Knight Foundation's $1.5 million grant supports Center for Sports Journalism

September 30, 2005

University Park, Pa. -- The College of Communications at Penn State, with its innovative Center for Sports Journalism, has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to establish the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society.

"With its enormous influence on our culture, sports are major American institutions. Sports bring us together as communities; they unite a diverse nation and do the same for regions, towns and cities," said Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation. "Yet much of sports journalism is devoted to game coverage, personality profiles, statistics and features. We hope this high-profile teaching post will spur interest in sports' larger role in society. And with its strong intercollegiate athletics values, its solid journalism leadership and talented sports journalism faculty, Penn State is a truly appropriate home for this effort."

With the Knight chair endowment, the College of Communications will be able to hire a renowned working journalist who will be a tenured classroom educator and news industry leader in sports journalism. Penn State expects the Knight professor to develop and share innovative teaching, advocate for improvement in sports journalism and build an even stronger Center for Sports Journalism.

The sports and society chair is the 19th Knight chair in journalism to be created, endowed and awarded by Knight Foundation since 1990.

Along with the active and growing Center for Sports Journalism, the presence of the University's respected intercollegiate athletic program helped make the proposal from the College of Communications a unanimous selection by an independent panel of reviewers for the grant.

Penn State President Graham B. Spanier, who has played an active role in the NCAA as former chair of the Division I-A Board of Directors and chair of the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents, said Penn State is honored to be selected for such an important recognition.

"This gift from Knight Foundation is a tremendous opportunity to improve teaching, conduct research and clarify the role of journalists and sports in our society," Spanier said. "The influence of sports on our youth and the proliferation of sports and 24-hour sports coverage make it imperative that the highest standards of excellence be met both on the field and in the newsroom. This is a critical time for the media, and Penn State is committed to upholding values and professional standards that will guide future journalists."

The Knight Foundation is not new to the field of sports and society. In 1989, it formed the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to investigate and recommend reform in college sports. The Knight Commission has explored financial and governance issues and significantly influenced reforms adopted by the NCAA.

Knight Foundation trustees awarded the $1.5 million grant to Penn State at their September board meeting. The foundation also awarded the College of Communications a $225,000 challenge grant to continue and establish an endowment for the Knight Diversity Scholars Program.

To prepare the next generation of sports journalists, the College of Communications launched its Center for Sports Journalism in the fall of 2003. Professor John Curley, the former Gannett CEO and founding editor of USA Today, and Dean Doug Anderson serve as co-directors for the center. Professor Marie Hardin serves as associate director for research.

The center explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, programming and research. Four full-semester core courses (sports writing; sports broadcasting; sports information; and sports, media and society) comprise the undergraduate classroom portion of the center. Complementary sponsored programming includes on-campus lectures, panels and workshops on journalism and the role of sport in society as well as research on sports journalism topics. In addition, the center emphasizes internships at newspapers, magazines or electronic media and on-campus, cocurricular work at the student-run newspaper, The Daily Collegian; the Penn State Sports Information Office; and ComRadio, the college's Webcasting station.

More than 170 students are enrolled in the center, which is supported by a 23-person Board of Visitors chaired by Anne Riley, a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees.

"The center has reached the point -- given its scope and clear potential for greater excellence and reach -- that it needs a high-profile director who can devote his or her energy to pushing the program forward," said Anderson, now in his seventh year as dean. Anderson is a past president of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication. In 1996, The Freedom Forum named him Journalism Administrator of the Year. "What is needed now is a gifted and experienced professional to play an institutional leadership role, cement new partnerships with professionals and academics, and provide national leadership to deepen media coverage of sports."

A national search will be launched for the Knight chair.

Anderson said the ideal chairholder would possess strong professional credentials as a writer; management experience; the resiliency to make a smooth transition from industry to the academy; a broad and mature view of the landscape of big-time sports; and the ability and standing to emerge as a thoughtful and eloquent spokesperson. The holder of the chair would serve as a catalyst for those interested in the challenges facing big-time athletics and improving media coverage of sports.

"The Knight chair will function as the glue that connects the array of individuals, associations, organizations and media outlets that have a profound interest in the impact of sports on media and society," Anderson said. "He or she will focus on the need to pursue rational reform in big-time intercollegiate athletics; on the need for media to improve their coverage of the increasingly complex aspects of sports, particularly those that extend beyond the playing fields and courts; and on the need for university journalism programs, very simply, to better prepare the next generation of sports journalists."

The Knight chair will:

-- coordinate efforts with the college's director of internships, Bob Martin, to facilitate the placement of students interested in gaining experience in sports journalism;

-- work with faculty members who are interested in the intersections of media, sports and society;

-- work with sportswriters at The Daily Collegian;

-- work with students at the college's Webcasting ComRadio and with students who participate in the college's various television sports programs; and

-- work with partners, including the Associated Press sports editors; the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland; Penn State's Foster Conference of Distinguished Writers; the Association for Women in Sports Media; and the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, an organization of faculty Senate leaders from across the country who are committed to reform in big-time intercollegiate athletics.

The Knight chair also will assume responsibility for keeping alive and building upon the findings and recommendations of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Since its founding, the commission has documented the problems of big-time college sports. The commission focused on university presidents' control initially and on academic and fiscal control more recently.

In awarding the chair to the college after a national competition, the Knight Foundation noted the strengths and traditions of Penn State's journalism and intercollegiate athletics programs. Over the years, Penn State teams have claimed 58 NCAA championships while never being penalized by the NCAA for major infractions. The College of Communications is the only program in the country to finish in the final national top-10 for four consecutive years in both intercollegiate writing and broadcast news in the William Randolph Hearst Foundation's Journalism Awards Program, a competition often called "the Pulitzers of college journalism."

In 2002, Penn State was one of only 10 NCAA Division I-A institutions selected for U.S. News and World Report's College Sports Honor Roll for academic and athletic achievement.

In many ways, Penn State, known as "Linebacker U" for its tradition of standout linebackers on its football team, also may claim the title of "Sportswriter U." Alumni such as Ira Miller of the San Francisco Chronicle; Jon Saraceno of USA Today; and Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated provide an example of the many journalists who established and maintained a strong sports writing tradition that continues with recent graduates such as Hearst Foundation Journalism Awards Program winner Ryan Hockensmith of ESPN The Magazine and Amanda Gifford of ESPN Radio.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, established in 1950, promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities. The foundation works with universities that demonstrate the potential to improve both the teaching and practice of journalism.

For more than a decade, Knight Foundation has endowed at least one teaching chair annually on topics of journalistic interest. There are now 18 Knight chairs in journalism and one Knight First Amendment chair at top universities across the nation, each endowed by the foundation at $1.5 million.

The $1.5 million endowment grant is the largest ever received by the College of Communications from a foundation.

  • Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, announced the gift. For more photos, click on the image above.

    IMAGE: Greg Grieco

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 18, 2010