Inside UGA’s burgeoning MFA in Film, Television and Digital Media program, with Neil Landau

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Applications for the MFA in Film, Television and Digital Media program are due by February 15, 2023. Apply today.

Adamma Ebo and her sister, Adanne Ebo, creators of "Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul," visit with Neil Landau and students in the MFA Film and EMST program.
Adamma Ebo and her sister, Adanne Ebo, creators of “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul,” visit with Neil Landau and students in the MFA Film and EMST program. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

The film industry in Georgia is flourishing. Generating $4.4 billion for the state last fiscal year, productions made in Georgia include a long list of box office top-earning feature films, streaming programming, commercials, music videos and independent films. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Black Panther,” “Stranger Things,” and “Loki” are just several of the hundreds of productions made in Georgia in recent years. 

So, it only makes sense for the University of Georgia to have a top-of-the-line MFA film program, capable of pumping highly trained filmmakers into the marketplace. In this episode, we speak with Neil Landau, the executive director of the Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program, about what the program has to offer. Landau explains the growth of the program, the new partnership with Athena Studios, which includes a 14,600-square-foot student studio space, the advantage for students provided by Georgia’s bustling film industry, the impact that the program’s many mentors, who are legendary producers, A-list screenwriters and award-winning show runners, have on students enrolled in the program, and more.

Grady College co-sponsors the MFA Film program along with Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Listen to the podcast episode on Anchor, or your preferred audio streaming platform, by clicking here or following the links above.

Former Coca-Cola executive to teach new course on corporate communications

The Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication is excited to offer a new course this spring that will give advertising and public relations students an overview of corporate communications and the critical role it plays in protecting and enhancing an organization’s reputation.

The course, Introduction to Corporate Communications, an upper-level elective one, is taught by Ben Deutsch, former vice president of corporate communications at The Coca-Cola Company.  Deutsch retired in 2017 after a 25-year career at Coca-Cola, the last 11 years of which he led external and internal communications for the global beverage company.

In the course, students will learn how to develop integrated communications plans that involve all aspects of the corporate communications mix: media relations, brand PR, internal communications, crisis communications, social & digital communications, government relations, investor relations, executive communications, and corporate social responsibility.

“I want to leverage my 30 years of working as a communications professional to help students learn communications skills and strategies through theory and real, practical experiences,” Deutsch said. “Having worked as the communications leader of a publicly traded, multi-national company, I bring to bear the experiences – good and bad – that can help shape and guide students as they learn about corporate communications as a career.”

Ben Deutsch talks at a conference with a display in the background.
Ben Deutsch is a former vice president of corporate communications at Coca-Cola and serves on several non-profit boards. (Photo: courtesy of Ben Deutsch)

“Thanks to Ben’s rich professional experiences and networks, our students will be able to learn from and interact with a good number of Chief Communications Officers and communications leaders from a wide range of sectors and organizations such as Home Depot, Coca-Cola, UPS, Delta, Chick-fil-A, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee,” said Juan Meng, head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. “To have top leaders in our profession to share their real-world learnings and experiences will help our students have a deep understanding of the latest trends and functions of corporate communications.”

This is important, Deutsch said, because it gives students a ‘behind-the-scenes’ perspective on the challenges and opportunities that communications leaders face every day.

“At the end of the day, I want my students to understand the critical and valuable role communications plays in any enterprise,” said Deutsch. “I want them to be able to think strategically about communications and to be energized, excited and motivated to pursue a career in communications. And finally, I want them to have fun, and enjoy the process of learning.”

#ProfilesofTenacity: Coby Seriña

Third year public relations major Coby Seriña understands the importance of hard work and surrounding himself with good people. Throughout his time at UGA, Seriña has been able to build community on campus by getting involved in various clubs and organizations.

What does “tenacity” mean to you?

Had to google to make sure, and I’m glad my definition aligned with the internet’s. To me those with tenacity have a grit to them that you don’t see everywhere. I think it’s important to understand that you have to grind things out, and that things are going to suck, but Jarad Anthony Higgins said, “Hard work pays off.” I always say, “Flowers are planted in dirt.” Everyone wants flowers, but nobody wants dirt. Truth is: you can’t have one without the other.

Seriña poses for a photo with some of his friends in the Filipino Student Association at the Homecoming Parade. Seriña and some of the other students are wearing face paint and other traditional Filipino wear. (Photo/submitted)
What or who has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?

