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Meet Robert Hernandez, the ‘mad scientist of journalism’

The USC Annenberg professor, who uses emerging technology to tell a story, will be honored by the Society of Professional Journalists

Journalist Robert Hernandez
Robert Hernandez has gained national attention for his innovative classes. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Robert Hernandez, a self-described “mad scientist of journalism,” focuses on exploring and developing the intersection of technology and reporting.

The associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has gained national attention for designing cutting-edge classes, such as “Augmented Reality Storytelling + Journalism,” and a Google Glass class to explore how wearable devices could transform newsgathering and delivery.

With that innovation in mind, the national Society of Professional Journalists has chosen Hernandez to receive its Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award.

SPJ’s annual teaching award goes to “an outstanding journalism educator who has made an exceptional contribution to the profession and/or journalism education,” the association noted. Hernandez will be honored at the Excellence in Journalism 2015 conference in Florida Sept. 18-20.

Robert Hernandez is an innovator in journalism education.

Butler Cain

“Journalism is a dynamic field, and Robert Hernandez is an innovator in journalism education. It is easy to see that he enjoys teaching students how to understand and use emerging technologies to tell a story,” said Butler Cain, chair of the SPJ Journalism Education Committee.

“Mentoring young journalists is important to him as well, and the SPJ Journalism Education Committee was pleased to recommend Robert for this honor,” Cain said.

High standards

According to SPJ, the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award honors a collegiate journalism educator and recognizes outstanding teaching ability, contributions to journalism, journalism education and contributions toward maintaining the highest standards of the profession.

SPJ quoted a nomination letter from Anna-Catherine Brigida, who earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from USC Annenberg in May.

“The courses that I have taken with Professor Hernandez have been some of the most challenging, and most rewarding, learning experiences at Annenberg. They have introduced me to all the limitless possibilities of digital journalism and challenged me to continue to brainstorm new gadgets, techniques and software to use for journalistic purposes. Professor Hernandez not only challenges his students but also encourages and supports them,” Brigida wrote.

Building a digital army

Brigida is just one of the students Hernandez has influenced, said Willow Bay, director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Robert Hernandez is indeed building an army of collaborative, innovative, digital journalists.

Willow Bay

“Robert is indeed building an army of collaborative, innovative, digital journalists,” Bay said. “He is helping to further a digital culture at Annenberg, sharing his insights and enthusiasm with students, faculty and our industry partners. As he pokes, prods and tests new technology, he encourages all of us to do the same.”

Hernandez has taken a leading role in uniting and building a community of digital journalists and technologists as a national board member of the Online News Association. He will serve as co-chair of ONA’s conference in September.

Many journalists know him as the co-founder of #wjchat, a weekly forum on Twitter that engages participants from around the world.

He recently co-founded the Journalism Diversity Project, which amplifies and spotlights talented digital journalists of color.

And Hernandez shares his expertise in emerging technologies and digital tools, or a love of “nerding out” as he calls it, with the larger community in newsrooms, conferences, workshops, digital/social media platforms, training sessions and local gatherings.

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Meet Robert Hernandez, the ‘mad scientist of journalism’

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