New Academic Home Expected To Help Maryland Update Journalism Education

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland officials last week dedicated Knight Hall, a $30 million state-of-the-art home for the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Ten years in the making, the striking grand glass enclosure embodies the innovation of a changing media landscape, officials declared of the facility, the construction of which was funded from public and private sources.

Equipped with the latest digital and green technology, including a camera in every lecture hall, professors are expected to lead their students into the unchartered territory of multi-platform and entrepreneurial journalism.  

“This building is of course bricks and mortar, but it symbolizes a powerful partnership between the public and private spaces and interests of our civil society,” said Dean Kevin Klose during a dedication ceremony Wednesday in  College Park, Md. “Journalism is by its nature a pursuit very similar to the pursuits of a great public university in that the core values are a constant search for provable, carefully observed, and carefully witnessed … facts, events, ideas and beliefs.”

The $30 million project was funded in part by private donors like the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation amounting to $14 million and supported by $16 million in state dollars. The new building is double the space of the journalism college’s former home built in 1957, and students said their “less ideal real estate” barely accommodated their growing needs much less their emergent ideas.

“This building represents the university’s commitment to journalism,” said senior journalism major Steven Overly during the ceremony, adding that the turbulence of the industry could have been a deterrent to investment.

Klose, formerly the president of National Public Radio and an editor at The Washington Post, said that the world is a much different place since he was a reporter but that journalism pedagogy has to change with it. The college has moved away from traditional tracks of journalism like broadcast and print, instead inaugurating a “multi-platform” approach that will accommodate recent and coming innovations.

With more than 650 students, the College has struggled with diversity both among students and faculty, but Klose pledged to change that using his experience as a diversity advocate at NPR.

Currently the College has only tenured faculty of color and in their history has promoted only two faculty of color to tenure. Currently, about 28 percent of the student body is made up of students of color, which officials hope to increase to 33 percent in the next decade.

“This nation is about change and transformation; it is about increasing diversity,” Klose said. “It is about diversity and how it explains itself and holds up a mirror to itself so it can proceed in the best way possible to take the best step forward.”

Before he left the journalism school, Knight Hall was former dean Tom Kunkel’s vision, which included more participation from minority journalists. Kunkel, who is now president of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, approached the National Association of Black Journalists about finding a new space that would better accommodate the group’s mission.

For years while located close to the Maryland campus, NABJ’s office was practically hidden from view, concealed in a single-family home just off Adelphi Road in the shadow of the National Archives.

NABJ, which was founded in 1975 by 44 men and women, is the largest organization for journalists of color serving more than 3,000. Staff said the anticipation of working in a better, more visible workspace was almost overwhelming.

Five years after Kunkel’s invitation, NABJ has a new home inside Knight Hall located on the third floor across the hall from the Knight Foundation offices.

At the dedication ceremony, NABJ interim executive director Drew Berry escorted visitors through the organization’s new glass doors like a church usher proud of his new sanctuary.

NABJ’s large logo greets visitors at first look, leading the way to a hallway of portraits showcasing NABJ founders, like Paul Delaney of the New York Times. A few offices, a copy room and a conference room line the hall, opening into a large space humming with staffer computers and CNN’s Rick Sanchez’s booming voice emanating from a television set.

The office follows the rest of the building’s green accoutrements with green-colored walls matching its environmentally friendly lighting. Windows bathe the rooms with natural light where giddy NABJ staffers are happy to have left their former home.

“Already we have more students of color coming to us just to hang out and looking for opportunities,” said Ryan Williams, NABJ director of programs and professional development.

He said the new office will help redefine the organization’s relationship with the college and solidify their partnership to define journalism’s goals for diversity.

Staffer Irving Washington, who has been with NABJ for three years, is just happy to be out of the Adelphi home.

“This is just so much better. We are so excited,” he said.