My dad, Raymond Seriña, first and foremost. Secondly, my friends. My dad definitely helped me build a strong sense of integrity and helped me understand how a young man should operate in the crazy world that is college. Growing up, I never really understood why he would do or say certain things, but now it just makes sense. I mentioned my friends because I always say I am what I surround myself with. This world is too big to be doing anything alone. If I didn’t have my community backing me, I couldn’t imagine progressing forward. I owe everything to them, and I’m truly so blessed to have people that care for me the way they do.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?
Seriña smiles in Washington Square Park in NYC, where he participated in a Maymester study away program last summer. (Photo/submitted)

My Maymester in New York was definitely my most memorable Grady experience. The people I met and the things I saw were all so crazy to me. I’m from Albany, Georgia. Before the trip, I would always feel some type of way driving through Atlanta, looking at her skyline. But New York’s? It’s been said before, but that city truly is magical, and I’m so grateful Grady gave me the opportunity to experience it.

What are you passionate about?

I care about being the best human I can be. I just want to do things worth remembering while staying true to myself and my values.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to other Grady students?

Do everything you can. Look around and listen when your classmates talk about the clubs they’re in. Network. Talk to older Grady students. Ask them for help. They’ll be glad to. Make friends everywhere you go. Never stop talking to people, and most importantly: BE KIND. Kindness goes a long way.

Seriña and Maria Taylor (ABJ ’09) smile for a picture on the field at SoFi Stadium after the national championship game. Seriña said that Taylor is an inspiration to him. (Photo/submitted)
Who is your professional hero?

I don’t know about them being a “hero,” but there are definitely a couple of people I look up to because of where they are and how they operate. Firstly, Josh Schultz at PhD and Sanay Lemus at Edelman are some pretty cool people; both Grady grads too. I had the opportunity to meet them during my New York Maymester and they were very kind and honest to me. Two other names, I’d like to mention are Kristine “KB” Brown and Kate Maldjian at Klick Health. I also met them during the Maymester, and they create some really cool stuff as a copywriter-creative duo. All of them have helped me to some extent and serve as great examples of people in the industry.

What is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?

Two things. One, I do not want to pursue sports journalism or broadcasting post-grad. Two, I do not work for the football team. I always post football stuff, and people always assume I work with Georgia Football, so I get it’s confusing. I intern for Bulldawg Illustrated, a media outlet and magazine local to Athens. They give me a lot of close up access, so it can look like I work with the team.

Seriña poses with other Ignite staff members at the Catholic Center, where he serves as a small group leader. (Photo/submitted)
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

My dad always says, “Go with the flow.” I don’t care to focus on five years from now. Focusing on right now is hard enough. I’m hoping and praying that I’m somewhere cool doing something cool.

What motivates you?

My dreams motivate me. I keep them to myself though. I’ve formed some vision of what I want my future to look like, and sometimes I think about that. I just want to do cool things with cool people in cool places.

UGA Mentor Program profile: Sarah Oney and Carol Gable

The UGA Mentor Program is an “opportunity no one should pass up,” explained Sarah Oney, a senior public relations major at Grady College. After graduation in May, Oney hopes to move to New York City to work in the entertainment industry, a goal that is bolstered by the support of her mentor, Carol Gable (ABJ ‘76), a producer for Dateline NBC. 

The UGA Mentor Program is a student-centered online platform that allows students to form long-lasting mentoring relationships, regardless of geographic location. Students can also utilize the Quick Chat function to briefly meet with UGA mentors, including alumni, faculty and staff, for informational interviews that can help make their futures a bit clearer. 

Below are two Q&As, first with Oney, followed by another with Gable, about their mentoring relationship through the UGA Mentor Program. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

A conversation with Sarah Oney: 

Oney shows a photo on her camera to a young girl in Ensenada, Mexico.
Oney in Ensenada, Mexico, during her internship with YUGO Ministries, doing videography for the organization’s content team. (Photo: submitted)

GC: Please tell us about yourself. 

SO: I am a current senior majoring in public relations with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Since this is my last semester at UGA, my current favorite thing to do is spend as much time with my friends as possible!  After graduation, I hope to move to New York to work in the entertainment industry. The dream is to work with NBC!

GC: What inspired you to participate in the UGA Mentor Program?

SO: Through my role as an orientation leader, I learned about this program and the benefits it provides to students. Truthfully, this program is an opportunity no one should pass up. You are able to have someone in your corner, explaining what the industry is like and helping you along your college journey.

GC: What drew you to select Carol Gable as your mentor? 

SO: What drew me to Carol was her work experience. She is a producer at Dateline NBC and has many years of experience under her belt. She seemed like the best person to mentor me and guide me along my job search process!

GC: What does this mentorship consist of? How often do you speak and what do those conversations sound like? 

SO: We normally meet biweekly and whenever I have something I need help with. Carol and I review my resume and portfolio and search for potential jobs together. We go over what to do during an informational interview and the right way to approach interview questions. 

GC: What has been the most rewarding part of this experience, having Carol as a mentor?

Carol is one of the most helpful parts of being a student at UGA. She has been in my corner since the day she became my mentor and celebrates every victory, no matter the size, with me. She is one of the most reassuring people I know and has turned into a role model for me.

