ASU students use humor, creativity to highlight aspects of November election

November 3, 2016

How do you get Arizona voters to stick around and cast votes for the bottom of a very long ballot? That was the challenge put to a group of graduate students in Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre. They were one of four teams commissioned by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service to produce videos highlighting important aspects of the upcoming election.

ASU students Ricky Araiza, Malena Grosz, Vickie Hall and Chris Weise were asked to promote the final part of the ballot: retaining or rejecting Superior Court judges, also known as the merit selection process. ASU students used popsicle stick characters to highlight a lesser known part of the November ballot. ASU students used popsicle-stick characters to highlight a lesser-known part of the November ballot. Download Full Image

“We needed to get people aware of this and try to get them to finish the ballot,” said Weise. “So we had a unique challenge initially."

More like an impossible challenge. More than 2 million Arizonans cast ballots in the last presidential election in 2012. Guess how many stuck around to the end of the ballot? Only 7 percent of voters bothered to mark whether to retain the final appellate court judge on the ballot.

"Voters really have no idea how we end up with the judges that we get or the fact that we're one of the very few states that have appointed judges that then have to be elected to keep their seats, " said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center.

Explaining the merit selection process in a short video is difficult enough. But doing so in an entertaining way? It was a challenge that Weise says his team embraced.

“We all had various ideas and tried to incorporate as many as possible,” Weise said. “One person thought puppets would be fun. I thought of the idea of using a game show.”

They ended up using popsicle-stick puppets for characters and the TV show “The Voice” as the platform.

“We really were focused on the idea of the citizens judging judges, right?” recalled Weise. “And then we just thought about the format of 'The Voice.' And we thought that would work.”

For the uninitiated, "The Voice" features aspiring singers being critiqued and coached by established music stars. Hosted by TV personality Carson Daly, viewers vote to eliminate contestants until a winner is declared at the end of the season.

The opening sequence of the student-produced video features a clever play on the show’s logo. Instead of a hand holding a microphone flashing a “V” or victory sign, the hand clutches a gavel and the words “of Justice” are added under the show's title creating “The Voice of Justice.”

Three other student teams produced videos highlighting different aspects of the election. All took a different approach but used humor to make what could be dry topics come to life.

One titled “Zeeta’s Guide the AZ Corporation Commission” plays off the popular use of the iPhone voice command feature “Siri.” In this video skit, "Zeeta" comes to life and walks a hapless young person through his struggles losing electricity and water. In the process, the video highlights the work of the Corporation Commission and provides information on the five candidates running in the general election.

"If that's all they take away from their video, that's a huge accomplishment,” said Olivas. “Because voters are not aware of this body, and they're not aware that this year three out of those five seats are going to be elected."

What is perhaps the most passionate explanation ever of an Arizona ballot proposition is the work of another group of ASU students. They use a telenovela to bring Proposition 206 to life. Titled “All my Wages,” the video spoofs the popular Spanish-language soap opera complete with sappy dramatic scenes and music. The lovelorn characters recite actual language from the proposition, what a “yes” or “no” vote means and what supporters and opponents are saying about it.  It ends with the following words on the screen: “This issue doesn’t need drama. ... It needs voters.”

“And so it closes with that message that voters just need to pay attention and inform themselves and participate in this decision that will have a major impact on our economy," Olivas said.

A final student-produced video examines Proposition 205, which would allow for the recreational use of marijuana and a sales tax on marijuana sales. The students use small plastic dinosaurs, visual props and a heavy dose of humor to explain the proposition and arguments for and against.

"Their challenge was to be fair to both sides because it seemed like the preponderance if not all of them were on one side of that issue,” Olivas said. “But I really feel looking at it that they did a very good job at representing both sides well and comprehensively. And they did it in a way that was funny and attention-grabbing and hopefully will be something that people share online.”

Two of the student-produced videos were played before audiences attending debates on Proposition 205 and Proposition 206, respectively. The events were co-sponsored by the Pastor Center. The videos can also be found online on YouTube.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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Happy Birthday, Walter Cronkite

ASU recognizes the late Walter Cronkite for his 100th birthday.
November 3, 2016

ASU recognizes 100th birthday of late 'Uncle Walt,' namesake of journalism school

There was a time when the whole country watched the evening news.

They showed dead people on TV then, slippery pallored American corpses dragged through wet jungle by their arms.

The news did not close with a “bright spot” about an amputee kid ballroom dancing or a squirrel on water skis. In those days it was news, not a half-hour of chuckles and fun.

“And that’s the way it is,” intoned the man who gave us the CBS Evening News every night. And the world was that way. No more, no less. You knew that because you knew what that man said was true. That was the way it was.

That was Walter Leland Cronkite Jr., and Nov. 4 would have been his 100th birthday.

The namesake of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication had a lot of nicknames. “Uncle Walt.” “The Most Trusted Man in America.” “Old Ironpants.”

