‘What Would Walter Do?’: State Press at Arizona State Reflects on Cronkite Legacy

In one of its final print issues, The State Press at Arizona State University reflected on how the school has attempted to honor the legacy of iconic broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite. The paper’s cover story late last month — timed to coincide with the 5th anniversary of the longtime CBS news anchor’s death — specifically explores how the “Cronkite Values of Journalism” have been adopted and expanded by the part of ASU bearing his name: the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Three interesting facts I gleaned from the well-written piece penned by Andrew Nicla: 1) Cronkite had only two main conditions when granting the school the use of his name — “it needed to remain a professional journalism school and ‘journalism’ needed to remain in the name.” (The latter demand is especially prescient given the growing number of prominent programs removing or downgrading the j-word from their names.)

2) A current foundations class for first-year j-students is at least partially inspired by Cronkite’s work. It promotes the “Cronkite Values of Journalism” (which are also hopefully everyone’s journalism values) including objectivity and an obligation to truth.

3) The ASU j-school is increasingly a behemoth of programs, bureaus, courses and awards perhaps without equal. It sports a news service in D.C., a sports bureau in Santa Monica, a Cronkite Global Initiatives program, the nationally-renowned News21 summer reporting project, a daily student newscast, a potentially game-changing certificate program in business journalism, a first-of-its-kind award for disability issues reporting, a class devoted to Super Bowl coverage and the recent PBS partnership. The latter is “the largest media organization run by a journalism school in the world by far.” Yowza.

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Separately, here is what Cronkite dean Christopher Callahan tells Nicla about the moment he learned of the anchor’s death in 2009:

“It was very late on a Friday afternoon, and most of my team had left the office for a happy hour drink down the block. I stayed behind and cleaned my office. It had been known that Walter was sick. He was in failing health, and we knew his time was very limited. And we were prepared for that. I was wandering in between my office and the lobby, and as I was leaving, Milly (former assistant) pulled me aside and said, ‘Chris, Marlene (Walter’s longtime chief-of-staff) is on the phone.’ I said hello, and she was crying and she said that Walter passed. It was very sad. Even though you know it’s coming, it’s still hard. So I gave myself a minute or two and started gathering myself. Then I did what’s the easiest thing in the world to do when you’re a journalist — I do it all the time, and it’s largely how I run (the Cronkite School). I stepped back and I said, ‘What would Walter do right now?'”

As I previously posted, Cronkite’s journalism career began in college media — reporting for The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin.

As The New York Times reports, in March 1935, an 18-year-old Cronkite interviewed Gertrude Stein for a profile published in advance of her arrival on campus for an event. According to the Times:

“After recording her attire (‘a mannish blouse, a tweed skirt, a peculiar but attractive vest affair, and comfortable looking shoes’), Mr. Cronkite talked with her about the proper role of the writer and the impact of the Great Depression, then in its sixth year. Discussing her craft, Stein told Mr. Cronkite, ‘A writer isn’t anything but contemporary. The trouble is that the people are living Twentieth Century and thinking Nineteenth Century.’”

Related

Broadcasting Legend Cronkite Started as College Journalist

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State Press at ASU Shifting from ‘Digital-First’ to ‘All-Digital,’ Dropping Print Newspaper in Fall

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