Susan K. Barnett, an Emmy-nominated investigative journalist (ABC News magazines Prime Time Live, 20/20, and Dateline NBC) now consults with leaders and nonprofits at the nexus of media/communications/advocacy. Susan works with a diverse range of secular and faith-based organizations and leaders committed to domestic issues that include: race, economic equality, immigration, LGBTQ, gender equality, reproductive health, gun safety, prison reform, climate change, religious freedom and more. International focus is on global health and development, humanitarian assistance, access to safe water and sanitation.
A bit more about me:
I was fortunate enough to spend 16 years as an investigative producer/director, working for some of the most successful broadcast newsmagazines in U.S. television history: Prime Time Live, 20/20 (ABC News), and Dateline (NBC News). It was a time when our shows were drawing audiences in the millions with in-depth, longform reporting. I traveled to nearly every state to report and produce stories on a wide range of topics that made real impact: the lack of quality affordable daycare, abuse of migrant labor by the U.S. government, the deregulation of the federal meat inspection program, congressional conflicts-of-interest, the American puppy mill industry, aviation safety, labor and food abuses at the fastest growing grocery chain, and dozens more.
When I left the networks, frankly, I wasn't sure what to do next. But broadcast journalism was changing and I wanted a change, too. So I started talking to people in the broader world of communications and one by one, they told me that I "thought differently." It seems, even though I had left the profession of journalism, I could never stop thinking like a journalist. I've found that strategic communications puts my journalism experience to work, increasing impact with targeted messaging that capitalizes on clean writing, skilled editing, and compelling storytelling.
One of my favorite quotes:
"No one ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart."
- Andy Goodman, media guru
Then one day, a rabbi walks into the Vatican... and this is where my career change starts to sound like a bar joke.
But it's true, I got a call to help an American rabbi who taught at a Pontifical University in Rome. He had been close to Pope John Paul II who had just passed away. This rabbi wanted to make sure that this pope's history-changing work in interreligious dialogue, which had dramatically improved relations between Jews and Catholics, didn't get lost in events. And that is what started a niche specialty: working at the nexus of media, faith and social justice advocacy. Faith leaders and organizations can provide a thoughtful and inclusive voice and lens that influences important domestic and international issues.
Of course, I work with plenty of secular organizations, too, as well as leaders and authors.
Then I bumped into the global water crisis. Access to the safety and dignity of safe drinking water and a toilet for the billions of people that have neither has become my lifelong passion, and is integrated into numerous projects.
And I didn't give up production completely:
In West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), I produced/directed a 2-part film series, in Indonesian, linking the rainforest to local health, which has helped efforts to stop almost all illegal logging in one Borneo’s last great rainforests, and has been shown nationwide.
This follows my role as "first-in" producer of the award-winning documentary, No Place On Earth, the story of the longest underground survival in recorded history, set against the backdrop of WWII Ukraine. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, was distributed by Magnolia Pictures, and has been seen on six continents in theatres, festivals and on television, and is stilling traveling the world today.
I also sit on a couple nonprofit boards, really unique and impactful organizations that I just have to plug here!
Art for Refugees in Transition (A.R.T.) builds community and identity through indigenous art in multi-generational refugee settings
Kula for Karma works with at-risk communities with yoga, meditation and stress management programs to address mental health, trauma, and addiction
I started my career at the nonprofit Better Government Association, BGA, a government watchdog group in Chicago. I graduated from Northwestern University (go Cats!) and am a stubborn optimist, which leads me to my favorite quote:
"Never give up. No one knows what's going to happen next."
- Dorothy, 1904