Hannah Yasharoff: USA Today Wellness & Celebrity Culture Reporter

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those reports on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. Today we are talking with wellness and celebrity culture reporter Hannah Yasharoff. Hannah has been with USA Today for five years where she’s reported on topics in entertainment and wellness, including covering the White House Correspondents Dinner, visiting the set of Sesame Street, and frequently writing about the bigger picture of why entertainment and entertainers matter, and what they can teach us more broadly about our culture and ourselves. Welcome, Hannah.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  00:55

Hi, thank you for having me.

 

Angela Tuell  00:56

Yes, I’m excited. I must start with what you said about how entertainment and entertainers matter, and that they can teach us about our culture and ourselves. I love that insight. You know, please tell us more.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  01:12

Sure, yeah. So I spent the bulk of my career in journalism, looking at entertainment, as you mentioned, sort of the bigger picture of what it can teach us about our culture. And then for the past few months, I’ve been writing about the intersection of entertainment and wellness, which has been really exciting and interesting, just because there’s so many, so many different things to talk about from celebrities speaking out about mental health or physical health issues to wellness influencers, spreading this information on Tik Tok to what certain issues going viral sort of says about the psychology of everyone involved.

 

Angela Tuell  01:46

So how does entertainment – or what does entertainment – teach us about our culture and ourselves?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  01:53

Yeah, I think it can, it can say a lot of different things, which is another fun thing about this job is that you know, stories can teach us a lot. I think there are times when you know, the things that we pay attention to can sort of tell us what we’re missing, or, you know, give a lens into what we’re talking about. I wrote a story about the Netflix show Beef, which was sort of about a road rage incident gone terribly wrong. And it’s, I think that the fascination, the fascination that so many people had with it was sort of like, the anger in that show was real. And so how can we, how can we look at the fact that we were all obsessed with this show about anger and rage in the lens of 2023, where a lot of people are experiencing anger and rage, and sort of how we can, how we can be better to ourselves.

 

Angela Tuell  02:46

Yeah, so we can all relate in some way to these national entertainment types or celebrities. And even if it’s not the exact same lifestyle, or what it may be. There’s relatable things there.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  03:00

Exactly.

 

Angela Tuell  03:01

Yeah. So you mentioned you didn’t start and how was this beat different than what you started in at USA Today?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  03:09

Sure. Yeah. So I started at USA Today as an intern the summer before my senior year, covering mostly entertainment there. And then was really fortunate that they were hiring for an entertainment and travel breaking news reporter right before I graduated. So I spent a lot of time sort of in those two areas and then moved to focus solely on entertainment and celebrity culture for a while before moving into this new hybrid role adding wellness.

 

Angela Tuell  03:39

Yeah, okay. Okay. So did you know that you wanted to do entertainment when you were in school for journalism?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  03:45

I knew that I wanted to be a on the writing side of news for sure. But I actually thought I wanted to be a sports writer. You can tell from my voice, but I’m six two and I grew up playing basketball and really wanted to go down that path for a while. But somewhere along the way, I sort of realized that the way that my friends in sports journalism were talking about sports was the way that I talked about entertainment….(inaudible) there.

 

Angela Tuell  04:12

Yeah, that’s great. So what inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  04:17

Part of it was my parents for most of their careers worked in sports media. But yeah, most of the time when I was growing up, I totally did not want to follow in their footsteps. But I joined my high school newspaper, junior year and totally fell in love with the storytelling and the rush of deadlines and working with other creative passionate people and never looked back.

 

Angela Tuell  04:42

That’s great. What did they do specifically?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  04:45

My mom’s in sports PR and my dad is on the TV producing side.

 

Angela Tuell  04:52

Okay, wow, that’s great. So you did grow up all around it. You knew the negatives of getting into it and the positives.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  04:58

Exactly, I knew that ours were weird and long, but they both love what they do as well.

 

Angela Tuell  05:05

That’s great. Yeah, it’s wonderful to have a career that you’re so passionate about. You know, a lot of people can’t say that. So –

 

Hannah Yasharoff  05:12

No. I feel really lucky.

