Rich and Leslie Frank Fund State-of-the-Art Newsroom at the University of Illinois

The Richard and Leslie Frank Center for Leadership and Innovation in Media, which Frank Family’s founders established in 2020, funded a state-of-the-art newsroom at the College of Media at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which held a ribbon-cutting ceremony this October.

To mark the opening, Brian Williams, former anchor of MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Brian Williams and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, hosted a conversation about the evolution of broadcast news in America. The conversation was led by Colleen King, director of the Frank Center and clinical assistant professor of journalism. King worked closely with Williams as his executive producer of The 11th Hour.

“It starts here,” said Brian Williams. “For the lucky few who get to go here (University of Illinois), get trained up, and get into the industry, the employers are going to realize they got a first-class education here.”

Since 1999, the studio–connected to Campbell Hall, the home of Illinois Public Media–has served as the site for the college’s broadcast journalism courses. The renovation project, which began mid-March, was made possible thanks to a gift from the Franks. In 2020, the Franks gave the College of Media $7.5 million–the largest gift in college history–to establish the Richard and Leslie Frank Center for Leadership and Innovation in Media and to renovate Richmond Studio. This project was the first major overhaul of the building since it was erected in 1996. Students in the College of Media now have access to a state-of-the-art broadcast studio and newsroom after nearly $2 million in renovations were completed at the Richmond Studio.

The renovation project included a fully remodeled studio with a new control room, a new equipment storage and check-out room, as well as a video and audio production room where students can record podcasts.

A former classroom and computer lab located adjacent to the studio transitioned to a collaborative room that serves not only as a class meeting space with a lab but also a newsroom and green room. A scrolling, LED news ticker was installed around the perimeter of the newsroom and computer lab area, and nearly all of the equipment–including studio cameras, lights, and the control systems–was upgraded to more modern versions that newsrooms around the country are currently using, allowing students to learn best practices.

“My commitment to the University of Illinois, and Leslie’s career and passion for journalism inspired us to want to give back to the journalism program by creating a new, state-of-the art broadcast facility,” said Rich. “We were really impressed with the program here and the people who are dedicated to making it one of the top in the country.”

The Richard and Leslie Frank Center for Leadership and Innovation in Media endeavors to develop students who are leaders in their professions by offering access to a diverse group of experts and practitioners through residencies and a speaker series, and by supporting outside learning opportunities such as professional immersion experiences, conference participation, and internships. The Frank Center aims to enhance opportunities for the College of Media to engage with the public on pressing issues.

Rich Frank, former president of Disney Studios, and Leslie Frank, an Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist, both leaders in Napa Valley, wanted to make an investment in the University of Illinois that would have an impact for generations.

“Shaping journalists starts at the university level,” said Leslie. “We feel that the University of Illinois has a fantastic journalism program and think our contribution will only enhance it, giving students more advantages and opportunities to become successful in their future journalism careers.”