Pulitzer Prize winner to be honored at Wayne State\'s annual Helen Thomas Awards event

March 23, 2009

DETROIT -- Wayne State University's Department of Communication will honor Gene Roberts, professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, with the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award. Along with Roberts, who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for history as co-author of The Race Beat: The Press, The Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, Jerome Vaughn, news director of WDET-FM radio and Debra Lawson, FOX 2 manager of staff and educational services will be honored for their work "In the Spirit of Diversity."

Roberts will speak about his newsroom experiences during a free presentation that is open to the public at 4 p.m. Friday, April 3, in room 91 of Manoogian Hall at Wayne State. The WSU Journalism Program and the Society of Professional Journalists are co-sponsoring the program. The Helen Thomas Award Reception will follow from 6 - 9 Wayne State's St. Andrew's Hall.

The award honors Wayne State alumna Helen Thomas, Liberal Arts '42, who was the first woman chief of UPI's White House bureau and now is a columnist for Hearst News Service. One of journalism‘s living legends, Thomas has covered 10 presidents beginning with the Kennedy administration. She is a trailblazer for women and journalists of Arab descent, and the award was established to recognize her leadership role in promoting diversity in the media and issues of race in America.

Before joining the Maryland faculty in 1991, Roberts spent 18 years as the executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, leading the newsroom in winning 17 Pulitzer Prizes. He stepped back into the newsroom from 1994-97 to become managing editor of The New York Times, where he led coverage of the 1960s civil rights movement in the South and was chief war correspondent in Vietnam.

Roberts is a former chairman of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists and he has served on the board of the Pulitzer Prize. His other books include Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapers and The Censors and the Schools. He was editor-in-chief of the American Journalism Review's "State of the American Newspaper Project," published in 2000.

"Helen Thomas and Gene Roberts have, each in their way, been fantastic role models for excellence in journalism,'' said Ben Burns, WSU journalism professor and chair of the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Awards Committee."Helen has been instrumental in raising thousands of dollars to help our students."

Tickets are $125 for professionals; $50 for students and alumni of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity. Call (313) 577-2627 for details and reservations.

Editor's note: If you are interested in interviewing Thomas or Roberts on April 3, please call Ben Burns at (313) 577-2627.