 

Angela Tuell  05:13

Yes, and I have to mention that you are a fellow University of Maryland College of Journalism alumni. Which we didn’t know each other there, obviously, but I’ve met and I always love to highlight fellow Terps. So, yes, yes. So what have you learned about covering celebrity culture during the time that you’ve covered it? And is it what you thought it would be?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  05:38

Ooh I don’t think so. I, um, when I decided that I wanted to be an entertainment writer, I think I was thinking more along the lines of wanting to be like a film or a TV critic. But most of the time, when you start out in this area, you start with covering sort of the breaking and trending entertainment news, which a lot of the time is celebrity focused. So going into that I sort of saw that as a way to learn more about the industry rather than an end all be all. But I sort of, I fell in love with it because of the bigger conversations we had. Like I said, like, I think what we pay attention to matters. And that’s not always super highbrow stuff. But I think we can have really interesting intellectual conversations about things that aren’t necessarily highbrow. So I wouldn’t advocate for only reading the entertainment celebrities outlet, but I think it’s an important part of life and something worth paying attention to and talking about.

 

Angela Tuell  06:34

Yeah, that’s a really good, great way to look at it. You know, it’s pretty significant for your first job out of college to be at such a large national outlet. So congratulations by the way. What did you learn that you didn’t expect when you began your career?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  06:49

This is sort of a small thing, but I never expected to love the interview process. When I first started writing for my high school newspaper, calling someone on the phone was like absolutely the end of the world. I was really shy and afraid of talking to people and that was just terrifying. And so I think that’s one reason why the idea of being a critic, you know, was appealing, where you’re not doing interviews all the time. But I’ve come to love them. I think it’s one of the coolest parts of my job that I can just call up people who are the smartest people in their fields and just get to pick their brains for a while. But yeah, so fun.

 

Angela Tuell  07:25

I didn’t think about that. It’s even harder for this generation like you to do that when you did it grow up that way as well. With the texting and the electronics, even more so than picking up a phone. So that could be even tougher. Yeah. Are there any particular journalists or media professionals, besides your parents who have inspired or influenced your career?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  07:46

Yes, Emily Yaer, who’s an entertainment writer for The Washington Post. She was one of the first writers who was writing about specific things in entertainment that I was interested in, in a way that sort of made me realize like, Oh, I could do that too. Or, you know, I have ideas worth writing about. I think her writing is just so smart and fun to read. Caity Weaver is a writer for the New York Times, and every single thing she writes is my favorite thing I’ve ever read. Like a 5000-word essay about her. I think she’s just such a good reminder that every time he write, it’s an opportunity to be creative and thoughtful. So she’s great. And then Christine Brennan, who’s a sports columnist at USA Today, and a family friend as well. She has I mean, she’s such a trailblazer for women in sports, and was such a beacon to me when I was starting out, thinking I wanted to do sports and feeling very surrounded by men covering sports. And still such a role model for me today. I think she’s just so fearless with the way she pursues stories and holds people accountable and also lifts up the people around her.

 

Angela Tuell  08:59

Yes, those are great ones. I would love if you’d share some memorable experiences or stories you’ve worked on while at USA Today.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  09:07

Short. So one, recently that was super memorable. I visited the set of Sesame Street earlier this year for a story. It was for Black History Month talking about how Sesame Street was created really intentionally for young black viewers to have positive representation on TV at a time when there was hardly any. That was one of my favorite things that I’ve ever gotten to do. Like from a storytelling perspective, it was so much fun to put it all together and speak to people who are really passionate about carrying on that mission. But then getting to supplement that reporting and storytelling with anecdotes from the actual set, which is in New York and a lot smaller than you might think and full of Muppets. That was one that I will never forget.

 

Angela Tuell  09:55

Yeah. Did you watch Sesame Street as a child or that was probably way before your – or reruns?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  10:01

Yeah, I did. I loved Elmo. I got a little starstruck seeing Elmo to be honest.

 

Angela Tuell  10:07

That’s awesome. Any examples, I know that a lot of them are more positive, upbeat, you know, type stories, but any examples of difficult stories and how you navigated them.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  10:20

I’m not thinking of any specific examples, but I think, you know, I really want to do every story I write justice. And as a perfectionist who has, you know, tight deadlines that can sometimes feel really difficult. But I think, you know, in terms of navigating it, you know, as long as you’re talking to really smart people who are experts in what you’re writing about and checking your facts, I feel really blessed to have a really smart, talented editor. I think all of those things are, you know, recipes for success when it comes to navigating a story that might be a little bit more difficult.

