JMC to hold 14th Robert G. McGruder Award lecture

Conor Battles

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication will hold its 14th annual Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Lecture and Award Program March 2.

This year’s award recipients are Pulitzer Prize-winning Detroit Free Press editor Peter Bhatia and Kent State professor Gene Shelton.

“It’s an incredible honor to receive this award,” Bhatia said. “Bob (McGruder) was a friend and a colleague of mine, and he did so much for the industry and so much for Detroit, so to receive an award in his name is both moving and humbling to me.”

A trailblazer in media diversity, McGruder was the first African-American editor of the Kent Stater before repeating the feat at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Detroit Free Press and the Associated Press.

As the recipient of the McGruder Award, Bhatia will lecture students and faculty on his belief that the American press has failed to adequately provide opportunities for diverse leadership.

“There is lot of lip service paid to diversity, but candidly, I think this industry has failed, in a lot of ways, to actually create a diverse media,” Bhatia said. “It lost a lot of momentum in the last 10 years or so because of economic difficulties faced by the industry that took our eyes off of inclusion, but we’re beginning to be better about it.”

Bhatia said that the first step towards creating a more inclusive newsroom is to encourage more diverse students to pursue journalism education.

“Over the years there’s been talk of a ‘pipeline problem’ that limits students of color from studying journalism,” Bhatia said. “I think that’s an excuse, not a reason, and frankly I’m tired of excuses. If we truly want a more diverse workplace, we need to make that happen.”

Shelton is being awarded the Diversity in Media Distinguished Leadership award, and expressed similar feelings of gratitude towards the award and reverence for McGruder’s legacy.

“Every African-American journalist — every journalist, period — owes (McGruder) a great deal of thanks,” Shelton said. “All people, regardless of ethnicity, race, sexual orientation … we all need to be at the table.”

Shelton has worked with McGruder’s widow, Annette, to organize the award program since 2003. A Kent State journalism graduate himself, he believes talented journalists of color should have more opportunities to work in the press out of college.

“There are too many journalists who walk out of universities with a degree and aren’t working in the industry,” Shelton said. “They should be welcomed. They should be able to get hired.”

Conor Battles is a CCI and libraries reporter. Contact him at [email protected].