A conversation with Carol Gable: 

GC: Please tell us about yourself, a synopsis of your career from Grady College to where you are now. 

CG: After graduating from Grady, I held several reporting and anchoring positions in Florida and North Carolina. When NBC opened the NBC News Channel in Charlotte, N.C., I became the Senior Producer for Special Projects.  Since 1996, I have been a producer for Dateline NBC, covering stories nationally and internationally.

GC: What inspired you to become a mentor through the UGA Mentor Program? 

CG: The mentor program was not available to me when I was at UGA. There were so many decisions I needed to make in preparation for a career and had no one to consult who was in the business.  I would have benefited greatly from the chance to learn many insights that aren’t part of coursework. 

GC: What does your mentorship consist of? How do you help your mentees, both Sarah specifically and, more broadly, any/all of your previous mentees through the UGA Mentor Program? 

CG: I begin by meeting with the mentee and telling them all of the topics I am able to help with based on what their goals are. Based on this conversation, we plan phone calls and Zoom meetings. We work on resumes, do practice interviews, evaluate internships and map out a plan for the rest of the students’ time at UGA.

GC: What has been the most rewarding experience of mentoring, both Sarah specifically and, more broadly, any/all of your previous mentees through the UGA Mentor Program?

CG: I have enjoyed working with Sarah and helping her evaluate opportunities as she moves toward graduation. 

I also have an opportunity to share with my mentees insights I wish I had when I was a student. I am also able to provide mentee recommendations for internships and employment with my colleagues and contacts in our industry. It’s very satisfying to help the next generation entering journalism. Graduates face a stiff and difficult market and I am glad there is a way I can help.

Learn more about the UGA Mentor Program, including how to sign up, on the UGA Mentor Program page.

Alumnus Beau Ward navigates a changing entertainment industry

Beau Ward (ABJ ’15) is a producer, director and creative executive at LD Entertainment. He’s worked in various roles in the entertainment industry, working on feature films, Broadway shows and documentaries. He’s best known for projects including “Introducing, Selma Blair”, “Jackie” and “Mama’s Boy.”

Grady L.A. changed it all

While a student at Grady College, Ward majored in mass media arts (now entertainment and media studies), and participated in the Grady L.A. program. Ward says he made about 100 cold calls to different places in L.A. while in search of an internship before landing one with LD Entertainment.

“Really, that Grady L.A. summer is what changed it all for me,” Ward said.

Ward and fellow classmates from the Grady L.A. 2014 cohort. (Photo/submitted)

Ward said before the program, he was deciding between moving to Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles after graduation. After spending the summer in L.A. and having friends who were moving there, he decided on L.A.

When Ward moved after graduation, he didn’t have a full-time job lined up, but he accepted a position as a temporary receptionist at LD Entertainment.

“That sounded a lot better to me than running pizzas,” he said.

Ward said he drove across the country with a mattress on the roof of his car, thinking he would save money and not have to buy one when he arrived in California. To his surprise, the wind resistance from driving across the country with a mattress on the roof ruined his car and cost him about a thousand dollars in damage.

“My car was falling apart by the time I drove into Los Angeles,” he said.

Upon moving to Los Angeles, Ward said having friends with him there helped while they were couch surfing and sleeping on floors, being “starving artists.”

Ward directed and produced a web series “News to Me” for James Biddle’s advanced production class. (Photo/submitted)

“Looking back it seems sort of romantic, but at the time was not super fun. But, It was great to have a whole bunch of my friends and former classmates from Grady. We were all out there doing it together…finding jobs and rooting each other on.”

Wearing many hats at LD Entertainment

Within six months of working for LD Entertainment, Ward was working as the assistant to the CEO. After working in that position for just over a year, he was promoted to his current role as a creative executive. In his current role, Ward says he wears many hats. His role includes developing scripts, finding projects to bring to investors, and seeing projects through post-production, including casting.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to really be able to see films through from their very inception through production through post-production and then even into distribution and making sure it has an appropriate release,” Ward said.

Ward said there are two projects that he’s especially proud of.

He was a producer for the documentary, “Introducing, Selma Blair,” a Critics Choice nominee that was presented at South by Southwest film festival.

The documentary follows the life of actress Selma Blair following a diagnosis of multiple sceloris before she was about to embark on a risky medical procedure that involved stem cell replacement.

“So, it’s following her not only going through these medical treatments, but learning what it means to live with a disability and how she maintains her identity and her sense of self and even grows through this chapter of her life.”

Ward was a producer for the documentary, “Mama’s Boy,” which follows the life of Dustin Lance Black, a screenwriter who went on to be an activist for equal rights and fought for marriage equality.