 

Angela Tuell  10:54

Yes, I think perfectionists thrive as journalists. So how do you manage the demands and pressures of being a journalist and the deadlines?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  11:03

I think finding a balance has been the biggest thing for me, I, I absolutely love what I do. But that does not mean that I should spend every waking moment thinking about work. So, I think, you know, working really hard during the day, but then going for a long walk or going to spin class or grabbing dinner with friends or facing, FaceTiming my sister after sort of remembering that I am a person outside of this job that I love.

 

Angela Tuell  11:30

Yeah, that’s great. That’s good advice, too. I have to say, your Tik Tok videos show you living quite the life in Washington, DC. And since I’ve lived there before, I completely jealous watching them. But you know, as you know, social media and instant news fuel journalism today. So how do you navigate all of it, you know, and engage and connect with your readers and do your job of writing and interviewing and all of that?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  11:57

Yeah, it’s, it’s an interesting medium where it’s not directly connected, but it does sort of feel increasingly necessary. Yeah. And I think the ultimate goal is wanting to, you know, be there to get good information into the hands of the people who want it. In my role, I think I can, you know, have a little bit more fun with that sometimes, like, you know, when I can make a meme or reference a Tik Tok trend, or actually, like, get in on a Tik Tok trend to go along with the story, I think that can go a long way with, you know, engaging with, you know, the people you’re trying to deliver the information to.

 

Angela Tuell  12:34

Yeah, you know, as you’ve mentioned, and I’ve seen you cover everything from Sesame Street to NFL players to angry brides, TikTok challenges. How do you choose your stories?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  12:46

Ooh Yeah. That’s one of the most exciting things to me, I go into every week, not totally knowing what I’m going to be covering. And it could stay on, as you said, like a very wide range of topics. So it’s a combination of me pitching ideas, and my editor assigning ideas, and sometimes those stories are spun off of the news of the day. Other times, they’re cultural trends that I’ve noticed in my own life or, or on social media. Yeah. And sometimes they’re more evergreen things that, you know, I’m wondering about or have heard other people asking about.

 

Angela Tuell  13:21

Yeah, yeah, that’s great. So looking ahead, what trends or developments do you anticipate in entertainment and wellness industries that may impact what you do for a living?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  13:32

Ooh. I’ve been really interested in reporting on the influencer industry, which I think has been covered a lot from sort of business and tech angles. But I’m really interested in the celebrity aspect, like whether you like it or not, these people are celebrities. Yeah. And that evolution of fame is super interesting to me, and definitely something that I’ve adapted to include in coverage. And I think we’ll only be seeing more of that. It’d like to continue to look different. Like if we were talking about this a few years ago, it would have been YouTubers or Instagram influencers, and now it’s TikTokers. But the idea of someone being famous on the internet is not a novelty anymore, or something that, you know, the mainstream culture is, is or should be avoided.

 

Angela Tuell  14:18

Yes, I saw an article yesterday about D influencers and the trend, of having either being the ones who are talking out against brands or things like that, and calling them D influencers, which I thought was kind of kind of cool.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  14:33

Yeah, I think we’re in this interesting era of influencers being prominent and not going away, but people are sort of demanding more from the people they follow. Yeah. Which is bringing about things like D influencing, which I think is really fascinating.

 

Angela Tuell  14:48

Yeah, it is it is definitely. So I’m also assuming that visuals are important in your work. You know, we’d love to hear more on that.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  14:56

Yeah, I think as a writer, they’re not always the first thing that comes To my mind, really an important aspect of every story I’m doing. So if it’s, you know, if I’m writing about a news event, or a celebrity, or a TV show that has timely images that we can add to a story, you know, that’s one thing or more of an evergreen wellness feature where I might need to find like a generic stock image that we have the rights to. Sometimes if I’m working on like a more in-depth story, we can get our design team involved. And we can sort of work together to paint a picture of what cool designs might give that story, a visual boost. You’ve been an amazing social media team that creates really cool graphics. So I do feel really lucky to work with really creative people who can sort of add that to my stories as well.

