Sebastian Vega came to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism prepared to push the boundaries of storytelling. But, while growing in San Antonio, being raised by a single mother prepared him to make his own opportunities.
“My mom couldn’t work, so we lived off government support and food stamps. During high school, a lot of my peers were able to take SAT prep tests, but I couldn’t afford them,” said Vega, whose received his degree in broadcast and digital journalism at USC Friday. “But I was able to get a waiver on the actual test fee, so I took the exam a few times to make sure my score was as high as it needed to be.”
He then researched and applied for a variety of scholarships to make sure that he could attend the best college, and ended up receiving the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship.
Digital journalism at USC draws him in
Once on campus, his first stop was the Daily Trojan. He started as a staff writer and by the beginning of his sophomore year was promoted to news editor. At the same time, Vega was asked to produce social videos for the Journalism for Emerging and Digital Innovation (JEDI) desk, a new team at Annenberg Media.
I remember saying, ‘I have no idea what any of this is.’ I was more interested in broadcast.
“I remember saying, ‘I have no idea what any of this is,’” Vega said. “I was more interested in broadcast, but my friend reassured me this was the future of TV.”
The new digital experience earned Vega another promotion at the Daily Trojan, where he became digital managing editor. He took some time away from JEDI, but by junior year was recruited back as a lead, overseeing the creation of more than 150 social videos.
“There were so many things to be thinking about,” Vega added. “All of these news stories were going on so many different platforms. We were a team that worked on emerging storytelling projects. At the time, Snapchat and Instagram were very new and we were figuring out how to talk about news on these platforms.”
During senior year, as executive editor, Vega reorganized Annenberg Media. Instead of creating content, he was now directing roughly 40 editors.
“It was now my job to manage and teach the concepts about social videos that we’ve been learning over the past year or so,” he said.
Working in the field
Vega also filled his breaks with internships, first with a KNBC-TV reporter, writing scripts and creating social videos for Instagram, and a year later at NBC Nightly News.
“At NBC Nightly News, they let me create a social video and it got 30 million views and they were like, ‘Hey, can you make more videos for us?’” Vega said. “I got to test out some of the skills I was learning in class — take them to a professional level and also understand how a modern newsroom works and how I can use my skills in those kinds of newsrooms.”
An Annenberg “Maymester” trip to New York led to his summer fellowship at The New York Times Student Journalism Institute and, as he prepared to graduate, a job as a social media editor intern.
Looking back, Vega realizes that he was given one opportunity in digital journalism at USC that many students don’t get at any school.
“I had the chance to work on both sides — as a content creator and then a manager,” he said. “I learned the business side of journalism, how to make a newsroom more efficient and, most importantly, the distribution and evolution of how we are going to tell news stories moving forward in the future.”