“It’s about how he used the values that his mom instilled in him in terms of resilience and fighting for what you believe in and not letting the world tell you how to live your life … taking those things and then helping so many people through his through his activism,” he said. “So that’s one that I’m very, very proud of.”

Ward said “Mama’s Boy” was shot in 2021, and he and his crew traveled across the country to the different areas featured in the documentary.

“Traveling is one of my favorite parts of the job,” he said.

Recently, Ward shot an upcoming film in New Mexico. He lived in France for three months in 2019 while working on a film called, “The Cursed.”

Ward scouting a location for the upcoming movie, “National Anthem” with film crew. (Photo/submitted)
A changing industry

“It’s a really really interesting time to be in industry,” Ward said. “Streaming is changing everything.”

Ward said the way in which films are financed shifts almost on a daily basis due to changing audience habits. Part of his role is to think about how well a script will do a year into the future once it is past post-production and goes on the market to streaming services. Ward says this is a challenging part of the job, because it’s impossible to see into the future and know what audiences want.

“It’s definitely an exciting if sometimes scary time to be making films because you’re not sure what’s gonna work,” he said.

Ward believes audiences are looking for something different. With the number of streaming services and a “saturated market” of entertainment, he believes they want to watch entertainment that “stands out from the pack.”

“There is, I think a generational change happening. I think you’re seeing a huge wave of perspectives and representation in Hollywood. It still has a long way to go, but you are seeing a big push for increasingly diverse perspectives and voices.”

Ward at the premiere of Introducing, Selma Blair. (Photo/submitted)

Ward offered a few pieces of advice to current Grady and EMST students.

He said internships are important so that students can learn about the flow and pace of the industry and to see first-hand how businesses are run.

Ward said most industries, especially entertainment, are about who you know.

“It is such a who you know career because the creative process can be so intimate and you are dealing with creating a piece of very, very personal creative content,” he said. “So, it makes sense that you want to work with people that you know, and people that you trust that you believe in.”

“My advice would be do as much as you can to meet people to learn where their career has taken them what sort of their paths are, but also just to foster those relationships,” he said.

Peabody Awards Ceremony to move to Los Angeles first time in 83-year history

Peabody has announced that its annual ceremony, the Peabody Awards, will be held for the first time in Los Angeles at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Sunday, June 11, 2023. The announcement marks Peabody’s first in-person ceremony since 2019, as well as the first time ever in its history that the Awards will take place in Los Angeles.

The Peabody Awards honor the most intelligent, powerful and moving stories told in broadcasting and digital media. These stories—from entertainment to documentary to news programming—shape our thinking and understanding of the world in which we live. Peabody Award nominees and winners are an exclusive group who transcend commerce and rise to the level of art, creating compelling narratives that tackle today’s issues with depth, complexity, and empathy.

The program is based at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

This year will also be the first year that the digital and interactive storytelling category, which was introduced last year and includes gaming, virtual reality, and social video, will be included in the main Peabody ceremony.

“Moving the Peabody Awards to Los Angeles, a city practically built on the power of storytelling, is an exciting evolution of Peabody’s commitment to curating the most powerful and moving stories told in broadcasting and digital media. Los Angeles gives us the opportunity to reimagine the awards show and incorporate more talent and presenters into a ceremony that promises to be nothing short of phenomenal,” said Jeffrey Jones, executive director of Peabody. “We’re also thrilled to welcome Carrie Lozano, an incredibly accomplished documentary filmmaker and journalist, to our board of jurors, which will be led by the brilliant Peabody veteran and journalist John Seigenthaler.”

Longtime NBC Nightly News anchor and correspondent John Seigenthaler has been named as the next chair of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors.  After six years as a member of the Board of Jurors, this marks the first year that Seigenthaler will serve as chair of the prestigious program’s judging body.

“It is a special honor to be part of this diverse and talented team of judges,” Seigenthaler said.  “The Peabodys are unique because we celebrate ‘stories that matter,’ in a complicated and ever-changing world.  Once again, we look forward to the challenging task of choosing the best of the best.”

During his 11 years at NBC News, Seigenthaler anchored NBC Nightly News Weekend edition, appeared on Meet The Press, Dateline, TODAY, Weekend TODAY, MSNBC, CNBC and Discovery Channel.  He also was an anchor and reporter in local television news at KOMO TV (ABC) in Seattle, and WKRN TV (ABC) and WSMV TV (NBC) in Nashville.

Seigenthaler is currently a Managing Partner at the global communications firm, Finn Partners.   He is a member of the Freedom Forum Advisory Board, and a member of the judging committee for the RFK Journalism Awards.   He holds a B.A. degree in Public Policy Studies from Duke University.

Peabody has also appointed Carrie Lozano to its board of jurors.

