Al Jazeera America president selected as 2015 McGruder Award recipient

Jessica Darling

Kate O’Brian, current president of Al Jazeera America, has been selected as the recipient of the 12th Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture and Award for Diversity.

O’Brian, formerly of ABC News, will accept the award, presented by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), on Wednesday, April 1 at 2:15 p.m. in the Kiva.

The McGruder Awards represent a national platform for recognizing leadership and media diversity, said Stephanie Smith, assistant JMC professor.

“Al Jazeera America represents an important platform for media diversity and is providing some of the most essential and courageous journalism in our nation,” Smith said. “The network is giving voice to issues that were previously underserved or served only through a fairly narrow lens.”

O’Brian’s leadership at Al Jazeera America and ABC News has shown she is a representative of media diversity, Smith said.

“More than that, I believe she is a role model for the rising generation of journalists and professional communicators,” she said. “For all these reasons, I was a passionate advocate for her to receive this recognition.”

There have been women within the news industry, but O’Brian stands out more than most, said Thor Wasbotten, JMC director.

“It seems for Miss O’Brian to go from ABC, a U.S. media operation, to a global media operation like Al Jazeera, was a pretty significant step in accomplishment we want to honor through the McGruder Award,” Wasbotten said.

White males dominate the media industry, Wasbotten said, but O’Brian was able to rise through the ranks and become a high-ranking official within the media.

“Honestly, I worked really hard, and I did not let any instances of discrimination get in my way,” O’Brian said. “Even though I came across them over the years, I did not let them hold me back because hard work, dedication and excellence would propel me in the right direction.”

When O’Brian had originally started in the business and began to climb the ladder, she said it became more challenging to find other women in positions of authority.

“I think the world has changed a lot since I had started in the business 35 years ago, and I think it is a much more diverse business than it was,” O’Brian said. “However, it still has a long way to go.”

People are more aware of the importance of diversity in the newsroom, O’Brian said. There are many forms of diversity such as age, gender, race, background and geographical location.

“If you’re looking at a business being successful and really reaching out and resonating with an audience you have to respect the audience you are targeting,” O’Brian said. “The more diverse you can be inside the newsroom, the more successful you are outside the newsroom.”

Contact Jessica Darling at [email protected].