Despite rankings, Cronkite trumps top competition in value

Named after the veteran news reporter, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication offers several programs to students in all areas of journalism, including a student run radio station and sports bureau in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Katie Malles) Named after the veteran news reporter, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication offers several programs to students in all areas of journalism, including a student run radio station and sports bureau in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Katie Malles)

If you walk around the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix, you don’t need statistics, rankings or alumni to tell you who’s on top in college journalism — the evidence is literally and figuratively written on the walls.

Cronkite’s halls are filled with evidence of its prowess. From the stories of current and former students, to the cases upon cases of awards, to quotes from the man himself, the Cronkite school — a place that produces professional writers and speakers — speaks for itself.

But as of late, Cronkite is ranked as the 10th best journalism school in the country according to College Magazine, and it doesn’t even rank inside the top 10 according to USA Today. Those near the top of the rankings make sense for the most part, but not including Cronkite in the top five is an injustice.

The Importance of Value

Based on a number of rankings over the years, the four best undergraduate j-schools not named Cronkite hail from the University of Missouri, Northwestern University, USC and Syracuse University. However, the Cronkite school trumps every single one of them. Where Cronkite beats out the so-called best journalism schools in the nation is its value. You can find this value in Cronkite's affordability, location, facilities and professional opportunities.

Many regard the University of Missouri as the best in college journalism, and cost-wise, it's on par with ASU. However, Columbia, Missouri, isn’t exactly the media capital of the world. Its largest neighbor is St. Louis, a city two hours away with a population one-fifth the size of Phoenix. When it comes to location, Mizzou has nothing on Cronkite. Being right in the middle of the sixth largest city in the U.S. and right down the street from the Arizona Republic, 12 News, the Phoenix Suns/Mercury and the Arizona Diamondbacks has its advantages.

Syracuse, USC and Northwestern have Cronkite beat as far as location (New York, L.A. and Chicago), but the costs of attendance for all three are astronomical. Syracuse’s total cost is around $59,000 per year, USC’s total cost rounds out to $65,000 per year, and Northwestern weighs in at a whopping $65,500.

In a field that’s not exactly lucrative right out of the gate, leaving school with a quarter of a million dollars in student loan debt doesn’t sound like an exciting prospect if you want to be a successful journalist. With accessible scholarships through the New American University program, ASU and Cronkite provide a top-notch journalism education at a total yearly cost that doesn’t financially destroy you—around $39,000 for out of state students and roughly $25,000 for Arizona natives.

A more expensive and "prestigious" journalism school doesn't always mean higher job security. Cronkite has the balance of value and professional development down pat. The school can boast a 93 percent employment rate for graduates, with 79 percent of those in some form of media.

The value of professional development

At Cronkite, there are nearly unlimited extracurricular opportunities for a wannabe reporter. From The State Press, to the Walter Cronkite Sports Network, to the countless other student media organizations that give students real life journalism experience, there’s no excuse to not be involved with something if you’re a Cronkite student. Judging by the hefty number of Hearst journalism awards, those who are involved reap the benefits.

But student media isn’t the only option for professional experience. Cronkite career services can hook you up with a bevy of internships. On the public relations side, Cronkite has its own PR lab as well as a new media innovation lab, where students can work alongside businesses to create innovative products and ad campaigns.

However, the hidden gems of Cronkite are its bureaus from coast to coast, which give upperclassmen opportunities to develop their journalistic niche.

For those interested in the political side of journalism, Cronkite gives you a chance to go to the political hub of this country — Cronkite’s Washington, D.C. bureau operates out of ASU’s Washington Center to give political journalists the opportunity to report on national political issues with relevance to the state of Arizona. These reporters work in conjunction with professionals in the industry as well as Cronkite NewsWatch back home.

If you're a sports journo worried about USC's location advantage, Cronkite has its own sports bureau in Los Angeles, located at ASU’s California Center, which allows sportswriters and broadcasters to spend a semester covering sports in the media mecca that is L.A.

Back in downtown Phoenix, the sports pathway has plenty of readily available experiences as well. One of note is the chance to cover spring training for the entire Cactus League — which features 15 MLB teams preparing for the season and competing against each other. No other top j-school, not even Syracuse in New York, can offer exposure to so many professional sports teams. If Cronkite is considered a broadcaster’s dream university, you can definitely consider it a sports journalist's dream as well.

For an aspiring broadcaster, there’s nowhere else you should even consider attending college. Cronkite News throws you right into the fire if you play your cards right, on camera in front of nearly 1 million viewers. It's a pretty good résumé builder to say you were on Arizona PBS reaching an audience nearly the size of the city of Phoenix’s population.

And it’s the acquisition of Arizona PBS that adds to the broadcasting prowess of the university, and puts Cronkite over the top. The station will now become a sort of “teaching hospital” for aspiring broadcasters as well as any Cronkite student with an interest in working behind the scenes. This "teaching hospital" method has also been adopted by the top journalism graduate school in the country, Columbia University. The idea is to allow students to hit the ground running and learn on the fly from professionals in the field, much like med schools do with their students.

New facilities, old-school ideals

No other journalism school can say it has this level of professional and extracurricular opportunities for its students. So why do the rankings not reflect Cronkite’s prestige?

Part of the issue might be that Cronkite’s new, state-of-the-art facilities are only six years old, despite the fact that the journalism school itself became a department at the University in 1957 (Cronkite’s namesake was added to the school in 1984).

Where the youth of the school and its facilities aids Cronkite is in the world of digital journalism. Face it — print papers will cease to exist within many of our lifetimes.

The Internet and social media will be the driving force of journalism for this generation. We live in a time of adjustment for news outlets in the print and broadcast categories, a time where newspapers are folding and major news networks scrape the bottom of the sensationalism barrel just to keep their ratings from plummeting. No school prepares you better for that battlefield than Cronkite.

That attitude of preparedness, professionalism and versatility are all qualities that the school shares with its late namesake, Walter Cronkite. In his early 20s, Cronkite started as a print reporter covering news and sports and went on to cover World War II. His phenomenal reporting allowed him to be selected by the Air Force as one of eight journalists to fly in a B-17 with U.S. airmen and cover the war from as close as you can get. He even got to fire a machine gun at a German fighter.

Edward R. Murrow, a legend in the field of journalism, took notice of Cronkite’s versatility and professionalism and brought him onto CBS, where Cronkite eventually took hold of the lead anchor position and became the most trusted man in America. His historic announcement of the Kennedy assassination, scathing commentary on the Vietnam War and his coverage of the first man landing on the moon are just a few shining stars in what was an illustrious career. In 2009, Walter Cronkite passed away at the age of 92.

Cronkite serves as a model to the students who attend the journalism school that bears his name. If he were alive today, he would be unbelievably proud of what’s been accomplished by ASU in ushering the Cronkite School into prominence. From the limitless number of professional connections and opportunities, to the digital emphasis, to the unmatched facilities, value and location, the Cronkite school is without a doubt the best journalism school in the country.

As Cronkite would say: “And that’s the way it is.”

Reach the columnist at rclarke6@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @rclarkeasu

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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