Missouri School of Journalism announces three winners of 2024 Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service

Missouri Honor Medal

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 11, 2024) — The Missouri School of Journalism today announced the winners of the 2024 Missouri Honor Medal, which recognizes extraordinary service in journalism and strategic communication. Former Radiolab co-hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich will accept the medal on behalf of the innovative public radio program, while Renetta McCann and Donald Suggs will be honored for decades of groundbreaking work in strategic communication and journalism, respectively.

The medals will be conferred in a ceremony on Monday, Sept. 23, at The Atrium on Tenth, 22 N. Tenth St., in Columbia, Mo. Earlier that day, students at the School of Journalism will be in for a treat when the medalists deliver master classes based on their work and professional experiences.

“This year’s medalists bring an incredibly varied list of accomplishments and impacts on the industry,” said David Kurpius, dean of the School. “Anyone who works in journalism or strategic communication has felt the influence of one of these honorees, and audiences consume more representative, accurate and engaging content because of their work. It’s a privilege to present them with this award.”

Past winners of this prestigious honor represent a broad range of distinguished figures in the industry, including Christiane Amanpour, Sir Winston Churchill, Walter Cronkite, Maria Hinojosa and Gloria Steinem, and Winners are selected by the faculty of the School.

Meet the medalists

Renetta McCann

Renetta McCann
Renetta McCann

Renetta McCann has worked in advertising and public relations for half a century. Beginning with an entry-level position at Leo Burnett Company, she would become the company’s media director, then — after a brief sojourn that included becoming the global CEO of Starcom Mediavest Group — its chief talent officer.

She is now the chief inclusion experiences officer for Publicis Groupe, which bought Leo Burnett in 2002, and she also serves as an educator through an adjunct post at Northwestern University. McCann said these positions allow her, as a Black woman who found her footing in the industry at a time not far removed from the peak of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, to focus on helping others from a variety of backgrounds find a path to success — a priority that has been part of her work for many years.

“When I started my professional career, [equity and inclusion] was not on my mind,” McCann said. “But after probably three or four years in the industry, it was visible. You could look into the environment and see there weren’t many people like me. I just thought people who look like me had lots to contribute, and it wasn’t clear to me why we weren’t allowed to participate. I am extremely proud of how at different points in my career, I used my position and my knowledge to make sure there was a path for others to follow.”

McCann has been recognized throughout her career for both her skill at building brand profiles and for her influence on the industry in introducing and sustaining diversity and inclusion efforts in hiring, management and mentorship. She has been named one of “50 Women Who are Changing the World” by “Essence,” was “Black Enterprise Magazine’s” 2022 Corporate Executive of the Year and was inducted last year into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame.

The broad scope of her efforts has often reflected her sense of doing “double duty” in succeeding despite challenges as a Black person and as a woman. She was an early embracer of Employee Resource Groups (ERG), which are organizations built around employees with common interests or backgrounds. The first ERG she endorsed was a parent group.

“I had my first child in 1990,” McCann said. “There was palpable concern that I would have this baby and not come back. Other times when I encountered resistance, sometimes I couldn’t tell if it was because of my race or my gender.”

Through it all, she developed a reputation as a leader among those in the industry who sought to elevate media planning and buying in advertising as a crucial discipline. And while this, in addition to her contributions to a more inclusive advertising business, adds up to a career that is certainly worthy of an Honor Medal, she would not necessarily have awarded it to herself.

“I’m one of those people who don’t necessarily believe in crafting your own legacy,” McCann said. “Someone’s legacy is conferred onto you by others, as opposed to something you can seek out and build on your own. Legacy is relational.”

In September, the Honor Medal will add another chapter to that legacy.


Robert Krulwich
Robert Krulwich
Jad Abumrad
Jad Abumrad

Founded in 2002 by Abumrad before co-host Krulwich came aboard in 2004, Radiolab quickly made a name for itself as a quirky, often comical exploration of complex topics in the realms of science, politics and even philosophy.

