University of Southern California: First ViacomCBS HBCU scholarship recipient joins journalism master’s program

When Mariah Hill was 6 years old, her grandmother gave her a journal. “You know how grandmas are: They’re just buying you random stuff,” the Seattle native said with a chuckle. “I’m 23 now, and I’ve been keeping up with my journal the whole time.”

That journal was Hill’s first step as a storyteller, one that continued through her undergraduate studies as a radio, television and film major at Clark Atlanta University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). After earning her bachelor’s degree in 2020, she joined the USC Annenberg master’s in journalism program this past June as the inaugural recipient of the ViacomCBS HBCU Diversity in Journalism Scholarship.

Supported by a $1 million endowment, the scholarship creates a pipeline for Black journalists to both enter and lead newsrooms.

“HBCU graduates are critical to advancing our country’s future, including the next generation of journalists,” said Willow Bay, dean of USC Annenberg. “We are proud to join ViacomCBS in accelerating Black journalists’ paths to success.”

From that early start with her journal, Hill drew further inspiration from broadcast journalists. “Growing up, I would watch the news with my mom every morning before school,” she recalled. “I would just look at what the reporters and the anchors would be doing, and I was like, ‘I can definitely do this.’”

After starting at Clark Atlanta as a journalism major, Hill realized that the radio, TV and film program was a better fit for her goals. “I wanted to go into broadcasting — production, how to edit video, how to be a camera operator — and the journalism program there was very writing-focused,” she said. Following the advice of her mentors who had long careers in broadcasting, Hill began freelancing for local production companies to sharpen her skills. “If the BET awards were going on, or when the Super Bowl was in Atlanta, they would email me and say, ‘Hey, are you available to work for these days?’”

She also pursued in-depth news stories, including a series of video reports for the student media center at Clark Atlanta on a student who was found deceased in a forest near campus. “It was a breaking news-type story,” she said. “We had to work really fast against the clock and make sure the information we were giving out was accurate. That was a fascinating experience.”

As with most of the Class of 2020, Hill didn’t get a true graduation ceremony — and also faced a tough job market due to the pandemic. “I went back to Seattle and started reporting on my own — just going out with my camera and my tripod and doing local stories just to keep myself busy,” she said. Hill added that she also got some freelance work in Atlanta with one of the production companies she had worked with as an undergrad.

Hill wasn’t sure whether she wanted to continue into graduate school, but her mentors convinced her that USC Annenberg could help her take the next step in her career — a step made possible by the ViacomCBS scholarship. “I really appreciate the scholarship, because I know a lot of people can’t afford to go to a school like this,” Hill said.

She says she’s excited about how the journalism master’s program has opened up new storytelling possibilities.

“Before I got here, I’d done crime stories, and I’d done cute stories,” she said. “The kinds of stories I’m doing now for my classes and with Annenberg Media, where I can go deep into questions of race and culture, are really interesting to me.”

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