Kent State Names President of Al Jazeera America the 2015 McGruder Award for Media Diversity Winner

Notable casting director tapped for Media Distinguished Leadership Award

Notable casting director tapped for Media Distinguished Leadership Award

Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication has named Kate O’Brian, president of Al Jazeera America, the 2015 winner of the Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture and Award for Diversity. The award recognizes the accomplishments of media professionals who encourage diversity in the field of journalism.

Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication will honor O’Brian at an awards luncheon and lecture on Wednesday, April 1. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 2:15 p.m. at the Kent Student Center Kiva. O’Brian will be the keynote speaker at the lecture. Following her lecture, she will be presented with the Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity.

Lillian Pyles, one of the most familiar and respected names in the Cleveland casting industry with film credits such as “Spider Man III,” “Antwone Fisher” and “The Soloist,” will be recognized at the annual McGruder luncheon as the 2015 Diversity in Media Distinguished Leadership Award winner. The luncheon is by invitation only and will include comments by Pyles. Special awards will be given to student media representatives who have reported on diversity issues in the past year.

The lecture and luncheon are co-sponsored by Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Todd Diacon, Ph.D., Kent State’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost; Alfreda Brown, Ed.D., vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion; AnnMarie LeBlanc, interim dean of the College of Communication and Information; and Thor Wasbotten, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will speak at the luncheon. Special guest Annette McGruder will be recognized for her continued support of diversity initiatives and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

About Kate O’Brian
Since she was named president of Al Jazeera America in 2013, O’Brian oversees all editorial content, both broadcast and online, including news hours, prime-time programming and documentary series.

An Emmy Award-winning journalist, O’Brian worked at ABC News for nearly 30 years before Al Jazeera America. Starting as a television desk assistant in New York, she worked her way up to senior vice president of newsgathering operations. In her role as a senior vice president, O’Brian was responsible for overseeing all ABC News bureaus worldwide; business, law and justice, medical and investigative units; and NewsOne, ANC News Radio and affiliate relations.

At ABC News, O’Brian also served as the general manager of programming for ABC News Radio, overseas field producer in Rome and London, producer for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and manager in talent development.

Throughout her career, O’Brian won multiple awards, including two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards and an Emmy Award.

O’Brian graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in literature. She is currently married with two daughters.

About Lillian Pyles
While living in New York City, Pyles began her film and television career as an assistant production coordinator and production secretary on numerous television and feature film projects, working with directors including Gordon Parks, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Mazursky, Sidney Lumet, Michael Schultz and Forest Whitaker.

Moving up through the ranks and learning the business from the ground up, she became a production coordinator on many popular films including “Do The Right Thing” with Spike Lee and “New Jack City” with Mario Van Peebles.

Pyles also coordinated an AIDS benefit for New York’s Hale House, supervised guest relations for Radio City Music Hall and was an account executive for Elizabeth Taylor for whom she handled publicity for the launch of Passion for Men Cologne. Pyles also provided the research for Maurice Hines’ Broadway musical “Uptown…It’s Hot.”

After spending 25 years in New York City, she moved to Hollywood and worked in the industry five years before returning to Cleveland. Her industry experience and knowledge made her one of the most familiar and respected names in the Cleveland casting industry. Her recent casting contributions include notable films such as “Against The Ropes,” “Lilith,” “Life’s Poison,” “Take Shelter,” “Fun Size,” “The Kings of Summer,” “Speechless” and “Underdogs,” among others. Included in her professional career are many shorts, independents, industrials and commercials.

About Robert McGruder
The late Robert G. McGruder was a 1963 graduate of Kent State and a foundational local figure for diversity in journalism.

He went on from Kent State to become the first black editor of the Daily Kent Stater and first black reporter at The Plain Dealer. McGruder marked several other firsts in his career, becoming the first black president of the Associated Press Managing Editors group and the first black editor of the Detroit Free Press, in 1995 and 1996.

McGruder was a strong proponent for diversity in and out of the newsroom: “Please know that I stand for diversity,” he said once. “I represent the African-Americans, Latinos, Arab-Americans, Asians, Native Americans, gays and lesbians, women and all others we must see represented in our business offices, newsrooms and newspapers.”

For more information about the Robert G. McGruder Award or event, contact Eugene Shelton, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, at

About Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Now in its 78th year, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University offers majors that prepare students for careers in the rapidly changing media and communication industries. The school emphasizes relevant training at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that balances both conceptual and practical courses, professional opportunities and multiple internships. Kent State’s core curriculum gives students a strong background in the liberal arts to complement the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s professional training. 

For more information about Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, visit

# # #

Media Contacts:
Jennifer Kramer,, 330-672-1960
Emily Vincent,, 330-672-8595

POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 04:49 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 19, 2015 02:14 PM
Jennifer Kramer