Communication in 2021

What have we learned? Where do we go from here?

In 2021, things feel very different from just a year ago…

Over twelve months, we have navigated the layered effects of an unrelenting pandemic, a faltering economy, virulent politics, and renewed urgency for social justice. 

Throughout this time, the content, focus, tenor and even channels of our communication have changed, for better or worse. In some ways, the methods and messages may not be new, but our attitudes have changed as we seek to connect, and to hear and be heard more effectively. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how the lessons of the past year will serve us in years to come.

We will explore these issues and more during our March 31 Communication Day, as we consolidate the typical two-day, in-person symposium into an afternoon of virtual events. Please browse the schedule below, and join us in thoughtful conversation! 

See below for schedule of events (Meeting links to be added in the following days).

Opening Session (12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.)

Communication in 2021: What Have We Learned? Where Do We Go From Here?

In many ways, the events of the past year have been defined or influenced by how we communicate—in the media, among businesses and organizations, and between each other. In some ways, communication has changed us, and in others, we have changed how and what we communicate. Whatever the case, we’re in a different place than a year ago. But this is not new, as society has navigated intense periods of change before. Panelists from different communication fields will draw from experience and events of the past year to discuss how we have navigated change in the past, and what we might expect in the future.


  • Dean Raul Reis, Moderator
  • Robin Danzak, Associate Professor, Communication Studies and Disorders
  • Carol Ferrara, Assistant Professor, Marketing Communication
  • Kenneth Grout, Executive-in-Residence, Communication Studies
  • Azeta Hatef, Assistant Professor, Journalism

Breakout Round 1 (1:00pm to 1:45pm)

Local News Lifeline — in Chaos Reborn

Students continually hear about the death of local news as they consider their future working options. But there is dramatic evidence everywhere that local news is reasserting its lifeline during times of dire trouble and reinventing itself in new digital forms to serve underrepresented communities. Dramatic evidence is everywhere: from ProPublica's Local Reporting Network, regional newsrooms and major investigations in partnership with the Texas Tribune; to start-ups like the Fort Worth Report; and community nonprofits providing urgent Covid-related and other grassroots information even by text.

In this session, Texas media, ProPublica and other journalists will discuss extraordinary measures taken to report on the recent weather-related catastrophe there and reassert the lifeline importance of local media even as its existence is increasingly threatened. Boston area and other community journalists will discuss the nonprofit local challenges of providing and sustaining critical services and information to their underserved readers. Poynter's veteran analyst Rick Edmonds will provide his inside take on the changing face of local media.


  • Diane Mermigas, Affiliated Faculty, Journalism
  • Gino Canella, Assistant Professor, Journalism
  • Zahira Torres, senior editor, ProPublica
  • Corrie MacLaggan, managing editor, Texas Tribune
  • Erin Douglas, reporter Texas Tribune
  • Rick Edmonds, media business analyst, Poynter Institute 
  • Jason Pramas and Shira Laucharoen, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and the Somerville News Garden

SmartPhone StoryFest: The Secrets of Great Storytelling with a SmartPhone

At this very moment you most likely have the two key ingredients needed to craft an amazing digital story: your brain and a SmartPhone.
SmartPhone StoryFest empowers everyone to get in touch with the narrative skills and craft a story in a festival-like atmosphere.  In this presentation and workshop, Adjunct Lecturer and Content Creator Mark Brodie will unveil some secrets of creating great stories along with how to use a SmartPhone to bring that story to life. This session will also feature the launch of a StoryFest competition, culminating in four prize awards for participating students.


  • Mark Brodie MA ’99, Affiliated Faculty, Communication Studies
  • Gina Gayle, Assistant Professor of Journalism
  • Ulya Aviral MFA ’17, Affiliated Faculty, Visual Media Arts

When Facts and Feelings Collide: Case Studies in Confirmation Bias and Digital Culture

Vaccines cause autism. Humans have nothing to do with climate change. Media are lying ALL THE TIME. Stories like these circulate on social media every day. And the more they are repeated, the more they seem true. Even if we are skeptical, it is difficult to find the facts through so many layers of rhetoric. Or quell that nagging "what if?" feeling. We will examine case studies, discuss how some narratives come to dominate the conversation, and how to follow the threads of original data to get beyond feelings and into facts.


