STATS | NAME: Willow Bay AGE: 53 HOMETOWN: New York TITLE: Dean (incoming)
INSTITUTION: USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Willow Bay will become the first female dean at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism on July 1, replacing Ernest Wilson III. Until then, Bay will continue her role as director of Annenberg’s School of Journalism, which she assumed in July 2014. She previously served as senior strategic adviser to the Huffington Post and special correspondent and host for Bloomberg Television. She’s also had stints as co-anchor of ABC News’ “Good Morning America/Sunday” and CNN’s “Moneyline News Hour.” During her nearly three-year tenure at Annenberg, Bay has launched the Julie Chen-Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center in Wallis Annenberg Hall, introduced the school’s bachelor of arts in journalism program, and created curriculum and fellowships for master’s students. She spoke to the Business Journal about the state of the journalism industry and the role of social media in news.
What does it mean to you to be the first female dean at Annenberg?
It’s so interesting to me because this is a university where opportunities for women are tremendous. It was certainly just a matter of time, and I was the lucky person who was able to officially break that barrier. There are institutional objectives here, and systems and processes that really encourage us to put those issues front and center.
We look at things like salaries on an annual basis to make sure there aren’t gender disparities, for example, in our pay structure. I don’t think companies do that routinely – some do.
Has the role of journalism schools changed in the Donald Trump era?
The current political climate has certainly increased the amount of attention around a free and fair press, and the training of journalism students. I think there’s a reasoned debate in the industry on how the industry should respond. Is it the job of journalists to respond to the diminishment and criticism and vilification of the press, or is it the role of a journalist not to become the story and to get out there and cover the story?
What’s your opinion?
As somebody who’s had a career as a journalist, I prefer not to be the story. I prefer to cover the story. But I also recognize going forward that there is a role for institutions to play in advocating for a free and fair press.
Should social media companies be part of that discussion, too?
There’s a real opportunity for the tech community to lean in to the journalism community a little more than they’ve been doing. Take the issue of fake news. Fake news has been around since there has been distributed media, whether it’s extreme propaganda or hoaxes. What’s different today is they are supercharged by social media with a velocity and reach the likes of which we have never seen. Whether these companies call themselves media companies or technology companies, they’re in the news space now.
How do you use social media?
Twitter’s become our news feed. I check Twitter regularly. I tweet occasionally. I’m not frequent. I’m a terrible, lousy photographer, so I’m not really on Instagram.
You husband, Robert Iger, finally joined Twitter in January.
Did you encourage him to start tweeting?
I did not. He’s a technophile and he loves new technology and emerging technology.
The Los Angeles Times ownership saga has gone on for a few years now. Do you think it should be locally owned?
I don’t think there’s one right way to own a newspaper. I’m much more concerned with training students how to cover communities. Jeff Bezos owning the Washington Post has by all accounts been a phenomenal thing that nobody in a million years would have thought was a good idea a decade ago. It wouldn’t have made sense.
Are you concerned by the decline of print newspapers?
I would never write off newspapers. People still read newspapers.
How do you consume news?
I do radio, television, an actual thing in my hand called a newspaper, sometimes even that thing in my hand called a magazine, and online. Every day the percentage allocated to those media is different, but I would say every day I connect with all of them.
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