COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri has received a $1 million estate gift to support journalism education and research into the connection between American journalism and the advancement of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Timothy Blair, an alumnus of the MU School of Journalism and current resident of Bel-Air, California, says he is giving the gift to MU to advance the education of students of the world’s first school of journalism on the role media have played in reinforcing stereotypes and shaping new understandings of LGBT people in American culture.
“Examining journalism as a force of social change in our democracy is an essential academic pursuit,” Blair said. “I’m proud to say I’m making this gift as the first gift of its kind among American universities.”
“Today, 27 states, including Missouri, allow people to be fired from their jobs, evicted from housing and denied public accommodations and basic services based solely upon sexual orientation or identity. Yet, the views of most Americans toward the LGBT community, and same-sex marriage in particular, have reversed course dramatically,” Blair continued.
“What changed the hearts and minds of most Americans? My bet is it lies in the role of journalism as an integral part of American democracy,” Blair said. “These big questions require big answers, and I believe the MU School of Journalism, as the leader in American journalism education, is uniquely suited to find those answers.”
Blair’s gift will create the Timothy D. Blair Fund for LGBT Coverage in Journalism. The fund will support the faculty and students of the MU School of Journalism in the pursuit of understanding the media’s role in shaping perceptions about gender stereotypes, HIV/AIDS as a force of rapid social change, the advancement of LGBT civil rights within the context of same sex marriage, and the integration and acceptance of gay people and families into the fabric of American life.
“We at the School of Journalism are deeply grateful for this gift,” said Dean Mills, dean of the MU School of Journalism. “It will support teaching and research on topics that have been historically under-covered or covered badly. Mr. Blair’s family has had a long legacy at Mizzou, and it is wonderful that Mr. Blair has chosen to continue that legacy with his generosity.”
MU is still in initial planning stages as to how the Blair Fund will be implemented. Possibilities include attracting faculty interested in LGBT journalism; supporting research and travel for media coverage of LGBT issues; creating fellowships, internships and workshops; and developing course curricula to better educate students on how media coverage shapes and reinforces social, political and legal issues across the nation and world.
“This gift will further advance the MU School of Journalism as the world’s leader in journalism education, research and innovation,” MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said. “It is of the utmost importance that our journalists be well informed on a wide range of topics so that they can more accurately report on all important social issues. The university community is grateful to Mr. Blair for his generosity and for supporting an industry that is vital to our democracy.”
Timothy Blair, a native of Joplin, Missouri, graduated from the MU School of Journalism in 1973. Seven generations of his family are MU graduates; four generations are graduates of the School of Journalism. As chairman of the board of the Joplin Globe, Blair’s grandfather, Clay Cowgill Blair, an alumnus of the MU School of Journalism, received the MU School of Journalism’s Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. He also served as a member of the University of Missouri System Board of Curators.
Blair began his career in journalism when he was 15 years old, as a copy boy at the Joplin Globe. After graduating from MU and earning a master’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis, he worked in marketing and public relations for several St. Louis-based companies. In 1993, he moved to Los Angeles and launched BlairPR Inc., a strategic communications company providing crisis management, media relations, marketing and reputation management to healthcare and technology-based companies and academic health science enterprises.
A lifelong Episcopalian, he has been deeply involved in many activities in his church, including service as a licensed lay minister, hospital chaplain and a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern California Bishop’s Commission on LGBT Ministries. He is a member of All Saints Parish in Beverly Hills.
Blair also has spent much of his life as a member of advocacy organizations to provide low and moderate-income housing to underserved minorities and gay and lesbian senior citizens.
The MU School of Journalism, founded by Walter Williams in 1908, is the world’s first and oldest journalism school. It has pioneered the hands-on method of teaching journalism, known internationally as the Missouri Method. As a part of their curriculum, students work in professional news outlets owned by MU, including KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate for mid-Missouri; KBIA-FM, the National Public Radio (NPR) member station for mid-Missouri; the Columbia Missourian, one of two daily newspapers in Columbia, Mo.; Vox Magazine; and two advertising agencies, Mojo Ad and AdZou, which work with national brands. The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI), launched in 2004, engages media professionals, scholars and other citizens in programs aimed at strengthening journalism in the service of democracy.
Blair’s gift is the second gift of $1 million to the MU School of Journalism in the past year. In November, Walter Potter gave $1 million to the school to support community journalism.
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