  • Ruth Grossman, Communication Sciences & Disorders
  • Paul Mihailidis, Journalism, Media Design

Breakout Round 2 (2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.)

Streaming Wars: Diversity and Inclusion

Companies like Disney, Netflix and Amazon are fighting to gain market share in overseas markets as the North American market approaches saturation. Will this competition spur inclusion and cultural diversity due to geographic, ethnic and linguistically diverse origins, or simply be powerful new channels for American content?  Will these businesses be able to achieve scale outside the borders of North America? What will international audiences find subscription-worthy and at what price points? Which companies and brands will prove sustainable over time?


  • Robert Lyons, Executive-in-Residence, Marketing Communication
  • Naa Amponsah Dodoo, Assistant Professor, Marketing Communication
  • Russell Newman, Associate Professor, Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies

Team Harmony: Eradicating Hate

Even in the era of COVID, civic engagements continued to occur globally in an effort to eradicate hate.  President Pelton asked the Emerson Community what it was doing to eradicate hate.  Faculty and students responded, collaborating with The Rendon Group.  The initial group of four has grown to (x), including two students from Emerson who host monthly webinars working with 130 student reporters from around the globe, the establishment of the Virtual Institute for Activism where fifteen Emerson faculty members teach various courses, and the creation of a Tool Kit.  This program exemplifies the power of communication and the human spirit to work together on a common goal even in such dire times.


  • Mark Brodie, Affiliated Faculty Communication Studies
  • Cathryn Edelstein, Senior Executive-in-Residence, Communication Studies
  • Khary Higgins ’21, Sports Communication 
  • Angel Salcedo ’21, Journalism 
  • Elli Barkett, The Rendon Group
  • Gregory Payne, Associate Professor and Chair, Communications Studies

Breakout Round 3 (3:00 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.)

Communicating with Compassion Workshop

How can we create more meaningful, compassionate, and positive human relationships? Nonviolent communication (NVC), as developed by Marshall Rosenberg, is rooted in the premise that human violence results from misguided attempts to meet needs. It provides guidelines for treating ourselves and others with empathy, equality, and regard. In this workshop we will introduce participants to four core NVC practices: making non-judgmental observations, expressing feelings, expressing needs, and making requests. Workshop participants will gain valuable skills for communicating compassionately in professional and personal settings and heightened appreciation for the power of positive communication to enrich human relationships.


  • Phillip Glenn, Professor of Communication Studies
  • Alix Knice ’22, Communication Studies
  • Mary Kuczkowski ’22, Communication Studies
  • Hallie Parrott ’21, Communication Studies
  • Grace Tepper ’21, Political Communication

COVID through the Viewfinder: Are Photojournalists Essential Workers?

Traditionally, photojournalists were considered story illustrators rather than reporters in the field, yet photographers were often called upon to “get the picture” no matter the circumstances. This year, photojournalists have provided a compelling visual record of trauma, discord, and moments of grace that has defined this unprecedented national crisis. In this session, two photojournalists (TBD) will present their work from the past year to discuss their approaches to covering major events in 2020 including a presidential election, social protests, economic fallout, and a global pandemic. Each photographer will share stories of how they navigated their own safety while on assignment, followed by a Q&A discussion with the audience.


  • Joanne Cicarello, Affiliated Faculty, Journalism
  • Gina Gayle, Assistant Professor, Journalism
  • Elizabeth Gillis ’15, NPR Visuals Editor, Washington DC
  • Eric Shelton, Visual Journalist, Clarion Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi)
  • Erin Clark, Visual Journalist, Boston Globe

Closing Session (4:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.)

The Key Ingredient to Success: Taming the Fear of Failure

A panel discussion that aims to dispel the fears that students and faculty might have about failure. In extreme cases, the fear of failure actually has a name: atychiphobia. We're talking about failure as it manifests in every discipline and profession. There are huge benefits to failing, life-long lessons and ultimate successes from the newfound confidence you'll enjoy.


  • Lynn Conners, Director of Clinical Programs, Communication Sciences & Disorders
  • Deion Hawkins, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies
  • Janet Kolodzy, Professor and Chair, Journalism
  • Wes Jackson, Director, Business of Creative Enterprises
  • Lu Ann Reeb, Director, Entrepreneurial and Business Studies
  • Brent Smith, Professor and Chair, Marketing Communication