Walter Cronkite’s legacy continues at journalism school five years after death

A Walter Cronkite tribute video played for Cronkite School graduates during the Fall 2013 Convocation on Dec. 16, 2013. (Photo by Sean Logan)

A Walter Cronkite tribute video played for Cronkite School graduates during the Fall 2013 Convocation on Dec. 16, 2013. (Photo by Sean Logan)

It is midday in downtown Phoenix. Inside the Dean’s Office at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication sits a desk that is ringed with cluttered papers, notes and a Father’s Day card. Behind the desk, amongst the jumble, is Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan.

At the edge of his desk, secluded from his work, sits a pipe which belonged to none other than Walter Cronkite. The pipe serves as a memory trigger for Callahan.

“Walter told me in his typical fashion to take whatever I wanted from his office and bring it back with me,” Callahan said. “He was always extremely generous.”

Callahan had his eye on Cronkite’s pipe; it was a piece of journalism history. After overcoming a reluctant feeling to request an item to keep for his office, he finally asked to keep the pipe, and Cronkite gladly allowed it.

Cronkite’s pipe, along with his other iconic possessions that sit proudly on display in a gallery on the second floor of the Cronkite school, help Callahan, journalism faculty and students remember the man who once was called “The Most Trusted Man in America.”

Remembering Cronkite

July 17 will mark the fifth anniversary of Cronkite’s death. Callahan remembers where he was when he heard the news:

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?”

Even though, personally, it had a great impact on me, this is, institutionally, a very significant event for our school. It’s a news story, and we need to treat it like a news story.

We knew this was coming, so we had spent the better part of the month doing what we call “preparedness.” When you know a big story is coming, you write as much as you can beforehand, you gather as much background as you can, you get those photos in place so when the big story breaks, you’re ready to go.

So I asked Milly to call everybody back. She made the call, and within twenty minutes, this whole suite was filled with folks who just went into in reporting mode.

I had to do live shots on the six-o’clock news less than an hour into this. You can actually go back and see the package that was created that night.

That night we probably did 20 or 25 media interviews around the country. We also sent out a whole bunch of information to our alumni, students, and supporters. We had a whole bunch of stuff on the web.

We probably finished at about one in the morning. Then we gathered down the block and had a drink to toast our friend. And I like to think that Walter would have liked all of that.

Cronkite’s Involvement and Influence

Cronkite made an effort to be as involved as he could with the school that held his name.

He was not necessarily pursuing involvement because he was concerned about his legacy. Rather, he was excited and hopeful for the future of the school and its students.

Thursday, July 17 marks the fifth anniversary of  Walter Cronkite’s death. (Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press/MCT)

Thursday, July 17 marks the fifth anniversary of
Walter Cronkite’s death. (Nicolas Khayat/Abaca
Press/MCT)

When Cronkite was supporting the idea of the establishment of the school, he had two principles in mind.

“Walter had two conditions: it needed to remain a professional journalism school, and ‘journalism’ needed to remain in the name,” Callahan said.

Walter’s vision directly affected the school’s curriculum. In fact, a mandatory class for freshmen is Principles and History of Journalism. This class explains and stresses the importance of the “Cronkite Values of Journalism,” which include objectivity, fairness, obligation to the truth and loyalty to citizens.

“We do a lot in digital, we do a lot in entrepreneurship, and the future, but our foundation (for the curriculum), are those core journalism values that remain important, and I would argue that they are more important today than they ever were,” Callahan said.

The Cronkite school uses a teaching method that isn’t necessarily new to the world of education. Callahan compares the teaching method of the Cronkite School to medical schools that use teaching hospitals.

Callahan says that programs such as Cronkite NewsWatch, a student produced newscast, and its New Media Innovation Lab, a playground for entrepreneurial-minded students, and other programs at the school serve as its “clinics.” The goal of these clinics is to provide students with as much hands-on experience as possible.

The faculty at the Cronkite School continue to invest in this method with the hopes their students will learn more efficiently, will retain information and skills they have learned more effectively and that they will appear as attractive candidates to future employers.

Using this highly interactive, hands-on teaching method has produced a satisfying plot of results.

According to statistics provided by the Cronkite school, 93 percent of students that graduated between 2009 and 2012 have been employed and 79 percent of them have been employed in media. Its retention rates for both freshmen and master’s degree candidates are close to 90 percent, and 75 percent of undergraduates and 91 percent of master’s candidates graduate.

The remodeled building and the reimagined journalism program serve as a contemporary and functional memorial for Cronkite.

Cronkite never had the chance to see the school after it was remodeled.

In a way, the school has paid tribute to Cronkite throughout the past five years by continuing to thrive as a program.

Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan did live shots for the news within an hour of learning about Walter Cronkite’s death. (Photo by Sean Logan)

Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan did live shots for the news within an hour of learning about Walter Cronkite’s death. (Photo by Sean Logan)

The past five years

2009

In 2009, the school received a large amount of media attention surrounding Cronkite’s death.

The faculty grew as former executive editor and current vice-president-at-large of the Washington Post, Leonard Downie Jr. joined the faculty.

Cronkite students finished first nationally in both the Hearst and Society of Professional Journalists awards. The school would also capture its first Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, an award that celebrates excellence in investigative journalism. Students would receive another the following year.

During that same year, The New York Times recognized the Cronkite school for its focus on innovation and the future of journalism in an article titled “J-Schools Play Catchup.”

2010

Arizona PBS began airing the student-produced newscast “Cronkite NewsWatch” on a daily basis, giving the newscast a much larger influence in Arizona.

Callahan was recognized as the Scripps Howard Journalism Administrator of the Year.

The State Department’s Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship for international journalists nested at the Cronkite School. As Cronkite’s international programs grow, the school initiates ‘Cronkite Global initiatives.’ According to its mission statement, its goal would be to “foster meaningful connections among Cronkite students, staff and faculty and international media professionals, scholars and citizens” through its international programs.

2011

2011 would be the year the Cronkite school would colonize its broadcast program on the opposite coast of the U.S. and as a result make its name on the map significantly larger locally, and nationally.

The Knight Foundation and Carnegie Corporation’s ‘News21’, a collaborative, national multimedia investigative reporting project, would be extended for another 10 years and headquartered at The Cronkite School. The very next year, News21 would win its second consecutive EPPY Award.

The Cronkite School established a news bureau in Washington, D.C. that aimed to tell the top stories on the hill from an Arizona perspective.

The trend of success continued at the school. Cronkite students finish first in the SPJ Mark of Excellence Awards for the sixth consecutive year and for the 10th year in a row, finish in the top 10 of the Hearst Journalism Awards.

2012

Fox Sports Arizona partnered with the Cronkite School and hosts Phoenix Suns studio show broadcasts.

‘Cronkite Day,’ now an annual alumni celebration, had its inaugural year.

Nineteen Cronkite students were given the opportunity to cover the 2012 Olympic Games. Students provided multimedia coverage for Cronkite News Service, a program where students work in a professional newsroom setting while providing local media outlets with news packages.

The school received a generous grant of $8.2 million from the Reynolds Foundation. This grant would be used for the expansion of the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. The Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism serves as a guide for student journalists to better the quality of business journalism in America.

2013

Dow Jones introduces its digital training program at Cronkite.

Jacquee Petchel, Pulitzer Prize-winning ASU alumna and Hall of Fame member returns to direct News21.

Cronkite students continued to perform well in competition outside of the classroom. As a result, for the seventh time in eight years, the school finished first in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence competition and for the fourth consecutive year, received more awards from Broadcasts Education Association competitions than any other school.

The Cronkite School started the nation’s first competition that recognizes the excellence in coverage of disability issues as they award the inaugural Katherine Schneider Journalism Award.

The Cronkite Gallery inside the Cronkite Building contains many original historic journalism artifacts and newspapers. (Photo by Sean Logan)

The Cronkite Gallery inside the Cronkite Building contains many original historic journalism artifacts and newspapers. (Photo by Sean Logan)

2014 (So far.)

A Santa Monica Bureau was opened by Cronkite Sports. It would be announced that the bureau would be housed at the ASU California Center. The sports bureau would aim to serve as a platform to teach students to create sports-related content for professional media outlets.

Cronkite faculty is once again enlarged, as former Gannett Newspaper President Sue Clark-Johnson and former Forbes publisher Jeff Cunningham hop on board.

Cronkite’s first “Super Bowl” class was announced. Up to 20 students will cover current events leading up to the largest sporting event in the world of American sports. The content will be produced for local media outlets, namely FOX Sports Arizona, The Arizona Republic and azcentral.

The World’s first certificate program in business journalism is launched by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.

The school announced June 23 that Arizona PBS would be owned and operated directly by the university. History has been made, and the bar has been set. Arizona PBS will be the largest media organization run by a journalism school in the world by far.

What’s next?

For a school that has accomplished so much, so rapidly, it can be difficult to imagine what the future holds for an institution like the Cronkite School. The question “What’s next?” has so many possible answers. But the Cronkite School has delivered an answer, and Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan says, “The best is yet to come.”

Throughout its success, the Cronkite School has continued to keep Walter Cronkite’s vision relevant by teaching students the importance of the fundamentals as well as giving them opportunities to witness and create the future of journalism, all while keeping that one question in the back of their mind: “What would Walter do?”

Reach the reporter at andrew.nicla@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @AndrewNiclaASU