here?” was hosted by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and was moderated by Dean Ernest J. Wilson III, Director Sarah Banet-Weiser and Director Willow Bay.

Wilson emphasized that the event was an opportunity to discuss the challenges in the days following the election and to exchange ideas in an effort to understand why Donald Trump was elected president.

“We think this is a critical time to have an important discussion,” Wilson said. “The three of us emphasize the word ‘discussion,’ which is listening as much as speaking.”

Banet-Weiser opened the discussion with a call to action: to use much of the outrage that people are feeling over Trump’s victory in order to come together as a community.

“Now is the time for the sixth stage of grief — organizing, channeling sadness into anger and channeling anger into productive conversation,” Banet-Weiser said. “A university is a space for scholarship and activism, a space for reflection, and it is a space to create community. That is what our commitment is to our students here at Annenberg and overall here at USC.”

Bay encouraged the audience members to think about the next steps that they would take to make change at USC, as a microcosm of the change they want to see in the U.S. as a whole.

“Starting right here, how do we create the kind of community, the kind of school at Annenberg, the kind of University, the kind of country that we want to have?” Bay asked.

The moderators considered why Trump’s victory seemed to take so many people by surprise and brought up the idea of an academic and left-leaning “bubble” that leaves people in universities and urban areas around the country mostly unaware of the largely differing opinions of people in rural areas. Many of these people formed the central part of Trump’s voter base and asked the moderators and the audience how to break out of their bubble and go about opening up dialogue even with the opposition.

Annenberg professor Judy Muller said the solution would rely on journalists covering areas they have largely ignored.

“In journalism, we need to get out into areas we don’t understand,” Muller said. “I live a good portion of the year in Colorado in a rural community, and I am sure half my neighbors voted for Trump. We need to start sending out students where they don’t feel comfortable.”

The end of the discussion focused on the type of academic offerings Annenberg hopes to deploy in response to these challenges to journalism. Annenberg Assistant Dean Gordon Stables discussed the school’s vision in creating the proper curriculum and in giving students the tools to engage with societal issues.

“Look for those classes that give you the tools, the background and the knowledge, and if not, hold us to offer the classes,” Stables said. “Three years ago, the communication faculty started gathering together and saying ‘we find it difficult to talk about social change, because our lived experience does not match our students’ lived experience.’ Find [a faculty member] and make us offer the classes.”

Gabrielle Stieglitz, a junior studying public relations, said she believes that it is time to open dialogue on both sides and to understand what incentivized supporters to vote for Trump.

“I think discussions like this on a college campus are really important, especially at USC because it is so diverse in the terms of Trump supporters [and] Clinton supporters,” Stieglitz said. “I don’t want to go into January being scared out of my mind — I want to be prepared for what is coming, and not only in a negative way. I want to hear from other students who are in the same position but on the opposite side of the spectrum.”