360 video, news bots and virtual reality turned a once-shy student into a journalist

“I remember watching Obama’s inauguration in 2009 a few months after I came to the United States, and I never imagined I would be covering an inauguration eight years later while in college,” said Melody Jiang ’17, a USC Annenberg alumna with a degree in broadcast and digital journalism.

Jiang’s personal reporting milestone at USC occurred when she was selected as one of seven USC Annenberg JOVRNALSIM (VR Journalism) students, led by Robert Hernandez, professor of professional practice, to cover the 45th presidential inauguration and the Women’s March in virtual reality. The reporting was in collaboration with The New York Times and NPR. While in D.C., Jiang and her partners climbed onto shipping containers and rooftops to capture 360º videos of the crowds at the National Mall when Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president. They stayed for the Women’s March the following day where they were able to continue capturing video and telling stories.

Some students enter college knowing exactly what they want to do, but for others, their paths are more circuitous. It is often when they try something new that they find their passion. This was the case for Jiang. Jiang, an international student from China, came to USC as a business major, but after volunteering at Annenberg Television News and Trojan Vision in her freshman year, she found her true calling as a broadcast journalist. She successfully transferred to USC Annenberg in her freshman spring semester.

“I never thought I would have the personality to be on television,” Jiang said. A self-proclaimed introvert, Jiang believed she has the opposite personality of a typical broadcast journalist. Annenberg Television News and Trojan Vision were her first introduction to media and television news broadcasting. She liked the freshness of the atmosphere and the work she was doing. “I really liked visuals,” she said, “so working in the studio and the control room fascinated me.” And it was reporting for these organizations that prompted her to get out of her comfort zone, to not be shy when approaching sources, and to be persistent when gathering legal documents.

Jiang’s attributes her increased confidence to the move and believes it made her into the person she is now. At Annenberg Media, she started reporting and was encouraged early on to pitch news stories and contact sources. Though she rarely used social media before college, after participating in Annenberg Media’s JEDI division and taking Laura Davis and Amara Aguilar’s Mobile and Emerging Technology class, Jiang learned how to live tweet, create news bots, produce social- and digital-native content, and promote news on social platforms. This is something she has continued since graduation, where she has built her own website, a place where she shares the current work she is producing.

Now a digital video production assistant at CNNMoney, where she started as an intern while still in college, Jiang has continued to take advantage of what she learned in both Davis’ and Hernandez’ class, including social media strategies, digital video, and immersive storytelling skills. 

But it wasn’t only the digital and VR classes that garnered Jiang the expertise she needed to succeed. She also credits being able to produce and guest direct for Annenberg TV News. When asked what other professors helped impact her career, Jiang pointed to Stacy Scholder.

“Professor Scholder was very informative and helped me a lot in terms of learning the ins and outs of broadcast news,” Jiang said. “When I finally got the chance to report in front of the camera for Annenberg Media, Scholder was in the control room, cheering me on.”

Having that experience in broadcast producing was very helpful, especially where she now work.  Jiang’s knowledge in iNews and TV producing came in handy as she occasionally filled in as a video production assistant for CNN’s weekend show “Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter.”

When asked her definition of success, Jiang said, “Success is when your influence and actions have a positive impact on other people.” Though she believes she isn’t there yet, she feels that everything she is doing is building towards a hopeful future and becoming that successful person.

Olivia De Witt is a freshman studying journalism.