Al-Jazeera America president stresses diversity in newsroom in McGruder lecture


Thor Wasbotten, Kate O’Brian and Annette McGruder

Jessica Darling

Kate O’Brian, president of Al Jazeera America, spoke of diversity not only in the newsroom, but also in her personal life on Wednesday, as the recipient of the Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture and Award for Diversity.

The McGruder Award recognizes leadership and diversity of media professionals in the journalism field.

“Our society is a multicultural society and getting more so every day,” O’Brian said, “in which diversity of the American experience must be respected by those who report on it and tell the story of us.”

In order for journalists to be effective in their reporting, there must be different perspectives in newsrooms, O’Brian said. 

KSU McGruder Award presented to Al-Jazeera America president from on Vimeo.

“The more we continue on this path of diversity stasis, the worse it gets for the public, not just for us,” O’Brian said. “It is simply good business to represent our audiences. To gain more audience, we must effectively tell stories of the community, tell stories of the people who will be buying our paper, turning on our channel or clicking on our website.”

Students agreed with O’Brian’s thoughts on diversity.

“I believe the more diversity we have, the more people will understand about each other, and it’s going to help the world,” said Maura McGough, freshman visual communication design major.

When growing up, O’Brian said she had not considered herself unequal. Her parents treated her no differently due to her gender and also taught her a respect for reading, writing and global awareness, O’Brian said.

“It had never occurred to me that I would not be afforded equal consideration with anybody else as I moved from the academic environment to the professional one,” she said.

The subtle forms of discrimination O’Brian faced in the newsroom came as a shock to her.

“An older gentlemen in the newsroom actually said to me, without joking, that he preferred the days when the ‘broads’ were not in broadcasting,” O’Brian said. “It was a management of white men for white men.”

Some students said they were amazed by her honesty and openness about the topic.

“I felt like she was really being honest,” said Braylon Lee, sophomore applied communication major. “She gave us a very open perspective that we don’t see on television. The fact that she had the confidence to do that was amazing.” 

O’Brian later went on to discuss how to create a more diverse environment in the workplace.

“You are the future leaders and change agents,” O’Brian said. “Take that seriously. If not you and me, who will do it? If it’s not you and me, then who will stand up for change in your workplaces? Doing it together is the only way to move forward.”

Contact Jessica Darling at [email protected].