Carrie Lozano is the Director of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film and Artist Programs, and is an award winning documentary filmmaker and journalist. Prior to Sundance, she was director of the International Documentary Association’s Enterprise Documentary and Pare Lorentz funds, where she supported more than 60 diverse films and filmmakers at the intersection of documentary and journalism. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and serves on the board of ProPublica and on the advisory boards of PBS Frontline and U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism where she is an alum.

The Peabody Board of Jurors is made up of media industry professionals, media scholars, critics and journalists, appointed by the program’s executive director to a renewable three-year term of service.

Nominees for the 83rd Peabody Awards will be announced in April with the winners announced in May. All nominees must receive a unanimous vote by the Peabody Board of Jurors. The awards ceremony will be produced by Bob Bain Productions.

Podcast: Students embrace community journalism through The Oglethorpe Echo, with Dr. Amanda Bright.

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Former student journalists stand in front of the Oglethorpe Echo office.
Former student journalists working for The Oglethorpe Echo celebrating their first edition in 2021. (Photo: Sarah Freeman).

In 2021, after hearing that The Oglethorpe Echo, the community paper of Clarke County’s neighbor, Oglethorpe County, was shutting its doors, Grady College devised a plan to save it

For over a year now, after transitioning the paper to a nonprofit, The Oglethorpe Echo has been staffed by student journalists. Dr. Amanda Bright, the director of the Journalism Innovation Lab for the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership, and the instructor of the capstone journalism class that staffs the Echo, recently published an article on the project titled “Listening for The Echo: How Our Students Are Stepping Into, Embracing Community Journalism.” 

In this episode, Dr. Bright speaks about the origins of the program, training student journalists in community reporting, the adjustments and advancements made to The Oglethorpe Echo over the past year, what students gain from the experience, and the replicability of the program. 

Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for clarity and brevity.

Grady Research Radio: To start, can you give us some general insight on the program, what the College’s involvement with the nearly 150-year-old newspaper entails?

Amanda Bright: It’s been quite a journey. About a year ago, Dink NeSmith (ABJ ’70), who lives in Oglethorpe County and is an alumnus, found out that his county newspaper was about to close. The family that had owned it for a long time had health issues. Obviously, in our industry, local news struggles financially. 

He did not want to live in a county without a newspaper, so he called Dean Davis immediately, and they hatched a plan that Grady journalism students would take over The Oglethorpe Echo, the editorial side, as part of a class.

From those early moments in October, we ended up getting a group of interns to take us through to the spring semester. I was asked to teach the class, and we developed a system by which students do all of the reporting for The Oglethorpe Echo every week plus participate in editor and producer roles to manage our six digital products. 

So, it’s been a lot of learning very fast, but we’ve essentially been able to save a county from becoming a news desert because of the really hard work done by our journalism students. 

Grady Research Radio: I know a big part of local news reporting is being familiar with the community that you’re reporting on. So what mechanisms were put in place to help the student journalists familiarize themselves with Oglethorpe County?  

Amanda Bright: I think that’s one of the hardest things that we struggled with off the bat, because Oglethorpe County — it’s about four times the size of Clarke County geographically, but only 15,000 people live there. There’s only one traffic light in the whole county. There are just two chain restaurants. It is a very different environment from the UGA, Athens-Clarke campus. 

Getting the students to understand, particularly those who weren’t already from small towns, the types of issues, problems and victories that the people in Oglethorpe County were having was super vital. 

So we did a couple different things. We did a bus tour. The superintendent of schools loaded our first very first capstone section onto a bus and took us around the county and showed us the antebellum reconstruction homes, as well as the trailers that didn’t have any running water or electricity, and we got to see the full gamut of life and experience out there. 

Since then we’ve hosted open houses where we go out and visit local businesses. We see the office and the courthouse and just try to meet with people. 

The other big avenue that I think is really effective is called a community audit. Students, in their beats, research, talk to people and then create some kind of visual documentation of what they can learn about that beat, whether it’s criminal justice and safety or accounting and politics or sports and recreation. So that has been a great tool to get the students into the county to just talk to people and see what they care about and then start pitching stories from that.

The Oglethorpe Echo's student journalists, Spring 2023.
The Oglethorpe Echo’s student journalists, Spring 2023. (Photo: Jackson Schroeder)

Grady Research Radio: Great. So, when Grady entered the picture, were there any adjustments or advancements that were made to expand upon the reach of the paper and the coverage? 

Amanda Bright: The big thing was we went from a weekly newspaper to a weekly newspaper and six digital products. That includes a website, four social media platforms, an email newsletter and an E-edition. I guess that’s seven. That allowed us to reach some audiences that had not yet been reached. That was very important to us.

The second thing, which is probably more important, is diversity and impact. I do think that one of the limitations of the coverage before was that it really did focus on the people who are already known, had power, had money in the county.

