First female McGruder award winner says diversity is a priority in newsrooms

Brittany Thoma

Michelle Singletary speaks yesterday afternoon in the Kiva before receiving the Robert G. McGruder award. The award honors media leaders who display the same fervent commitment to diversity that Robert G. McGruder a 1963 Kent State graduate. GAVIN JACKSON

Credit: DKS Editors

The fifth annual Robert G. McGruder Diversity Luncheon, Lecture and Awards Ceremony honored Michelle Singletary yesterday at the Kiva as the first female recipient of the McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture Award.

A nationally syndicated finance columnist, Singletary is also an established author and hosts her own financial reality show. She may be an accomplished woman, but Singletary said she was humbled to receive this award in an interview prior to the lecture.

“This is something I do naturally,” Singletary said. “But to be honored by a man who made it his personal mission to diversify newsrooms, has a special place in my heart.”

McGruder was the first black Daily Kent Stater editor and first black reporter at The Plain Dealer, both in 1963. After his death in 2002, Kent State created a scholarship in his name and the Distinguished Guest Lecture Award to commemorate how he championed diversity in the journalism industry.

In Singletary’s presentation, she explained how her childhood played a vital role in her career success. Singletary, along with her four siblings, was raised by her stingy grandma, “Big Mama,” who ran the household on a $13,000 yearly income.

“Big Mama could make the Lincoln on a penny scream,” Singletary said.

All through college and the earlier part of her career, Singletary said she dealt with adversity because her race.

“I had a college editor I just wanted to strangle,” Singletary said. “She gave all the white reporters better stories.”

The day after USA Today denied Singletary a position in 1992 for “not being good enough,” The Washington Post offered her a job partially because of her experience in bankruptcy. Singletary said she was also hired to get a larger black audience to read the finance section.

It was at The Post that Singletary’s editor pushed her to find her voice as a writer.

“My voice may be distinctly black, but my column attracted blacks, whites, Latinos and Jews alike, she said. “Everyone seemed to relate to my column.”

Singletary’s award-winning column, “The Color of Money,” began in 1997 and now runs in more than 140 newspapers nationwide.

Ending her speech, Singletary became emotional as she emphasized the importance of diversity in journalism.

“Hiring people with minority backgrounds brings a voice to the newsroom that can change people’s lives.”

After a few seconds to regain composure, she added an apology.

“I’m sorry for getting so choked up. I’m not used to talking about my race. I’m more comfortable talking about how cheap I am. But this really does matter.”

Before the lecture, Susan Goldberg was presented with the Diversity in Media Distinguished Leadership Award for making diversity a priority in her newsroom at the private luncheon in the Student Center.

Goldberg was named editor of The Plain Dealer six months ago and said she has plans to diversify the newsroom so its “more inclusive and reflective of the Cleveland community.”

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Brittany Thoma at [email protected].