A trademark of the show’s style, in addition to the distinctive dynamic between its co-hosts that helped inform much of today’s podcast craze, is the liberal use of sound effects and other ambient noises originally produced by Abumrad to supplement the program’s storytelling and interviews. But perhaps more significantly at a time when journalism is experiencing a crisis in public trust, Radiolab has often been singled out for praise on the accessibility of its science content.

“Journalism very often has a kind of sober way about it — it gets enamored with its own gravitas,” Abumrad said. “With us, both in terms of how we spoke and the sound, the musicality of the show, it was not about gravitas. It was about a kind of wild, musical act of discovery.”

There have been changes over the course of the show’s multidecade run. Originally airing on NPR, the show now appears on New York public radio station WNYC. The original co-hosts have also moved on to other things: Krulwich left Radiolab in 2020, and Abumrad departed two years later. But the spirit of eschewing self-seriousness while tackling serious subject matter remains, as evidenced by the description on the Radiolab website, which declares, “Radiolab is on a curiosity bender.”

It’s a spirit that extends even to elements typically seen as formalities, such as the credits, which are read by listeners and interview subjects. For Krulwich, this and the show’s “musicality” are just a few examples of radio’s ability to engage with audiences in ways that differ greatly from other mediums, creating opportunities for fresh approaches to informing the public.

“Radio can be painterly in your ear, which means the audience can paint in their heads with the colors you are creating,” Krulwich said. “If you watch a movie or a television show, your eyes are told what to see and feel. On the radio, you’re just given a brush and have to paint it yourself in your head.”

The Honor Medal will join two Peabody Awards, a National Academies Communication Award and many other honors in recognition of contributions to journalism and science communication earned throughout the show’s tenure.

Donald Suggs

Donald Suggs
Donald Suggs

Donald Suggs has served as publisher of the St. Louis American since 1984, taking the Black community newspaper from a circulation of just over 4,000 to its current position as the largest weekly newspaper in Missouri.

Suggs’ entry into journalism came relatively late in his career. Born in 1932, just four years after the St. Louis American published its first issue in 1928, he became a successful oral surgeon but, in the burgeoning days of the Civil Rights Movement, he faced obstacles in finding a faculty position in academia. He ultimately became the first Black associate clinical professor at Saint Louis University Dental School.

Suggs was active in the Civil Rights Movement and played a key role in organizing the Poor People’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1968, a march originally planned by Martin Luther King before his assassination. He sees his involvement in journalism as a natural extension of his efforts to bring communities together, noting that he was impressed by the impact of journalism even as a young man.

“We had very little materially, but we always had a newspaper,” Suggs said of his upbringing in Indiana. “I was taught to be of some service in a way that goes beyond yourself, and I’ve always been fascinated and intrigued by journalists and the role they play in society.”

Suggs’ tenure at the St. Louis American has seen the newspaper not only dramatically rise in circulation but introduce more content raising awareness of health disparities in the Black community. Programs like Newspapers in Education, which provides free newspapers to public elementary school students with an emphasis on STEM education, have also aimed to increase news literacy and education outcomes among young people.

In fact, Suggs has made the newspaper the nexus of a wide range of efforts and events designed to uplift the people of St. Louis. The nonprofit St. Louis American Foundation provides scholarships to students in need, hosts events like the Salute to Excellence Awards Gala to recognize educators and other community figures, and supports youth-focused nonprofits in the area. Suggs, who is also the namesake of scholarships at no less than 12 colleges and universities in Missouri, sees these programs as additive to principled, ethical journalism.

“My life has been very much enriched by being involved with the St. Louis American, and I’ve had many more rewards than I deserve — but you still see the people who are left behind and mistreated,” Suggs said. “There is no excuse not to be engaged and make things more inclusive, more compassionate, more caring. Journalists are a group I admire no less than health care workers: they are giving voice to a community with journalism people need and can depend on.”

Suggs has won many awards for his work in journalism, including Publisher of the Year from the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 2016 and the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists Trailblazer Award that same year. He is a member of the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame and the Missouri Public Affairs Hall of Fame.

Updated: July 11, 2024

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