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Monday, September 28, 2020

For journalist Ava-joye Burnett, MSL Class of 2020, legal education means better reporting.

Broadcast news reporter Ava-joye Burnett wanted to go to law school to better understand the stories she covered, but she feared putting her passion for journalism on hold for a JD. USC Gould’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree offered the perfect solution to deepen her knowledge of government systems while allowing her to continue her work — and she is already seeing an impact.

My name is Ava-joye Burnett. I am currently a news reporter at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, MD. I’m in my final semester of USC’s MSL program! This has been a wonderful ride.

  ATC Photography

Ava-joye Burnett, MSL ‘20

Instagram: @Avajoye, Twitter: @AvajoyeWJZ

My first career love is journalism. After years in the industry I still rush back to work after a vacation like it’s the first day of school. In high school, I volunteered with a game show production. I worked behind the scenes and loved the in-and-outs of how the show went from an idea to a plan and then the execution. This show existed long before I became involved, but it developed my affinity and understanding for media production. I then moved on to junior college and then university, where I majored in broadcast journalism. It’s those foundational moments that prepared me for my current profession in journalism.

I decided to pursue my Master of Studies in Law because so much of my work as a journalist requires a deep understanding of our systems of government. As reporters, we are often tasked with learning about a new subject every day, and then accurately relaying that information to our viewers and readers.

I’d considered law school, but knew a grueling three- to four-year process would take the back seat to my first love, journalism. So, you can only imagine my glee when I learned there was a thriving sector for a master’s program which focuses on the law. I’d hit the jackpot. I’d been accepted to a few programs but decided to attend USC. I do not regret it.

This program has enhanced my knowledge of many of the stories I cover, from understanding the risk assessment judges consider during a bail review hearing, to sentencing guidelines, to what actually constitutes the various degrees of a crime.

I feel like I’m peeking behind the doors of how the system works. The truth is, the information had always been there, but this program brilliantly curated a way for professionals like me to develop a deeper understanding of all three branches of government, and how the decisions made within these institutions affect everyday people.

Here’s a quick story for you…I was conducting an interview with two attorneys regarding their client. The person’s case had been in the news. As I worked through my line of questions to get a better understanding of the case, a phrase popped into my head: “contributory negligence.” I remember asking the attorneys if they were concerned a settlement for their client could be diminished if contributory negligence was in play. It was a concept I’d recently learned either in a discussion or live session, but I had no idea my brain had latched on to it until it came flooding back at that moment.

One attorney asked if I was a law student, and I simply smiled. There have been moments like that where information just clicked, and it’s simply because this program had exposed me to the material.

As I start my final semester, I have a confession to make… I am privately dreading the moment when I won’t have cases to read and an argument to defend. How do you continue to hone those skills without a stack of readings, discussions to participate in, assignments to complete, and weekly live sessions? I ask those questions while chucking. Throughout the program I have picked up the phone and contacted professors for their legal analysis on stories I was covering. I predict these relationships will persist even after I graduate.

To learn more about the USC Gould Online MSL program, please visit

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