There weren’t a lot of stories on the people who were different than that. And so we’ve made a concerted effort over the last year to tell stories of lots of different types of people, and I’m really proud of that and the impact that’s made on those people’s lives, covering organizations’ efforts, celebrating with people in the county who may look different than the members of the Board of Commissioners. So I hope that has been something that the people in the county have noticed and have enjoyed.

Grady Research Radio: Great. So, it’s my understanding that the paper is primarily staffed by capstone journalism students. So, from the academic side, can you kind of walk us through what students gain from the experience? 

Amanda Bright: I think, for many of our students, particularly here at Grady where we have a lot of high achievers, small town, community journalism isn’t the first thing on their mind when they think about a career. They’re thinking of CNN, going to Atlanta.

One of the biggest things I want students to take away is that community journalism is incredibly meaningful and rewarding for them professionally as much as it is for the community. Every semester they’ve done this — the students come back at the end and say, “You know, I feel like I made a real difference. I understood people’s stories. I got feedback from them. I built relationships. People were good to me. They wanted to talk to me.” The student journalists are not vilified as the media in a popular culture sense. They’re seen as people who are serving. 

So I think that’s what students gain. I think they gain a sense of impact and they gain a sense of community journalism as a viable career path, which I think is probably what’s going to help community journalism survive in the next era. 

Grady Research Radio: And on that note, we all know about community journalism and its downward trajectory in terms of lots of papers closing. So, do you see this as a replicable model for saving community journalism across the country? 

Amanda Bright: That is a million-dollar question. We are a nonprofit, and I think that’s important. I really do believe in the nonprofit model for lots of reasons. 

We are working on stabilizing a more long-term business model inside of that. Right now we really rely on print advertising. We want to expand to digital, including donations, subscriptions, sponsorships, in order to have community investment in our ability to maintain, which is what a nonprofit does, keep the lights on, in what we do. 

The replicability part becomes sticky, because, unless you’re next to a big J school with a capstone class of 20-plus students that are available, that’s hard. We have 22 students dedicated to the county. That’s more reporters than they probably have ever had.

That being said, I do support, and I’m exploring with some colleagues in other universities, the idea that almost all J schools should be doing this. So it may not be able to affect all of the news deserts, but perhaps we can take this model and replicate it, even in smaller regional universities where they have a comms studies program.

Grady Research Radio: Great. Thank you for your time today. 

Amanda Bright: Thanks, Jackson.

Research analyzes spread of COVID-19’s most common early conspiracies

The early stages of the pandemic created a breeding ground for COVID-19 conspiracy theories, which, on Twitter, spread almost as fast as the virus itself. But out of the pandemic’s most prominent early conspiracies, which were shared the most and why? 

To find out, a team of researchers, led by Itai Himelboim, the Thomas C. Dowden Professor of Media Analytics at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, collected nearly 400,000 tweets sent between Jan. 19, 2020, to June 30, 2020, about COVID-19 conspiracy theories surrounding Bill Gates, QAnon, the vaccine, 5G networks and Agenda 21. They then analyzed the content of the webpages shared in the tweets. 

The most tweeted about COVID-19 conspiracy theories 

The overwhelming majority, roughly 87 percent, of webpages linked in tweets and retweets centered on the conspiracy theory surrounding Bill Gates, a villain-based conspiracy theory blaming Gates for creating the virus and financially benefiting from the pandemic. Following Gates, in order of most to least tweeted about, were QAnon, 5G networks, the vaccine and Agenda 21. 

“Looking for who to blame for the pandemic was a major motivator in the early stages of the pandemic-related conspiracy theories, illustrated by the Bill Gates-related theory being the most popular,” Himelboim explained. 

Originally published in New Media and Society

Not only were the Bill Gates-related conspiracy theory webpages the most popular in terms of being shared on Twitter, but there were also the most of them. Tweets related to the Bill Gates conspiracy linked back to 144 different webpages, while there were only 67 unique webpages associated with the conspiracy claiming 5G networks contributed to the pandemic and 79 unique webpages associated with conspiracies surrounding the vaccine, for example. 

“I was surprised by the prevalence of COVID-19 vaccination in conspiracy theories,” Himelboim explained. “In the first six months of the pandemic in the United States, which is what the study focused on, not only were vaccines not available, but they were also only in the very early stages of development.”

Persuasion strategies used to support the conspiracies

The researchers also sought to understand the different types of content, or persuasion strategies, being used to support each conspiracy theory. Overall, the majority of sources were sharing information that simply implied the theories were true. Although, more established conspiracy theories, such as those involving Agenda 21 and QAnon, focused less on supporting “belief” than some of the newer or lesser-known conspiracies. 