When Cronkite retired in 1981, the Washington Post declared he was better known than John Wayne or Clark Gable. From 1962 to 1981, he was the voice of 20th-century America, bringing home the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the race to put men on the moon, the Vietnam War and the Iran hostage crisis.

He reported after the Tet Offensive in 1968 that America was not winning in Vietnam. “For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate,” he wrote in an editorial.

When President Lyndon Johnson heard it, he famously remarked, “If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Weeks later Johnson announced he wasn’t running for re-election.

Doug Anderson directed the Cronkite School from 1987 to 1999. When Cronkite visited ASU, he was in his early 70s, and he ran Anderson ragged putting in 16-hour days brimming with breakfasts, classroom lectures, small group meetings and evening events with friends, alums and donors. Cronkite’s visits to the State Press newsroom were unforgettable to awestruck student journalists. (See below for a firsthand account of one visit.)

“He would connect like that,” Anderson said. “He truly was Uncle Walter when he came for these visits.”

Cronkite — who died July 17, 2009, at the age of 92 — always referred to the school as “our school,” Anderson remembered.

“He never referred to it as the Cronkite School,” he said. “If he were talking to a student, he referred to it as ‘our school.’ It was always ‘our school,’ and I truly and sincerely believe he had enormous pride in his affiliation with the school that was named for him. It grew, I think, that affinity and that affection through the years.”

Cronkite remained the quintessential reporter, recalled Chris Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School.

“Any time you spent with him, he would tell great stories, but mostly he wanted to hear from our students about where they were from, their goals and dreams and aspirations, and I think that spoke so much of who Walter was as a person,” Callahan said. “He was just a joy and a delight to be with.”

Like everyone else, Callahan could not help being starstruck in his presence.

“I grew up watching the CBS Evening News with him, so the first few times I spent time with him I was nervous,” he said. “And he knew that. He had a wonderful way with people.”

Both Callahan and Anderson remarked on Cronkite’s sense of humor. He was a faithful son and always called his mother when he was on the road, Anderson remembered.

He told Anderson a story about visiting his mother in an assisted living home in Washington, D.C. She was sitting at a table with other ladies.

“I’m sure anyone in that room at that time would have known who Walter Cronkite was,” Anderson said.

His mother jumped up and greeted him. She introduced all the ladies to him, then looked at Walter, and said, “Their sons put them in here too.”

“He was a very funny guy,” Callahan said, citing a few stories unfit for print. “He loved life. It goes back to that reporter’s zest for learning something new every day. The way he interacted with people was so natural.”

It’s unlikely another newsman of his stature will come along, given the current state of media.

“I would agree with that wholeheartedly,” Anderson said. “Even when he signed off in his final broadcast, I think that broadcast drew 18 or 20 million viewers. That kind of audience and that kind of trust placed on a journalist, I can’t imagine that being equaled.”

Part of that was being the right person at the right time in American history, Callahan said.

“With the proliferation of all these different news sources, you’re never going to have another Walter,” he said. “There’s a lot more choices now than three national newscasts. ... He was that person who every night you could go home and relay on getting a concise, accurate synopsis of the events of the world.”

Editor's Note: Below, ASU Now reporter Scott Seckel tells the story of when he first met Walter Cronkite.

I grew up in a CBS household. We watched the evening news every night, and my grandfather did not tolerate chitchat while Walter Cronkite spoke. We didn’t know what the voice of God sounded like, but we were all pretty sure He sounded like Cronkite.

Flash-forward about 20 years, when I was a student reporter on ASU’s State Press. We were told Cronkite was going to visit our dank basement newsroom.

In walked an impeccably dressed legend. “Starstruck” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’ve met a fair number of celebrities since then and never felt that way about any actress or athlete. He sat on a desk and chatted with us about our paper and what we did. All the time I could not believe that Walter Cronkite himself sat about 10 feet from me.

He proceeded to tell a story about one of his first professional assignments. (He himself had dropped out of college.) The details were fuzzy after all these years, but with the reconstructive help of a colleague who was there and the Washington Post archives, this is what he told:

He worked at the Houston Press, earning $15 a week. One of his tasks was picture chasing, a chore that thankfully doesn’t exist anymore. When someone died or made the news, young reporters were sent to their home to beg for a picture of the deceased.

Cronkite went to the house and knocked on the door. No one answered. He waited. Still no answer. He went around to the back of the house and saw a picture of the man. (It either sat on a mantel or a piano. Cronkite said “piano” that afternoon. The Post story says a mantel.)

He tried the back door. It was unlocked. He had been ordered to get a picture, and he wasn’t coming back to the newsroom empty-handed. He opened the door, dashed inside, stole the picture and raced back to the paper.

It turned out to be the wrong house. He had stolen a picture of the dead man’s neighbor.

Special thanks to Marty Sauerzopf '89, current city editor at City News Service, Los Angeles; former State Press editor-in-chief.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News