“If I am being sincere with you,” Kabir Sunmon told journalism major Nisha Venkat, “I am living in fear.” While an intern on BuzzFeed News’ immigration desk during their senior year, Venkat connected with Nigerian-born Sunmon and his wife Hester LaZard to shed light on their struggles. They were among hundreds of thousands of others waiting in limbo to obtain marriage-based green cards as the effects of COVID-19 and restrictive governmental policies slowed visa processing to a near halt.
Reporting on one of the most politically charged issues in America, Venkat earned two solo bylines with the outlet.
“This sort of storytelling is, I think, some of the most powerful I have had the privilege to do so far as a journalist,” Venkat said. “The experience informed my ethos and philosophy as a storyteller. I really want to tell stories with impact.”
As a progressive degree student, Venkat earned their bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2021 and is now preparing to graduate this August with a master’s in digital social media. Venkat began work in the USC Annenberg Media Center as part of their academic coursework, going on to become a student leader for Annenberg Media, including serving as social media editor and executive producer for Annenberg Television News (ATVN). They added digital in their junior year and this year served as executive editor.
“My time in the newsroom is demonstrable proof that I, being a non-binary person of color, and an immigrant, was able to hold leadership positions and have discussions about the future of student media and how to make it more equitable,” Venkat said.
Growing up in Dubai, it was a fifth-grade English teacher who praised Venkat’s essay that encouraged their path toward writing. In high school, Venkat penned non-fiction pieces for both the yearbook and a zine they helped create for their school’s Model United Nations conference. Their continued love of the written word led them to apply to USC Annenberg.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I can work here and make actual TV, radio and write stories?’” Venkat said. “That was an opportunity that I felt I would never be able to get anywhere else.”
Once a student, Venkat found they thrived having the ability to “hop around” and experience Annenberg Media’s various platforms. “That kind of insane zigzagging really charted my experience,” they said.
Venkat bolstered their formative work at Annenberg Media with writing data-driven stories for Crosstown LA, a non-profit center based at USC Annenberg. They were also able to take advantage of several different internships. In addition to BuzzFeed News, Venkat worked at USA Today, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and student-run radio station KXSC, where they hosted and produced their own show.
In 2021, Venkat was selected as a USC Annenberg Luminary Fellow and spent six months exploring audio storytelling at Los Angeles-based NPR member station KCRW. Producing and reporting on both local and national stories, Venkat discovered they were able to find themselves “in the audio world” in a way that they never had in television news or digital storytelling. The fellowship program, established by USC Annenberg and the Sacks Family Foundation, seeks to infuse the podcast industry with fresh voices and perspectives such as Venkat’s.
“I think there’s something so beautifully intimate and personal about quite literally hearing someone’s voice and the emotion that comes through their voice,” Venkat said.
On the heels of the fellowship, Venkat launched into their graduate studies in the digital social media program.
“It was like having a bucket of cold water dumped over my head,” they said. “It was super refreshing to be able to approach storytelling from another perspective.”
Venkat found that the program provided the bridge they were looking for, connecting their interest in storytelling by way of journalism and podcasting with a curiosity about brand management and corporate communications.
They went on to take courses in public relations, communication and business as well as electives in podcasting to round out their experience at USC.
As they prepare to graduate, Venkat is most excited about passing the torch to the next group of Annenberg Media students. Next up is a paid internship with NPR where they will be writing about music. “Every opportunity that I’ve had, every big break in my career, has absolutely been because of the opportunities that the school has provided me.”