For example, just above 22 percent of the sources related to the Agenda 21 conspiracy, which claims that the United Nations and governments around the world are colluding to wipe out 90 percent of the global population, feature content highlighting the malicious purposes of those claimed to be behind the COVID-19 virus. Likewise, the majority, roughly 30 percent, of COVID-19 conspiracy theory webpages related to QAnon featured content that zeroed in on who the specific conspirators are.

Originally published in New Media and Society.

Understanding the makeup of different conspiracy theories and what type of content is more likely to resonate can be very helpful when addressing such theories, explained Himelboim. However, the researchers found few examples of specific types of content predicting higher engagement, such as retweets. 

Only content explaining the “malicious purposes” behind a specific conspiracy, such as suggesting conspirators are making money off of the virus, and content highlighting the “secretive actions” the conspirators take were directly correlated with predicting higher engagement. 

The co-authors of the paper, titled “What do 5G networks, Bill Gates, Agenda 21, and QAnon have in common? Sources, distribution, and characteristics,” include Jeonghyun (Janice) Lee, a Ph.D. student at Grady College, Porismita Borah, an associate professor in Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication, Danielle Ka Lai Lee, a Ph.D. student at Murrow College, Yan Su, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Communication at Peking University, China, Anastasia Vishnevskaya, a Ph.D. student at Murrow College, and Xizhu Xiao, a Ph.D. student at Murrow College. 

Capstone AdPR students boost brand of local BBQ sauce

They fit together like BBQ sauce and a pulled pork sandwich. 

Students in the Integrated AdPR Campaigns capstone class pose with their client, Katie Throne of Porky Goodness.
The students’ efforts have already led to sales, said Throne. (Photo: submitted)

When Kim Landrum, a senior lecturer in the Advertising and Public Relations (AdPR) Department at Grady College, reached out to Katie Throne, the founder and owner of Porky Goodness, Athens’ first female-owned BBQ sauce brand, she knew the brand would be a perfect fit for her Integrated AdPR Campaigns capstone class. 

In the class, students pair with local brands, such as Porky Goodness, to serve as their agencies for a semester. The idea is that students are able to gain real world experience while they support the advertising and public relations efforts of the brands they pair with. 

“I always try to find small business owners or student organizations, because then we’re able to make an investment back in the community and support small business,” said Landrum. “Porky Goodness was just right. Katie had tangible requests that students could meet. It aligned really well for our team.”

Early on in the fall 2022 semester, Throne met with the seven-student team assigned to the Porky Goodness brand. The students interviewed her and asked her about the challenges she was facing. From there, they wrote up a plan. 

Throughout the semester, the students took a deep look at the analytics behind Porky Goodness’ social accounts, developed content designed to do well on social, helped Throne shoot cooking videos, put wholesale information on the website, allowing interested retailers to easily submit a request for the Porky Goodness product, gave Throne a few lessons on creating TikTok videos and Instagram Reels, and put together a template for a recurring newsletter, which Throne said has already led to several orders. 

“The students listened really well to what I needed done in a short period of time and knocked it out,” said Throne, who started Porky Goodness in March 2021. “At the end of the semester, I was blown away with all that they had completed for me. I hope they learned something from me, but I really learned a lot from them.”  

For senior advertising and public relations students, this class is a chance to put what they’ve learned to the test and gain practical experience in their future industry. The value of the class is not lost on the students. 

“Working with Porky Goodness has been such a rewarding experience,” said Coley Warren (AB ‘22), a December graduate who was on the Porky Goodness team. “From being able to work with a local client to producing portfolio-quality content, my classmates and I were able to gain real world experience far beyond the classroom setting.”

“Katie was so good about giving the students access and really listening to what they had to say,” added Landrum. “It made the experience as good for the students as it was for her.”

It became clear, throughout the term, just how passionate the students were about working with Throne and the Porky Goodness brand. One student, who drives race cars, put a Porky Goodness decal on his car before an upcoming race, Throne said. Another student, Nina Boone, still works with Throne and the Porky Goodness brand. 

“When you’re a little company like we are, you don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing, photos, graphics and so on,” said Throne. “The students were a tremendous help. I appreciated everything that they did.”

UGA Mentor Program Profile: Rylee Barfield and LeLoni Smith

It didn’t take long for recent graduate Rylee Barfield (AB ‘22) to experience the value of a good mentor. During her first week at UGA, eager to enter the field of entertainment, Barfield was seeking guidance to help her navigate the then-unfamiliar industry. When a friend in the introduction to Entertainment and Media Studies class mentioned the UGA Mentor Program, Barfield was immediately intrigued. 

Soon after, Barfield applied to be the mentee of LeLoni Smith (ABJ ‘14), an independent producer who, from 2018 to 2022, worked for Netflix, first as a creative assistant on the Netflix Original Documentary team and then as manager on the Netflix Documentary Films team. 

