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ABC National News Correspondent Honored With 2014 McGruder Award for Media Diversity at 11th Anniversary Event

Posted Apr. 4, 2014

By Meghan Caprez

“Diversity is the path to telling hard truths in a dignified way,” said ABC News correspondent Byron Pitts when he visited Kent State University March 31. “If our industry is to survive, we must embrace diversity.”

JMC, in conjunction with the university’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, honored Pitts at the 11th annual Robert G. McGruder Guest Lecture and Awards Presentation. Pitts, an advocate for diversity both inside the newsroom when hiring reporters and outside the newsroom when gathering sources, received the Distinguished Guest Lecture Award.2014 McGruder Awards

A multiple Emmy award-winning journalist, Pitts previously spent 15 years working for CBS News where he was the National Chief Correspondent for The CBS Evening News. Currently, Pitts’s stories can be seen on Good Morning America, Nightline and 20/20 for ABC News.

Pitts said he had to work hard to become the broadcast journalist he is today. He recounted his childhood when specialists told his mother that he was intellectually disabled and ought to be institutionalized; Pitts was illiterate until the age of 12.

“I saw my learning disability and stutter as gifts from God,” Pitts, a devout Baptist, said. “I felt I had a gift for storytelling because I knew as a kid what it was like to be voiceless.”

Throughout the lecture, Pitts shared examples of his work that exhibit diversity. One of these stories followed a lawyer from Compton, California, who sponsors and teaches students living in extreme poverty in Soweto, South Africa. Pitts said this story not only busts stereotypes about people from Compton, it also shows a “man of color helping other people of color,” something not often seen in the media.

Pitts encouraged JMC’s student journalists to seek those whose voices are not heard. “Diversity is bringing different voices into the box. All the wonderful technology you have at this school is just a tool. Journalism lives in the conversations we have. It’s about shining light in dark places, and giving voice to the voiceless.”

The national correspondent also inspired students with his career advice. “Have outrageous dreams for yourself – dreams so crazy they make others laugh,” he said. “But every dream has an address. Know specifically what your destination is. Dream big, plan small.”

The Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture and Award was created in honor of Robert G. “Bob” McGruder, a trail-blazing Kent State journalist who listed a number of “firsts” on his resume, some of which include being the first black editor of the Daily Kent Stater and the first black reporter at The Plain Dealer. The award and lecture series serves as a reminder of the commitment McGruder had for diversity. The school takes as guidelines for the award these words from McGruder, “Please know that I stand for diversity ... I represent the African-Americans, Latinos, Arab-Americans, Asians, Native Americans, gays and lesbians, women and all the others we must see represented in our business officers, newsrooms and our newspapers.”

Three JMC students were honored with Robert G. McGruder Student Media Awards at the luncheon. Their work showcased the diversity, depth and relevance of our student media news coverage:

  • Yolanda Li, a graduate student, created the multimedia film, ‘Bread 4 Haiti: God Wanted Us to Be Here,” which explores the struggles faced by the hungry in Haiti;
  • Matthew Petrunak, a senior majoring in electronic media, created a video that debuted at this year's Kent State MLK celebration program and featured a diverse group of students discussing their connection or disconnection to the civil rights movement and why activism has disappeared on many college campuses; and
  • Bruce Walton, a junior majoring in journalism, wrote a piece entitled, “Opinion: The Dangers of Being a Black Man” that appeared on last September.


Rotator Photo:  Kent State officials joined JMC in honoring the 2014 winners; from left, Kent State Provost Todd Diacon; award winners Constance Harper and Byron Pitts; Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alfreda Brown, and JMC Director Thor Wasbotton. 

Interior Photo:  Student Media Award winners were also honored at the McGruder luncheon for their outstanding work in exploring diversity themes; from left:  CCI Dean Stan Wearden, Byron Pitts, Bruce Walton, Provost Todd Diacon, Matt Petrunak and Yolanda Li.

(Photo credits:  University Communications & Marketing)