Erna Smith has been a professor of journalism at San Francisco State University since 1989. Prior to teaching, she worked for 15 years as a reporter, editor and copy editor at several newspapers, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Minneapolis Star and The Wall Street Journal. The author of several studies on race and the media, Smith was a fellow at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, where she conducted a study of television news coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. For her work, she has received several honors, including the Barry Bingham Fellowship from the National Council of Editorial Writers.
Smith serves as the director of USC's Cape Town, South Africa program.