One day over 10 years ago, Jeneé Osterheldt received a phone call from her professional mentor, Reginald Stuart. He was attending a journalism conference just two hours away from her in California, where she was completing an internship he had helped her acquire. Stuart told her to stop by to network with more journalists.
But when she arrived, Osterheldt realized Stuart wanted her to stay for two whole days.
“I don’t have a change of clothes,” she told him.
Stuart reached into his wallet and pulled out $40. The next day, Osterheldt donned a new outfit from the Gap while rubbing elbows with media professionals and attending speaker sessions.
It’s generous moments like these that have earned Stuart the Associated Press Media Editors’ Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership.
Stuart, a longtime SPJ member and former national president, is a veteran journalist who spent his early career as a reporter for The Tennessean and WSIX in Nashville, Tenn. In 1974, he left his hometown for The New York Times, where he began as a business and finance reporter. Within the next decade, he worked as a correspondent and bureau chief in Detroit, Atlanta and Miami. Afterward, he became a national affairs correspondent for the Philadelphia Daily News and worked his way up to assistant news editor in Knight Ridder’s Washington, D.C., bureau, where he stayed until 1996.
But the award doesn’t recognize his outstanding efforts as a reporter and editor; it acknowledges his commitment to the industry through recruiting a diverse group of young journalists to newsrooms across the country. That’s how he spent the remainder of his career: as a corporate recruiter for Knight Ridder and later for McClatchy.
“The award is special,” Stuart said, holding the shining trophy proudly. “Bob McGruder was special. We both shared the same deep belief that our business had a future if our business had a population running it that reflected our society — all aspects of our society.”
Marisa Kwiatkowski, a reporter at The Indianapolis Star who has sought out Stuart’s professional advice since she met him more than 10 years ago, beamed as she watched him receive the award in Indianapolis. She later noted how grateful she is to have met Stuart — and she knows she’s not the only one.
“Not only myself but considerably hundreds of aspiring journalists owe Reggie a debt of gratitude for not only being a mentor or sounding board, but leading many (of us) into jobs,” Kwiatkowski said.
Stuart has a reputable talent for finding intelligent reporters from various backgrounds. Many of them go on to have successful reporting jobs because of the potential Stuart sees in them.
“I look for spark,” Stuart said. “If you have a spark, it doesn’t matter who you are, I’ll work with you. If you don’t have a spark, I can’t give it to you.”
To Stuart, candidates have this spark if they’re naturally hard working, inquisitive and curious. Stuart saw these qualities in Delano Massey when he was an intern at the Akron Beacon Journal several years ago. Massey, currently regional editor at the Lexington Herald-Leader, noted that Stuart is an exceptionally good recruiter.
“He knows exactly what the students needs, and he finds that and puts them in places where they can be successful,” Massey said. “Reggie is a master at it.”
Massey noted that Stuart practices tough love as well. Stuart is completely honest with students who don’t live up to hiring expectations, sometimes reducing young journalists to tears. But Massey said students always thank Stuart for being tough on them after the fact.
Stuart’s protégés have common experiences with him: answering his challenging questions that inspire them to think about who they are; hours of phone conversations; looking up to him as a father figure; going to him with their career dilemmas and receiving stellar advice.
Osterheldt remembers some of his most helpful words: “You spend most of your life eating, sleeping and working, so you should love your job, eat good food and sleep in a comfortable bed.”
Tagged under: diversity