Executive Director

Caty Borum

Caty Borum is an award-winning media producer, book author, professor, and engaged scholar working at the intersection of entertainment storytelling, documentary, creative culture, and social justice. She serves as Executive Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), a creative innovation lab and research center housed at American University’s School of Communication that produces, showcases, and studies media and social change; she is also a tenured Associate Professor in the School of Communication. Her first book, A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, with co-author Lauren Feldman (foreword by Norman Lear), was published by University of California Press (2020) as the launch of the first Communication for Social Justice Activism series. Her second book, Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change, published by Oxford University Press (2020), was recognized with the 2021 Broadcast Education Association Book Award. Her forthcoming book, entitled The Revolution Will Be Hilarious: Comedy for Social Change and Civic Power (NYU Press) is in press and will publish in early 2023. In 2021, she won American University’s annual “Outstanding Scholarship, Research, Creative Activity, and Other Professional Contributions Award,” a refereed honor that recognizes extraordinary faculty achievement.

In 2019, in partnership with cultural strategy group Moore + Associates and Comedy Central, Borum co-founded the Yes, And Laughter Lab, a first-of-its-kind creative incubator of comedy for social justice, establishing robust partnerships across the entertainment industry, including Netflix, Amazon, NBC Universal, ViacomCBS, and leading social justice organizations. Also under leadership, CMSI launched the Comedy ThinkTanks and GoodLaugh programs, which bring together professional comedians and social justice organizations for co-creation, convenings, and research. As a documentary producer, her films and TV programs have aired internationally and nationally, across TV, streaming, and theaters. In 2020, she was named to DOC NYC’s inaugural list of New Documentary Leaders, a peer-selected award given to 16 members of the global documentary industry who have made a substantial positive impact on the field.

Borum’s creative media production and research has been supported by grants and funders including the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, National Endowment for the Arts, Luminate, Open Society Foundations, Perspective Fund, Pop Culture Collaborative, Comedy Central, McNulty Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, Doris Duke Foundation, Independent Television Service, Argosy Foundation, Paramount Global, the Fledging Fund, and others.

Prior to her academic life, Borum was senior vice president in the social impact practice group at FleishmanHillard International Communications in Washington, D.C., where she served on the senior leadership team that won the communication industry’s highest honor, the Silver Anvil for Public Service. In Los Angeles, she was a longtime collaborator with legendary TV producer and philanthropist/activist Norman Lear, where she served as a philanthropy director and producer. She was also the program officer in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Entertainment Media & Public Health program, where she managed HIV-awareness partnership program production, TV specials and PSA campaigns with MTV and BET; project director and researcher at the Center for Media Education; and fellow in civic journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the U.S. and around the world, Professor Borum is a featured speaker and thought-leader on the topic of entertainment storytelling and social justice at high-level social-change conferences. Her peer-reviewed research on the intersection of entertainment storytelling, documentary, comedy and social change is featured in leading academic journals, and her scholarship has been recognized with top awards from the International Communication Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Frank Scholar convening for social change communication.

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