Social media expert Nicco Mele named new Wallis Annenberg Chair

The former Los Angeles Times deputy publisher will draw on digital and traditional media experience in his USC Annenberg post

January 14, 2016 Gretchen McCartney

Author, social media pioneer and digital strategist Nicco Mele has been appointed holder of the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Mele is a senior fellow for the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy (CCLP) and formerly was senior vice president and deputy publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

“Given his extraordinary career accomplishments in multiple fields — including media, technology and academia — Mele is uniquely equipped to lead cutting-edge journalism projects that leverage the USC Annenberg School of Journalism’s students, faculty and state-of-the-art facilities and technology,” said Willow Bay, director of the School of Journalism.

The Wallis Annenberg Endowed Chair is a termed chair position held by a transformational interdisciplinary professional or scholar, a thought leader, innovator and proven collaborator who can foster meaningful connections between USC Annenberg, the wider academic community and private industry. The school hopes the holder of the chair will play a significant role in shaping the future of journalism and communication.

Daily duties

With his mix of digital and traditional media experience, and a career steeped in technology and politics, Mele has long nurtured a passion for the role of journalism in democracy.

His work as the Wallis Annenberg Chair will focus on implementing key elements of the Annenberg Leadership Initiative, a new program funded by the Annenberg Foundation. Mele will design unique news management fellowship opportunities for early-career professionals from communities that are underrepresented in the media industry. The aim is to provide a pipeline of diverse, interdisciplinary talent equipped to lead newsrooms.

Mele also will supervise the creation of innovation teams made of engineers and journalists working to broaden the reach of contemporary journalism. Inside the digital facilities of the Julie Chen/Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center, these students and recent graduates will learn how to harness emerging communication technologies in the service of journalism in the public interest.

At CCLP, Mele focuses on emerging business models for digital journalism and the challenges traditional media models face online. He also writes and speaks regularly about the use of technology in political campaigns, drawing partly on his experience as Webmaster for Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, when his team popularized the use of technology and social media that revolutionized political fundraising.

At the Los Angeles Times, he was responsible for product, content, revenue and audience development for all of the paper’s Media Group brands — including the expansion of digital products and services, identifying possible acquisitions, developing new business opportunities and launching new products.

From Harvard to SoCal

Mele’s 2013 book, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath, explores the consequences of living in a socially connected society.

Before moving to Southern California, Mele served on the faculty of the Harvard Kennedy School, where he taught graduate-level classes on the Internet and politics. In the spring of 2009, he was the Visiting Edward R. Murrow Lecturer at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and in the fall of 2008 he was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Prior to joining the Harvard Kennedy School, Mele taught at the Johns Hopkins Graduate School of Communication.

Mele is an active angel investor in technology startups, including Plympton (a publishing startup), UMS (mobile), Cignify (data analytics), and iDiet (health care). He is the co-founder of Echo & Co, a digital consulting firm with global clients and offices in Boston and Washington, D.C. The firm helps clients who face overwhelming technological and social change.

Born in Ghana to Foreign Service Officer parents, Mele spent his early years in Asia before graduating from the College of William and Mary in Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in government. He is a co-founder of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and sits on the board of Tupelo Press.