As part of an ongoing effort to diversify America’s newsrooms, the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School for Journalism has worked with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) over the years to recruit students.
However, despite finding talent, the absence of available financial aid options caused many students to seek out other institutions instead.
To mitigate student loan debt burdens, a new scholarship was established at USC Annenberg in collaboration with ViacomCBS.
“HBCU graduates are critical to advancing our country’s future, including the next generation of journalists,” said Willow Bay, dean of Annenberg at USC. “We are proud to join ViacomCBS in accelerating Black journalists’ paths to success here at USC Annenberg so they can bring their invaluable expertise and perspectives to our nation’s media organizations and truly propel representation forward.”
Beginning this fall, the ViacomCBS HBCU Diversity in Journalism—using a $1-million endowment—will cover the tuition for a select group of HBCU graduates looking to pursue a journalism master’s degree at USC Annenberg.
Currently, Black journalists represent 7.12% of the overall salaried workforce among newsrooms and only 7.7% of newsroom managers, according to a recent News Leaders Association survey.
“This new scholarship demonstrates ViacomCBS and USC Annenberg’s commitment to elevating Black excellence in journalism as well as a tremendous investment in supporting the diverse representation we all seek in the industry and what we all want in the world,” said Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning, during the scholarship announcement on May 13.
Beyond its financial impact, the scholarship will also reshape the culture at the institution, according to Miki Turner, an associate professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg.
“It will subsequently add a much-needed perspective in our newsrooms at this critical point in this nation’s history with everything that is going on,” she said.
As the United States faces a racial reckoning—brought on by continued social injustice and racial violence—there have been a number of recent investments in HBCUs across the sector.
Turner emphasized however, that the mission of HBCUs is not new, especially when you look at the legacy of its graduates such as Kamala Harris, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Those of us who opted to go to an HBCU will never deny the importance of that experience in our lives,” she said. “It is a very nurturing environment. You are basically taught that you must let your life do the singing and be better than the best so others will be inspired by your success.”
The announcement of the scholarship comes as USC Annenberg seeks to increase the number of Black journalists within the field.
This spring, students felt that there was not enough of an emphasis placed on Black culture and news. Now, featured on the student-led Annenberg Media site, the creative platform Black. is set to launch this fall to promote more Black student voices at the school.
“This vertical is the product of resilience,” wrote Reagan Griffin Jr., a junior at Annenberg. “Inspired by the creativity of the Black community, it is a space where our ideas and our experiences are liberated, validated and uplifted through any and all mediums – a space where the B is always capitalized.”
Last year, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, vice president and director of the Annenberg Foundation, launched the multi-year scholarship—GRoW—to fund graduate studies for Black journalists. Additionally, to offer support to students in the journalism field from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds, the Iger-Bay Diversity in Journalism Endowed Scholarship was also established in 2019.
Beyond scholarships, colleges and universities can also create entry programs as an introduction into journalism and communications, according to Turner.
For example, the school hosts the Annenberg Youth Academy for Media and Civic Engagement to introduce high school students to first-year college-level courses and discuss the current role of journalism. Last year, due to COVID-19, the three-week program was offered online to 28 students with a focus on public speech, interviewing, writing and multimedia production. This year, it has temporarily been put on pause.
“These types of programs are really just very inspiring and encouraging,” said Turner. “I think it is important for companies like CBS and other large companies to get behind these types of efforts. Because you are going to be able to come in and get really good students, really top talent and subsequently employ them.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.