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The Citizen

A Conversation with Shorenstein Center Director Nicco Mele

By Wei Luo, MPP 2017

On Friday September 30, The Citizen had a chance to sit down with Nicco Mele, the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at HKS. The following is a brief summary of the conversation.



Citizen: What is your vision for the Shorenstein Center?

Nicco Mele: The lesson of this election is that our media and our politics are both in crisis. I hope that the Shorenstein Center can take a strong and active role in making institutions of public trust healthier.

Citizen: How can Kennedy School students better understand the intersection of media and public policy, and how can HKS students get involved with the Shorenstein Center?

Nicco Mele: We have a speaker series, fellows, and courses taught by faculty affiliates. I strongly believe there’s room for everyone to study how to communicate with the public. It’s an essential skill for anyone; it’s an important part of your job, especially in a fractured landscape caught between cable TV and social media.

Citizen: How does the role of the media in this election cycle differ (or not) from that in previous cycles?

Nicco Mele: Attacking the press is not new. In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both attacked the media. That said, there is something unusual in this election. It is worth taking a cold, clear look at how the media has worked in this election and how it could do a better job in the future.

Citizen: Where do you think the press is headed in the coming years in terms of how people consume and respond to the news?

Nicco Mele: I’m not sure there’s a public anymore. For a long time, we had mass media that shaped culture by creating a shared experience. Now, the public is atomized, and communicating with the public is like communicating with multiple publics. But, public service is still directed toward a single public. Bridging that gap is difficult… The unpopularity of the two candidacies in this cycle is a symptom of that gap.

Citizen: What advice do you have for students interested in journalism, the media, and communications more generally?

Nicco Mele: Understand how to communicate with the public. It’s an essential skill for effective policy implementation. Simply being a passive consumer of media is not enough to be a public leader. I hope that the Shorenstein Center and the HKS communications program can give a strong grounding for navigating the current media landscape and effectively communicating in that landscape.


Nicco Mele is the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. He took over leadership of the Center in 2016 after serving as Senior Vice President and Deputy Publisher of the Los Angeles Times and as the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism at the University of Southern California. He is the author of The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath and co-founder of EchoDitto (now Echo & Co.), a leading internet strategy and consulting firm. Mele also is a board member of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.