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USC Annenberg to break ground on new building

by Gretchen Parker
Wallis Annenberg Hall, a new five-floor building, is scheduled to open in fall 2014. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Annenberg)
Photo: Wallis Annenberg Hall, a new five-floor building, is scheduled to open in fall 2014. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Annenberg)

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is ushering in a new era of digital media education, communication and production with the groundbreaking of a visionary new building and the launch of a $150 million fundraising initiative on Nov. 8.

USC will welcome trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of USC Annenberg for a ceremony marking the beginning of the initiative, which will invest in new generations of students and scholars exploring the digital future.

Funds raised will pay for capital projects to enhance the labs, studios and technology of Wallis Annenberg Hall, as well as student scholarships, fellowships, chaired professorships and funding for startups led by students and faculty. The initiative is part of The Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multiyear effort to raise $6 billion for the university’s academic, community and capital priorities.

“Wallis Annenberg stands among USC’s most generous and steadfast supporters, as well as the university’s longest-serving trustee,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “As journalism continues to evolve, her landmark gift will help keep USC on the field’s cutting edge while ensuring that our students have access to world-class facilities.”

Plans for the new 88,000-square-foot, five-floor building, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014, call for a technologically transformative jewel in the center of the University Park Campus. Designs were drawn to reflect the transparency and collaboration that drives USC Annenberg’s educational philosophy.

“USC Annenberg is widely recognized as a world leader in journalism and communication,” said Dean Ernest J. Wilson III. “This new facility, and the initiative, will enable us to expand our innovative teaching, research and service, and spark a new era of creativity among our faculty and students in this new digital age.”

Beyond the university’s iconic Gothic flourishes on the exterior, the ultramodern interior will feature a four-story atrium with a rooftop skylight and multistory digital media tower showcasing student programming along with online social media and live broadcast news. The atrium itself is designed to encourage informal conversation and gatherings, as well as formal events. Leaders envision the space as an area for the USC community to convene and share ideas with guest lecturers, faculty and students.

At the heart of the building will be a 20,000-square-foot newsroom looking onto Childs Way that will tear down the silos that now separate broadcast, print and Web journalism. A state-of-the-art content management system will allow students to share and publish from multiple sources to any medium.

The nucleus of the operation is a 360-degree assignment desk that will oversee the day-to-day work of USC Annenberg’s student news organizations. While still operating independently, the news organizations and student journalists will have the ability to seamlessly share audio and video on multiple platforms from a single newsroom. A media halo of digital screens above the assignment desk will provide a live stream of breaking news, along with online news and RSS feeds.

Studios in the newsroom will be multipurpose. A television studio with multiple sets, including anchor desks and a green screen, will operate alongside a separate radio studio equipped with broadcast-quality cameras so that radio programming can be used online or on television as well. A third studio designed for vodcasts will allow students to stream professional-quality audio and video directly to the Web.

Beyond the newsroom, Wallis Annenberg Hall will feature new technology that is scalable and flexible as innovations become available. The building will be loaded with full Wi-Fi and 4G wireless capacity, including at least 110 hotspots and no dead zones. There will be more than a thousand Ethernet connection points. In addition, digital monitors throughout the building will stream student programming and instruction material in classrooms.

A central media database, which is unique for an academic environment, will encourage sharing and analysis by communication and journalism faculty, students and scholars, regardless of where they are.

Faculty and students will be able to work together in various physical spaces — multipurpose rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms, open study areas, a laptop lounge and computer lab, and research and learning labs. Eleven “drop-in” student collaboration areas will foster impromptu meetings and conversations. There will also be a full-service café and an auditorium seating 160 people. (Read more about the building’s features at wallisannenberghall.uscannenberg.org/by-the-numbers/)

“As we move further into the 21st century, it is clear that the education of journalists will require a facility unlike any that now exists,” said Wallis Annenberg, chairman of the board of the Annenberg Foundation. “This building will give talented students and faculty the opportunity to experiment with emerging tools and invent journalism and communication models for the digital future. The future of journalism will be shaped at USC.”

Planning for the building was initiated by a $50 million lead gift from the Annenberg Foundation at the direction of Wallis Annenberg, who is also the foundation’s president and CEO. In addition to being the longest-serving trustee on USC’s Board of Trustees, she has been a lifelong advocate for the essential role that journalism plays in enriching society and sustaining democracy. The Annenberg Foundation and the Annenberg family have contributed a total of $350 million to USC, beginning with Ambassador Walter Annenberg, who founded USC Annenberg in 1971.

The new construction, situated on the west side of Pertusati Bookstore, will supplement the school’s current operations in its existing building on Watt Way.

The school’s $150 million fundraising initiative will help build out the new facility, as well as earmark a $30 million endowment for student scholarships, including need- and merit-based scholarships, graduate fellowships, internships and residencies and study abroad stipends. Administrators will also set aside $30 million for an endowment for faculty, research and teaching, including chairs, professorships and research centers. In addition, $20 million will go toward innovation and startup funding, changes in flexible technologies and interdisciplinary projects and collaborations.

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