What's the Annenberg Foundation's Plan to Boost Diversity in Journalism?

All across the country, newsrooms and journalism schools struggle to effectively harness new technology. No suprise, there. And so major foundations—including Knight, the National Press, and the Dow Jones Foundation—are putting big money behind efforts to eqiup these outfits with the most sophisticated digital tools available.

But what if these foundations threw a digital journalism party and no one came?

In other words, how can foundations ensure that such technology is actually accessible to students and journalists, particularly those from communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in the industry? For an answer we turn to the Annenberg Foundation.

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism announced the launch of the Annenberg Leadership Initiative, a long-term program that will "increase access to cutting-edge journalism education and professional development for people from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds." The program, which is funded by a $5 million grant from Annenberg, looks to create a deep bench of talented journalists equipped to lead 21st century newsrooms.

Diversity in journalism is a major problem. In an Atlantic article earlier this year, Gillian B. White wrote "walk into most major newsrooms in the U.S. and you’ll be overwhelmed by the whiteness and maleness of the editorial staff. Journalism certainly isn’t the only field that is notoriously and historically homogenous. But this is a big problem for an industry whose ambition is to serve and inform an increasingly diverse public." Just 13 percent of journalists at daily papers are people of color. So it's good to see a funder and major academic institution teaming up on this challenge.

Annenberg's gift supports the Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multi-year effort that seeks to raise a hefty $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance USC's academic priorities. Four years after its launch, the campaign has already raised more than $4.6 billion. 

Related: Inside a Fundraising Juggernaut: How USC Pulls in the Big Bucks

The Annenberg Leadership Initiative, meanwhile, is built on scholarships and fellowships that will match aspiring journalists with state-of-the art technology and experienced professionals. To the former, the Annenberg Leadership Scholarships provide full tuition for three journalism M.S. graduate students per year year who come from "socio-economic backgrounds currently underrepresented in journalism and communication industries."

The Annenberg Leadership Fellowships, on the other hand, will provide three fellowships a year to working journalists from diverse backgrounds. By their very definition, these individuals will be more experienced than scholarship recipients, and as a result, fellows will be tasked with managing student journalists in the school's state-of-the-art Julie Chen/Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center of Wallis Annenberg Hall. The initiative will also fund its expanded Community Reporting Initiative to focus on identifying and meeting the needs of underserved communities.

Annenberg understands that technology for technology's sake won't move the journalism dial. Accessibility is critical, particularly for those communities who have been historically unrepresented in the field. And while we're on the topic of creating scholarships and boosting diversity at USC, why should George Lucas have all the fun?