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Building a Buzz

International relations major Erica Berger ’09 has distinguished herself in a media career focused on news, storytelling and social good, garnering the attention of Forbes magazine.

International relations alumna Erica Berger ’09 was singled out by <em>Forbes</em> magazine as being one of the intellectual best of her generation, naming her one of “30 Under 30” to watch in the media category. Photo by Ashley N. Stefan.
International relations alumna Erica Berger ’09 was singled out by Forbes magazine as being one of the intellectual best of her generation, naming her one of “30 Under 30” to watch in the media category. Photo by Ashley N. Stefan.

Nothing takes the edge off a Monday morning like learning that Forbes magazine is celebrating you as a young media maven.

Although the elite magazine had requested alumna Erica Berger’s photograph, she didn’t yet know it had selected her among its “30 Under 30” people to watch.

Forbes magazine describes this exceptional group of twenty-somethings as “the young disruptors, innovators and entrepreneurs [who] are impatient to change the world. … [T]hey represent the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of their generation.”

“I woke up one Monday morning and had all these congratulatory tweets on my phone,” said Berger, a strikingly self-possessed 26-year-old originally from Chicago. “I thought, ‘Wait, really?’ In retrospect, I hadn’t thought the impact I was making in the media and journalism world had been that recognizable. Achieving the ‘30 Under 30’ distinction made my work a reality — probably most importantly for myself.” 

Berger is director of product partnerships at Storyful, an international video and social media newswire service headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, with offices in Hong Kong and New York City, where she is based. She used the very qualities called out by Forbes to land the job.

Berger was cutting her professional teeth at The Economist, writing science and technology columns and working on research, when one of the magazine’s vice president asked her to join his effort to develop a media and innovation laboratory. Berger began by establishing a “lab room” equipped with books, Slinkies, bean bag chairs and whiteboard walls.

“The intention was to create a space that felt very safe for people to share their ideas. Everyone who worked there had great ideas, but there was nowhere they could present them and know they would actually be heard and evaluated.”

This seemingly simple idea quickly led to prototyping and  launching of products. The first was an html5 Web application they called Electionism. It pulled in 2012 election content from Economist.com, the Economist-owned Congressional Quarterly and Twitter. A video component drew in content from Storyful.

After two years at The Economist, Berger began thinking about her next move. Job offers were filtering in from other publishers, startups, advertising agencies and even a big environmental nonprofit, but nothing felt quite right.

“I felt like I was trying to mold myself to the roles that were posted as opposed to finding a company that would build a role around what I stood for and was good at. So, I waited.”

One day Storyful CEO and founder Mark Little, with whom she had been working for a few months on the html5 Web application, came to her office for a meeting. As Berger was walking him out, he told her, “I follow you on Twitter. You tweet a lot about technology and social enterprise and social good and the future of journalism. … Are you looking for a job, perchance? Tell me what you want to do and let’s do it.”

Finally, inspiration hit. At Storyful since April 2012, she’s been helping big-name clients — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, ABC News, Bloomberg, BBC, YouTube, Google, Microsoft and Amnesty International — feature the most relevant social media and video content.

Her content gives special focus to social good and the benefits of citizen journalism and (expertly vetted) user-generated content from the open Web.

At USC Dornsife, Berger arrived wanting to study the sciences. For years, her passion had been marine biology and while at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., she traveled to California to participate in Catalina Island Marine Institute’s summer camp.

Her future changed as a sophomore when a friend recommended IR 210, an introductory course taught by Dan Lynch, associate professor of international relations. “I loved how the class applied frameworks to international negotiations and crises, wars and storytelling. It was like a scientific application of history, and I’d never really thought about it that way.

“I fell in love — it felt right to me, I could still tailor my major toward environmental issues and I could focus my case studies on environmental negotiations.”

Her coursework with Lynch and eventually with Steven Lamy, now vice dean for academic programs, energized her passion for international relations, strategy and negotiation.

When it comes to what’s next, Berger has big plans. Her roots in international relations are never far from her mind.

“Through the lens of media and journalism, I’d like to start my own company or project that combines the power of storytelling through professional outlets with some kind of tech/software that helps advance international negotiation.”

Her aim is to find solutions to world problems through storytelling and technology.

“Whether it’s related to business, international policy or environmental issues, I want to make the world better through a more deeply connected and intelligent society.”

Read more articles from USC Dornsife Magazine's Spring/Summer 2013 issue