A scholarship initiative created by the The Tennessean Newspaper and Tennessee State University has raised more than $30,000 in less than a month, aimed at supporting aspiring journalists at the flagship HBCU in memory of a TSU professor and Tennessean business reporter who died on Dec. 16.
So how do we translate that kind of swift commitment and action to schools like Tennessee State, and businesses like The Tennessean, without a tragic death?
The paper and the university, along with the National Association of Black Journalists and Gannett Foundation, should be commended for honoring Gethan Ward’s memory through supporting the livelihood of deserving TSU journalism students, and their families who will forever benefit from having college completion in their bloodlines.
But isnt it painful to imagine how powerful Tennessee State would be if the newspaper, and other companies in Nashville, took an interest in student success outside of the death of a beloved peer, who just happened to have a connection to Tennessee State?
TSU has a renowned communications program, one which annually wins awards for the work of its faculty, particularly communications department chair Terry Likes and students learning in its broadcast and print disciplines. Tennessee State is a yearly favorite for college journalism awards presented by the Associated Press, National Association of Black Journalists, and for the HBCU Awards’ honor of ‘best college newspaper.’
The Tennessean has covered these achievements, and perhaps has helped to develop them with internships and some minimal investments. But the Tennessean leveraging its brand and relationships on behalf of TSU could have and should have been a partnership developed years ago, and today thriving as a national example of HBCU industrial collaboration.
Ward’s life and tragic death didn’t suddenly reveal the value of Tennessee State’s communications program, or its students to make them suddenly worth investment. The program has always been valuable. And with investment from the Tennessean and other corporations years ago, today it could easily rival the likes of Vanderbilt’s communication program as one of the state’s best.
As a journalist and professor, Ward used his life to make TSU’s great program renowned. For the Tennessean, a major newspaper in a major American media market, using Ward’s death as the reason to help a deserving program receive support is less than befitting of his memory; if for no other reason than the fact that the Tennessean has thrived over years, in part, because of Tennessee State moving papers on its behalf.
For every scandal splashed across its front pages, every investigation and expose, and every exaggerated crisis the paper has pushed over decades to make Tennessee State look bad, $30,000 wouldn’t be nearly enough to repay the school for all of the single copies, subscriptions, clicks, impressions and ads the Tennessean has sold over its history as a result of having one of the nation’s best HBCUs to push around in the public square.
And while the relationship between the media company and the university has greatly improved over the last ten years, The Tennessean’s survival being tied to Tennessee State’s fortune (or misfortunes) over the years is more than a notion.
Every good journalist knows that the key to good reporting is a sense for context and the ability to use skepticism and cynicism as a means to finding and exposing truth. And the truth about this scholarship fund drive is that while it was created out of heartfelt intentions and aimed to create good for a deserving school and deserving students, its development is a little too late and far too misaligned with what the university has long earned, and what a beloved professor would have wanted from a media partner.