 

Angela Tuell  15:47

Yes, it’s great to have a team like that, for sure. And your audience is really national, right? How do you – when you’re writing a story, who do you kind of write to?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  15:58

I think everyone to a certain extent, like, like you said, dance really is national. And so it’s, it’s not quite as simple as you know, targeting folks in the DC area who are looking for cool rooftop bars, which is another thing I’m passionate about, but I love but um, yeah, you know, I think I’m most interested in sharing ideas with, you know, people who are interested in reading them. And so that can look like a lot of different people. But definitely, you know, thinking about a diverse group of readers when I’m writing.

 

Angela Tuell  16:35

Yeah, yeah. What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of being a journalist?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  16:40

I think it’s just getting to tell stories for a living. Like, that’s so amazing to me every single day, I’ve always been a huge reader and movie watcher and someone who really values storytelling and news. And so getting to do that every day just makes me feel super, super lucky.

 

Angela Tuell  16:59

Yes, yes. Can you tell us what you’re working on currently?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  17:03

Sure. I’m, There’s one story I’m working on today that I will probably be published by the time this airs. It’s about people on TikTok spreading misinformation about sexual health practices. So I’m an avid TikTok user and there are a lot of great life hacks on there. But unfortunately, also a lot of health misinformation. And so this is sort of trying to clear up, you know, clear that up and offer alternative suggestions for some of the most talked about issues on there. Later this week, I’m working on a story about celebrities attending the White House State Dinner. So again, like a really wide range of topics, which is really fun.

 

Angela Tuell  17:42

Yeah. So we’ll have to link to those. Once we, once we publish this. I know something I always talk to my children about is not believing everything, social media, finding the sources, and where it’s coming from for sure. How can PR professionals help you do your job? And do you have any pet peeves when it comes to them?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  18:03

So I think this is something that like totally differs depending on you know, the beat and the reporter and the outlet. For me, particularly when I’m writing wellness stories, I think I’ve gotten the most help from PR professionals who reach out at some point and say, Hey, I’ve got this expert who can speak to XYZ issues. And then it might be six months or a year before I’m working on a story where I actually need an expert in that field to comment. If it’s in my inbox, I will come back, you know, if and when it’s relevant. I totally get that most of the time when someone in PR is following up like five times it’s their client asking for that and not them. So I won’t, you know, get mad at that. But I think it’s helpful to know maybe that, you know, I see the pitches I get and when they are relevant to stories to what I’m covering, I will come back I promise.

 

Angela Tuell  18:53

Yes. Because you just can’t respond to everything. I’m sure you get a ton. So what advice would you give – because you’re not, I mean, you’re about five years out of college. Right?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  19:02

Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  19:03

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists who are just starting their careers?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  19:08

I would say write as much as you can, but then shut your laptop and live your life. You know, when I was in college writing, you know, a bunch of stories for campus publications and internships was a huge part of my development. But I had no sense of boundaries when it came to writing, and recording when I was just starting out. Because at that point, it was something that I did for fun on the side. And so when it becomes actual work, you know, you can still work hard, but also respect your own time and know that your job is not actually who you are.

 

Angela Tuell  19:45

Good advice. Before we go I would love to know more about your hobbies or interests outside of journalism, as you’re mentioning.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  19:52

Yes. So I have mentioned a few of these, but I love to read and try new restaurants. Love a spin class or a yoga class or going on a long walk, and many of those things I would not have been able to tell you a few a few years ago because I really don’t have that many interests outside journalism. So again, advice, get hobbies that have nothing to do with work.

 

Angela Tuell  20:15

Love that. Love that. How can our listeners connect with you online?

 

Hannah Yasharoff  20:19

Oh, sure. So I’m @HannahYasharoff on most social media platforms. And then I if you look up Hannah Yasharoff, USA Today, that’s where you can find most of my stories.

 

Angela Tuell  20:32

Wonderful. Thank you so much, Hannah.

 

Hannah Yasharoff  20:34

Thank you for having me. This was so much fun.

 

Angela Tuell  20:39

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Hannah shares her journalism journey in today’s episode.  Listen as she talks with Angela about childhood influences, favorite writers and the impact of Tik Tok and influencers in today’s culture. 

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