The UGA Mentor Program is a student-centered online platform that allows students to form long-lasting mentoring relationships, regardless of geographic location. Students can also utilize the Quick Chat function to briefly meet with UGA mentors, including alumni, faculty and staff, for informational interviews that can help make their futures a bit clearer. 

Below are two Q&As, first with Barfield, followed by another with Smith, about their mentoring relationship through the UGA Mentor Program. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

A conversation with Rylee Barfield

GC: Tell us about yourself. 

A headshot of Rylee Barfield.
Rylee Barfield graduated in the Fall of 2022. (Photo: Submitted)

I graduated in the Fall of 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in Entertainment and Media Studies and a minor in Korean Language and Culture. I’m currently in the process of getting a visa to work in Seoul, South Korea. I want to live and work there in the entertainment industry, but I will teach English until I become more comfortable with the language. 

RB: What inspired you to participate in the UGA Mentor Program?

In my first week at UGA, I took the intro class to EMST and made a friend who recommended the mentorship program. I think the entertainment industry felt rather daunting at first and impossible to make connections in, so the UGA Mentor Program was the perfect thing for me at that time. I wanted to talk to someone who had been in my shoes and could help me navigate an unfamiliar industry. I wanted someone who I could ask questions to and learn from. 

GC: What drew you to select LeLoni Smith as your mentor? 

RB: I just really wanted to be doing what LeLoni did when I graduated, so I decided to apply to be her mentee. First of all, she had the most stacked profile/resume. I was worried she actually wouldn’t select me. She was truly impressive and seemed like the coolest woman. LeLoni was working at Netflix at the time, which interested me, and was producing, which is my dream job. So she checked every box of mentorship I could ever want! It’s a gamble when choosing a mentor because you don’t know what their personality or interest will be, and you truly want to develop a relationship and feel like friends. However, I was fortunate to get LeLoni because she is very kind and personable. 

GC: What does this mentorship consist of? How often do you speak and what do those conversations sound like? 

RB: Our first call was longer and focused on getting to know each other. I learned about LeLoni’s journey to be where she is now. Then we talked about what I wanted from the mentorship, and at the time I really wanted guidance and someone I could bounce different questions off of. So we decided to meet monthly over Zoom and email regularly. LeLoni helped me create my resume, and I still use the template today! She helped me narrow down my experiences and show my strengths most effectively. LeLoni helped me to understand what it’s like to work at a global entertainment company, what it took to get there, and how I could start taking steps in that direction. 

GC: What has been the most rewarding part of this experience, having LeLoni as a mentor?

RB: For me, it was just the kinship of having someone to honestly tell you that your dream is possible and that there is a way to get there. I feel like I walked away from the experience more knowledgeable and confident. I think LeLoni is an amazing person, and I’m honored to have been her mentee.

A conversation with LeLoni Smith

GC: What inspired you to become a mentor through the UGA Mentor Program? 

A headshot of LeLoni Smith.
LeLoni Smith has had 8 mentees since 2018 through the UGA Mentor Program. (Photo: submitted.)

LS: I’ve always had an interest in mentorship. I served as a mentor during my UGA days at Clarke Middle School. When I was a student, I had very little knowledge of the entertainment industry and had to figure out a lot of things on my own, which resulted in a few twists and turns along my career path. If I could help provide some clarity to my mentee about my experiences then hopefully he/she or they will have a better sense of where to start after graduation. 

GC: What does your mentorship consist of? How do you help your mentees, both Rylee specifically and, more broadly, all of your previous mentees through this program? 

LS: I would like to think my mentorship process is easygoing but also transparent and direct. My mentees typically want to know about my career journey and how I got to where I am today, so I share the successes. But I also don’t sugarcoat the failures. Once I’ve shared my experiences, I love to hear what interests them and how we can set them up for success. My first task is to review their resume and make any necessary updates or changes. Once we’ve updated the resume, then the rest of the mentorship consists of open conversations about the industry and any advice I can share. Rylee and I shared a similar interest of engaging and programming for audiences outside of the United States, so we would discuss how to gain experience in the United States with aspirations of working outside of it. The best help I can give Rylee or any of my mentees is an honest conversation about my own experiences so they can decide their own path forward. 

GC: What has been the most rewarding experience of mentoring, both Rylee specifically and, more broadly, all of your previous mentees through the UGA Mentorship Program?

LS: The most rewarding experience of mentoring is always the look of relief from my mentees when they are reassured that it is ok to make mistakes and not know what exactly to do after graduation. The entertainment industry is great because there is no direct path, so you can start one way and finish in a completely different way. And that is okay. With Rylee, it was nice to talk through all of her experiences because it made her realize that she was more qualified than she thought. As her mentor, it was my job to simply remind her. 

Learn more about the UGA Mentor Program, including how to sign up, on the UGA Mentor Program page.