Annual journalism lecture encourages diversity among media

India Said

Thursday’s 13th annual Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Lecture and Award Program in Kent State’s Kiva honored notable journalists for showing leadership and making an impact in diversity.

Award recipients included former NBC executive Paula Madison, who received the Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture and 2016 McGruder Award, and Plain Dealer columnist Phillip Morris, who received the Diversity Leadership Award.

Thor Wasbotten, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, presented Madison with her award for accomplishments in media diversity.

Madison wasn’t interested in stories such as car chases, according to Wasbotten. She cared more about community issues and wanted to get more of those stories out in the media.

Madison said coming from a Jamaican and Chinese background, she always knew she should embrace who she is and know her lineage.

“The whole notion of journalism is, it’s a history book,” Madison said. “It’s a portion of a life-long, ongoing history book. In my own family, there were pages — and pages —missing. We have to know where we’re from.”

Before beginning her speech, she showed a four-minute clip from her documentary “Finding Samuel Lowe.” The documentary displayed her journey to find her Chinese grandfather, and learning her family’s history.

When first introduced to the idea of becoming a journalist, Madison asked one thing: “Black people have those jobs?” So, following her friend’s advice, she attended journalism school, she said.

In her youth, journalism wasn’t a typical career choice for an African-American. But, when news sources needed stories in rougher neighborhoods — such as Harlem, New York — African-American journalists received their big break, according to Madison.

Madison said that her mother always taught her, “You have a voice; you will always have a voice. Don’t let anybody shut you up.”

According to Madison, diversity often falls to the bottom of the list in the newsroom.

Manny Jackson, a junior public relations major, agreed with the lack of diversity in the media.

“I believe it is a growing effort — like many things — but I still think we have a lot of room for improvement to have diversity in media,” Jackson said.

Madison encouraged journalists to go into communities and get deeper stories in order to relate to the community.

“How are you going to relate to the people who don’t look like you,” she said. “Reflect what is in the community by going into the community.”

Savana MacCarthy, a senior broadcast journalism major, said there needs to be diverse reporters too.

“You can’t have a bunch of people that only look one way trying to report all the different things that happen in the world,” McCarthy said.

Madison said In the African-American community, it’s hard to find credibility in a news anchor who does not look the same as them.

She added that in order to tell a story correctly from the perspective of the ones who need their help, one must put themselves in their place and “eavesdrop.”

“if you want to give a voice to the voiceless, you have got to venture out of your comfort zone,” Madison said.

Madison ended by saying millennials today are in the era where race has “probably never been discussed as much in this country since the Civil Rights era,” and the way to bring a positive outcome is having conversation about it.

“We have to figure it out,” she said. “You figure out how to bring people together to to have these conversations. One of the worst things that can happen to you is to be presented with an opportunity and not be able to take advantage of it.”

India Said is a diversity reporter, contact her at [email protected].