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USC Annenberg students and radio’s California Report examine Trump presidency

‘At Risk’ series documented by young journalists looks at timely issues faced by local communities

by USC Annenberg staff
Silhouette of reporter interviewing anonymous subject
USC Annenberg graduate students interviewed Southern California residents during the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency. (Photo/Paola Mardo)

A new series marking the first 100 days of the Trump administration features work by graduate students at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. It can be heard online today on The California Report, KQED’s statewide public radio program.

“At Risk in the Trump Era,” a four-month investigation by USC Annenberg advanced radio students, explores how vulnerable communities across Southern California react to the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. The series profiles individuals burdened by new worries — looking for work, signing up for school or even deciding whether to publicly express their sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

The young reporters were guided by USC Annenberg Professor Sandy Tolan and adjunct instructor Karen Lowe, both veteran public radio journalists. They worked with host Sasha Khokha, along with the show’s senior editor Victoria Mauleón, to document the fears, challenges and opportunities facing many Southern Californians.

Reporters in the “Public Radio Documentary” class “embedded” with several community members: a transgender woman whose parents are staunch Trump supporters; a Muslim woman who, in fear, removed her hijab and started taking a self-defense class; and a rock band transformed by the new political landscape.

Stories that matter

The first piece, “Undocumented Love,” by reporter and USC Annenberg Fellow Paola Mardo, tells the story of Filipino high school sweethearts whose twisty path brought them together after nearly four decades apart. Now they’re both grappling with the vulnerability of being undocumented as Trump steps up immigration enforcement.

“Our partnership with The California Report offers students a unique opportunity to tell stories that matter deeply, and it provides listeners fresh, compelling journalism from our young reporters,” said Willow Bay, director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. “Allowing the coverage to unfold over several months brings a depth and rigor to these reports, and we’re proud of the powerful human stories these journalists uncovered.”

In-depth reporting throughout the semester allowed the students to explore more deeply the daily lives of these individuals to get an understanding of the challenges they now face. The result is a trove of intimate, sound-rich stories that probe beneath the surface, Tolan said.

“Each of these students spent weeks, sometimes months with the individuals whose stories they’re telling,” he said. “These young reporters demonstrate the potential and power of narrative storytelling.”

‘Jaw-dropping moments’

The steady contact between the students and the people they were profiling created a sense of trust, Lowe said. “That trust led to some truly jaw-dropping moments.”

“At Risk” marks the fourth major collaboration between USC Annenberg and The California Report, each built around a central theme.

“It’s been inspiring to work with these emerging journalists who offer new perspectives and approaches to storytelling,” said Victoria Mauleon of The California Report. “We’re looking forward to hearing more from them on our air.”

For aspiring public radio journalists, the series was an opportunity to witness a professional collaboration from the inside over the four-month period. Text stories will live on The California Report website and “At Risk” stories also will be released as a one-hour documentary to be distributed nationally on PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, this summer.

“Having the opportunity to spend months on reporting this story and working with my professors, producers and peers taught me so much about the power of long-form audio journalism,” said Mardo, a reporter for the first “At Risk” story. “I’m really proud of the stories we’ve produced and can’t wait to hear them on the air.”

Additional USC Annenberg reporters on the “At Risk” series are Joanna Clay, Stefanie De Leon Tzic, Ashley Eady, Melanie Gonzalez, Renee Gross, Jenny Lower, Noorhan Maamoon and Pasha Zolfaghari. The California Report airs on KPCC in Los Angeles at 6:30 a.m. Saturdays and on two dozen other partner stations around the state each weekend. It’s also available as a podcast and archived for listening.

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USC Annenberg students and radio’s California Report examine Trump presidency

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