Kent Collins and Jon Murray, photographed by Shane Epping, Mizzou News The University of Missouri today announced a gift of $6.7 million from Jonathan Murray, an Emmy Award-winning MU alumnus and chairman of Bunim/Murray Productions, to create a documentary journalism program in the Missouri School of Journalism.  The gift creates one of the largest programs in documentary journalism. The goal is to provide innovative teaching, professional outreach and research programs that will attract the most talented students, faculty and professionals from around the world.

“Mr. Murray's gift makes it possible for the School of Journalism to launch an exciting new program in documentary journalism, a field with growing audiences and, thanks to the Internet and other new technologies, infinite potential for reaching those audiences,” said Dean Mills, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. “It will give us the chance to marry the innovative approaches of documentary storytelling and presentation with the strong tradition of accuracy and fact-finding that has always been a hallmark of the School of Journalism."

Credited with inventing the modern-day reality television genre, Murray has created and served as executive producer for some of the industry’s most innovative, unscripted entertainment television programs, beginning with The Real World in 1992, which, now in its 29th season, has become the longest-running program on MTV.

“It’s an honor for me to give back to the University of Missouri, an institution that helped build my journalistic foundation, upon which I shaped my career in news, documentaries and television before creating Bunim/Murray Productions,” Murray said.  “The establishment of this new documentary journalism program is my way of helping to ensure that we’ve prepared the media and entertainment industry’s future documentary film makers to do great work, a goal that I share with MU.”

The new program, established in response to the increasing demand for video content across multiple media platforms, will offer bachelor of journalism and master of arts degrees and fund research that advances the field of documentary journalism. It will feature three new faculty positions and will engage visiting professionals from the documentary journalism community around the world. The bachelor’s degree program will be first offered in the Fall 2015 semester.  The start date for the master’s degree is still under discussion, but could also begin as early as the Fall 2015 semester.  Coursework for the degree will focus on the history, business models, advocacy and advanced production of documentary journalism.

The gift also will support an annual summer workshop designed to further advance documentary journalism for students and professionals. In keeping with the “Missouri Method” of learning by doing, students will get hands-on experience with documentary projects and assignments.

“Mr. Murray’s gift creates a unique opportunity that adds to a remarkable curriculum that has made the Missouri School of Journalism the best in the world,” MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said. “It also complements community efforts such as the True/False Film Festival, making Columbia, Mo., a true force in documentary storytelling.”

Alongside the late Mary Ellis Bunim, Murray, a 1977 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, formed Bunim/Murray Productions, which has been inspiring, influencing and entertaining audiences worldwide for more than 25 years and is credited with pioneering the reality TV genre.  Beginning with the launch of The Real World (MTV) in 1992, Murray created and served as executive producer for an array of entertainment including such seminal television shows as the first reality game show, Road Rules (MTV, 1995); the first reality sitcom, The Simple Life (E!, 2003); and the first reality soap opera, the Emmy Award-winning Starting Over.

Bunim-Murray’s current programming includes Keeping up with the Kardashians and Total Divas (E!), The Real World and The Challenge (MTV), Project Runway, Project Runway All Stars and Under the Gunn (Lifetime), The Ruckers: Southern Royals (WE tv) and Best Ink (Oxygen). A subsidiary of Bunim/Murray Productions, BMP Films, has produced documentary films including Pedro (MTV), and Valentine Road and the Emmy Award-winning Autism: The Musical (HBO). Murray, who resides in Los Angeles, serves on the Board of Trustees of Semester at Sea and is on the Board of Governors of the Television Academy.

Among those envisioning the project is 2012-2013 Reynolds Fellow

During Tuesday’s gift announcement, Jonathan Murray described Kent Collins, faculty chair of Radio-Television Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism and a 2012-2013 Donald W. Reynolds Fellow, as a “driving force” behind the new Jon Murray Center for Documentary Journalism.

Collins first met Murray in in 2009 during some phone conversations as he learned about reality TV and documentary journalism. Subsequently, Collins would invite the reality television pioneer to the MU campus – to talk with students about the reality TV business or meet with him to discuss documentary filmmaking.

“We spoke about how the digital revolution allows documentary producers to reach more of the citizens,” says Collins, “and how the citizen can now find more documentary films to view.”

Over the next four years, conversations about documentaries evolved into discussions on documentary journalism and, eventually, the creation of a documentary journalism center at Murray’s alma mater.

Collins believes Murray’s gift will have a major impact on the School and the future of journalism.

“We will soon be teaching a new class of journalists, steeped in the best practices of the profession as long-taught at the School, but now with new skills to produce the long-form content,” says Collins. “Long-form journalism with video and audio and lively writing will address the great issues – good and bad – of our country and our world.

“If we teach it right at Missouri – and Jon's gift ensures that we will – then journalism will be better and the citizenry will be better served. Documentary journalism will be the smart balance to the headline news.”


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