Media Diversity Lecture Honors Legacy of Trailblazer Robert McGruder
The annual Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Lecture and Awards Program honors and celebrates two individuals who express a passion and do above-and-beyond work to exemplify diversity in the journalism field.
Named after Robert G. McGruder, a Kent State alumnus and trailblazer in diversifying journalism, the event returned after a pandemic hiatus on Oct. 12, 2022, and honored two distinguished professionals in the field.
Maurice Newman, president of NorthCoast Media and FilmGroup Inc., received the Diversity in Media Distinguished Leadership Award.
Newman has frequently partnered with Media and Journalism Professors Thor Wasbotten and Eugene Shelton to introduce high school students in underserved communities to journalism, guiding them to an understanding of what they can do in their current schools and beyond.
“This generation, if given the tools, is the generation that I think will probably end things like poverty, illiteracy, racism and climate (injustice),” Newman said.
WKYC’s Director of Advocacy and Community Initiatives Margaret Bernstein received the 2022 McGruder Distinguished Lecture Award and delivered the keynote speech.
“When I got the email that I had won this award, I was flabbergasted,” Bernstein said. “But I immediately typed into my reply, ‘I stand for diversity.’ I know Bob McGruder and I know his quote. I am very clear on the fact that I’m walking in the footsteps of a giant.”
Robert McGruder, the namesake of the awards program and lecture series, has a rich legacy that includes being the first Black editor of the Daily Kent Stater, the first Black reporter at the Plain Dealer, the first Black president of the Associated Press Managing Editors Group and the first Black Executive editor at the Detroit Free Press. He died in 2002.
Bernstein worked at the Plain Dealer three years after McGruder left to go work for the Detroit Free Press. She knows his famous quote by heart and recited it to the audience to emphasize the meaning of his legacy.
“Please know that I stand for diversity,” McGruder said. “I represent diversity. I am the messenger and the message of diversity.”
Before coming to WKYC-TV, Bernstein worked for the L.A. Times in the circulation department, asking people to sign up for subscriptions.
“I remember being instructed by the bosses that if anyone called from the ZIP code 90220, that we were to tell them we did not offer delivery to that ZIP code,” Bernstein said. “90220 was and still is the ZIP code for Compton, a black and largely poor community southeast of Los Angeles.”
While her family didn’t live in Compton, her dad worked there, and Bernstein said the L.A. Times couldn’t have had a more loyal reader than her father.
“The L.A. Times was a big part of our ritual as a family, as a Black family,” Bernstein said. “I’m sure it’s the big reason why I allowed myself to dream of a career in this field.”
Bernstein said it took her years to find her voice to challenge the policies based in systemic racism. In her speech, she spoke of the act of journalism in May 2020 by Darnella Frazier, who filmed George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“(Frazier) uploaded it to Facebook, and our world changed,” Bernstein said. “Let’s just spend a moment thinking about all the social change that has happened as a result of this 17-year-old’s act of journalism.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Black-owned businesses became an “unexpected trend” in media coverage. Bernstein spoke of a Black entrepreneur in Salt Lake City, known for her art and Baklava, who saw a “tidal wave” of interest in her shop.
The baker was featured in her local media, and then NPR’s Marketplace picked up the story and she received orders from all around the country.
“That is the power we wield in this field,” Bernstein said. “My journey in journalism has always pointed me in the direction of diversity, equity and inclusion — I’m sure a lot of it had to do with me starting out my career at a Black newspaper.”