J-School introduces new program that aims to increase the number of minority reporters in newsrooms

Executive Director Ron Kelley: “Some of the data shows that the first two years are the toughest part, especially for minority graduates.”

The School of Journalism’s new Student Development, Diversity and Recruitment Program is aiming to increase the number of minority reporters in newsrooms by providing special mentorships and educational opportunities to high school students.

The program is part of MU’s push for increasing diversity and inclusion on campus and is led by Ron Kelley, a former MU assistant vice chancellor for advancement. Kelley became the program’s executive director Sept. 12.

The program will provide a diverse set of high school students with opportunities during their education and career so they feel comfortable working in areas of journalism.

At the program’s announcement Aug. 25, School of Journalism Dean Kurpius described the program as “a pipeline.”

The program starts with high school students at schools with journalism programs and provides them with opportunities to explore different future education options in journalism. Kelley said most of these high schools will be in urban cities with diverse populations like Chicago, Dallas and Washington D.C.

“We will identify schools in those cities schools that have journalism programs and work with those advisors and high school counselors and basically create a feeder school where we can work with those schools on a regular basis,” Kelley said.

These high schools will promote the school’s summer workshops to their minority students and possibly feed them into MU.

At MU, students will receive mentors, internships and scholarships from different partnered outlets.

School of Journalism alumni will provide connections to publications and news stations. Provost Garnett Stokes said during the announcement that news outlets have wanted MU to produce more diverse journalists. The alumni will also suggest cities where MU can recruit students.

The students in the program will continue to receive mentorship during the first couple years of their career.

“Some of the data shows that the first two years are the toughest part, especially for minority graduates,” Kelley said. “If they had mentors to continue working with them during those first two years then they will stay in the business.”

The program has not planned out the mentorship process yet. Kelley said he is still developing the mentorships because he is just now starting the program, but said that he has a general idea of what he wants the mentors to do.

“I think someone that will be able to meet with them and give them an understanding of what it's like to work in a newsroom, to help them overcome some of the obstacles that they had when they started and help them just basically know how to get through the day to day things in a newsroom,” Kelley said.

One MU graduate likely to partner with the program is Ramon Escobar, who is the vice president of talent recruitment and development for CNN Worldwide. Kelley said he hopes the program will bring other leaders like Escobar back to mentor at the journalism school.

Kelley said within the coming months, the program will be continually talking to other outlets to find more partners to work with them.

The program has a budget of slightly less than $1 million and has enough funding to last three years. Part of Kelley’s job as executive director will be to earn more external grants to continue the program. These future grants will also be able to provide scholarships and financial aid to students in the program.

For the future, Kelley said he is hoping the program “can be a model for other schools and colleges on campus, once we get it up and running.”

Kurpius said at the program’s announcement that the program has been in development for the past six to eight months, but the program was not created solely in response to the race-based protests of last fall. He said newsrooms have needed to increase diversity for a long time.

Edited by Claire Mitzel | cmitzel@themaneater.com

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