Al Jazeera America President Named 2015 McGruder Award for Media Diversity Winner

Notable Casting Director Tapped for Media Distinguished Leadership Award

Kate O’Brian, president of Al Jazeera America, has been named the 2015 winner of the Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture and Award for Diversity by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University. 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 Wednesday, April 1.

Lillian Pyles, one of the most familiar and respected names in the Cleveland casting industry with film credits like “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 and lecture are co-sponsored by Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

About the event

Awards luncheon
Noon., Wednesday, April 1
Rm. 306, Kent Student Center
By invitation only

The luncheon will include comments by Pyles, and special awards will be given to student media representatives who have reported on diversity issues in the past year.

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.

McGruder Lecture
2:15 p.m., Wednesday, April 1
Kiva, Kent Student Center
Free and open to the public

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.

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; 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 like “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. Lillian 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.”

Byron Pitts, ABC News Anchor & Chief National Correspondent, was the recipient of the 2014 Robert G. McGruder Award. Previous award winners include: 2013 – Russ Mitchell, managing editor and anchor of WKYC Channel 3 News in Cleveland; 2012 – Debra Adams Simmons, editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland; 2011 – Caesar Andrews, ethics and diversity faculty member at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University; 2010 – Richard Prince, columnist, Richard Prince’s Journal-isms, Maynard Institute of Journalism Education; 2008 – Dr. Jannette Dates, dean, John H. Johnson School of Communications at Howard University; 2007 – Michelle Singletary, columnist, The Washington Post; 2006 – Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Miami Herald; 2005 – Albert E. Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president, Akron Beacon Journal; 2004 – David Lawrence, Jr., former publisher, Miami Herald; and 2003 – Gregory Moore, editor, Denver Post.

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

To R.S.V.P. for the luncheon by March 24 contact Darlene Contrucci at 330-672-2623.

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

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About the 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, visit

Media Contact: Jennifer Kramer, APR,, 330-672-1960

POSTED: Monday, March 2, 2015 09:44 AM
UPDATED: Wednesday, May 22, 2024 11:02 PM

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