NPR radio host inspires students at McGruder awards


Tanzina Vega speaks to students at the 15th annual Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Lecture and Award Program on Wednesday.

Olivia Herold

Improving diversity has become a common trend in today’s media.

Tanzina Vega, host of New York’s “The Takeaway,” spoke to students and faculty about diversity gaps and advice for student journalists during the 15th Annual Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Lecture and Award program on Wednesday.

Vega is an Emmy award winning journalist and has worked in various newsrooms such as CNN, Billboard Magazine and The New York Times.

Vega covered what she considers the three prominent gaps in the media: wealth, truth and empathy.

She touched upon the wealth gap, explaining that her core job as a journalist is to approach inequality and look through multiple perspectives of inequality, because it’s not just an individual issue.

“When we talk about the wealth gap in the United States, on average, white families have 13 times more wealth than black families and around 11 times more wealth than Latino families,” Vega said.

Vega also told students her first rule for young journalists— pay attention.

“We live in a world where everything seems to be going at breakneck speed,” Vega said. “News breaks and it seems like within minutes there’s a response, an article or a think piece is published, then another and then another.”

Her second rule for journalists is to “trust your gut.” Vega said that she trusted her gut when she approached her executive editor at The New York Times and mentioned her idea to do coverage around race and ethnicity.

“I was inside television studios in Hollywood and I met everyone from the Reverend Jessie Jackson to the national of Islam,” Vega said. “Then I went on to cover these topics (Black Lives Matter and gun control) at CNN and now at WNYC. Trust your gut.”

Vega lastly spoke about the media’s empathy gap and encouraged students to search for deeper stories.

“Many of you will be working for local news outlets and there is a dearth in these spaces,” Vega said. “You may have to wait in front of hospitals for hours, you may have to stand in police stations in the snow and community meetings in the heat and those are your opportunities to get real stories.”

Several awards were also handed out to students who submitted work in the area of diversity in journalism.

Jeff Fruit, the interim director for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, announced this year’s Robert G. McGruder Student Award winner Brandon Bounds, a senior journalism major.

Bounds took home the award for his work on “The State of Hate Roadtrip” for the Carnegie-Knight News21 program.

Bounds’ winning entry was based around a country-wide trip he and a team of journalists went on to uncover hate in America.

“I was with a team of journalists, and we did a road trip across the country to talk to different people in small towns and get their take on hate in America,” Bounds said. “We talked to over 150 people and we visited 23 states, we traveled 7,000 miles. It’s interactive so we showed clips of who we talked to, pictured and video as well.”

Stephanie Smith, a professional-in-residence at Kent State, recognized Jamal Khashoggi as the first recipient of the Global McGruder Award. Khashoggi was a journalist who covered Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait and the Middle East who passed away on October 2018.

Khashoggi pushed the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, publishing pieces criticizing Saudi Arabia’s policies. He was then exiled to Washington, D.C. and became a columnist for The Washington Post.

Khashoggi died inside the Saudi Consulate after going inside to obtain documents to be married to his fiancé the next day.

“Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and a United States resident wrote about oppression, repression and especially the suppression of ideas and speech, things that matter to the diverse people everywhere, especially those who are voiceless and disenfranchised,” Smith said.

Olivia is the CCI reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

Editor’s note: Brandon Bounds works for the Kent Stater as an assigning editor.