ASU Cronkite School honors NBC’s Lester Holt with 36th Cronkite Award

November 4, 2019

Lester Holt, the award-winning anchor of “NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline NBC,” accepted the 2019 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism on Monday from Arizona State University.

Calling the Cronkite Award an honor, Holt said these times demand clarity, fearlessness and reporting that exposes and cuts through assaults on the truth.  Cronkite Award, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Lester Holt Lester Holt was honored with the 36th annual Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism on Nov. 4, 2019 at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown. Photo by Ashley Lowery Download Full Image

“Rather than lick our wounds, this is journalism’s time to shine, to shine a light in dark places as we never have before, and to hold individuals and institutions of power accountable,” Holt told a crowd of more than 1,000 media, business and community leaders, Cronkite School supporters and students. “That’s what we do. That is our calling. That is what we will do.”

ASU Provost Mark Searle presented Holt with the 36th annual award, given by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The award recognizes distinguished journalists who embody the values of the school’s namesake.

When accepting the award, Holt noted that it is common at such gatherings to bemoan the current assault on journalism, a time when “low blows from the highest places are a threat to not only the First Amendment — a fundamental pillar of our democracy — but to journalism around the world.”

But this also is an important moment for American journalism, he said.

“Yeah, we’re getting knocked around a little bit, called ‘enemies of the people’,’’ Holt said. “But no one is preventing us from doing our jobs, so that’s what we need to do.” 

Holt was joined by NBC News colleagues; his wife, Carol; and his oldest brother, Mike, and his wife, Susan, who live in the Valley. 

Also in attendance were Chip Cronkite and Walt Cronkite, the son and grandson of Walter Cronkite. Special guests included members of the Howard family and executives of the Scripps Howard Foundation, who through their support made possible the Cronkite School’s newest program — the national Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. 

Earlier in the day, Holt discussed his unconventional career path with more than 300 Cronkite students who filled the school’s First Amendment Forum, taking time to answer questions from students who are close to entering the field. During the hourlong discussion, led by Cronkite student Jennifer Alvarez, Holt addressed the complexities of the current and evolving media landscape, lauded the demand for the profession and offered advice to future journalists.

“The stories of the day are naturally divisive,” Holt said. “We have to give people perspective on why stuff matters. We have to go in eyes wide open, recognizing that a lot of audiences right now will hear what they want to hear and will gravitate sometimes to places that will confirm their world view.”

He urged students to bring compassion to their work, saying it is a critical element of journalism that is often overlooked.

“We are journalists, but we are also people,” Holt said. “It’s not an editorial position to feel sad about someone’s loss. That’s a human reaction. It’s OK to inject some of that into a story. These are human stories first and news stories second.” 

Other Cronkite Award recipients include TV news anchors Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer, Tom Brokaw, Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; newspaper journalists Ben Bradlee, Helen Thomas and Bob Woodward; and media executives Katharine Graham, Al Neuharth and William Paley.

Holt has anchored the flagship NBC broadcast since 2015, following eight years as anchor of the newscast’s weekend edition and 12 years as co-anchor of “Weekend TODAY.” He also leads NBC’s special reports, major breaking news and primetime political coverage and has served as principal anchor of “Dateline NBC” since 2011. 

His work has been recognized with multiple Emmy Awards, a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award. In 2016, he was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Holt has covered more than a dozen natural disasters, including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and has covered every Olympics on the ground since the 2002 Winter Olympics. 

Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan called Holt “an inspiration to our students, and to all of us.”

“I want to simply say how excited all of us at the Cronkite School are to have Lester Holt here with us today to celebrate his great career and the journalistic values and principles he represents,” Callahan said, adding, “Those Cronkite values and principles are also on display every day at our school, through the extraordinary students who will be the next generation of great journalists in the tradition of Holt and Cronkite.”

Holt during his remarks recalled watching as a child as Cronkite anchored the big stories from the funeral of President John F. Kennedy to Vietnam, from race riots to “the incredible journey we know as Apollo 11.”

Holt told the story of when he was a young radio reporter years later and he “couldn’t wipe the smile off his face” that day in 1980 during a visit to CBS network headquarters in New York. He came face to face with Walter Cronkite as he walked out of the studio and shook his hand. 

“At that moment I found Mr. Cronkite as more than a figure to admire, but rather someone whose career and approach to news I someday hoped to follow,” Holt said. “And you know the rest of this story. That kid today anchors a national evening news program of his own, and now stands before you honored with an award named for Walter Cronkite.”

These are different times than when Walter Cronkite delivered the news, and there will never be anyone quite like him, Holt added. 

“But his authenticity, his attention to detail, calm demeanor — and this is really important — his respect for the viewer are values and skills that all of us in front of the camera should aspire,” he said. “And as Walter himself would likely conclude, ‘That’s the way it is.’”

Assistant vice president, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

School of Politics and Global Studies partners with McCain Institute to offer master’s degree in Washington

November 4, 2019

Arizona State University continues to build on its educational offerings at the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C., with a new Master of Arts program for those looking to lead in a career in international affairs.

The Master of Arts in international affairs and leadership, offered by the School of Politics and Global Studies, will empower students to be character-driven leaders in the global arena. In partnership with the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU, this program establishes a dynamic and active learning environment led by senior international affairs professionals from the public and private sectors. Scenic shot of the ASU in DC building The MA in international affairs and leadership will be offered in the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now Download Full Image

The legacy of values-driven leadership embodied by Sen. John McCain, the McCain Institute’s access and connectivity in the international community and ASU’s extensive academic capacity provide students a distinctive edge to succeed in the full spectrum of international affairs professions.

The program will prepare graduates for the complex international environment through extensive exposure to topics such as character-driven leadership, national security, human rights, foreign policy, rule of law, democracy, counterterrorism and global economics.

Edward O'Donnell

Edward B. O’Donnell




Ambassador Edward B. O’Donnell, professor of practice with the School of Politics and Global Studies and program director of the new MA, offered insight into ASU’s new degree.

Question: What led to the creation of the MA in international affairs and leadership degree at ASU through the McCain Institute?

Answer: The new MA in international affairs and leadership (MA IAL) merges the strengths of ASU’s academic excellence and the McCain Institute’s career professionals, former U.S. ambassadors, military general officers and internationally respected foreign policy experts to offer graduate students a unique academic experience. ASU and the McCain Institute leadership offer this new MA as a mentoring and accelerating degree and platform for career professionals in Washington, D.C., as well as ASU graduates. It will strengthen their experience and skills by learning from practitioners with deep experience in international affairs.

Q: What is the benefit of classes for the degree being located in the heart of Washington, D.C.?

A:  Master's degree candidates will experience the international and political energy of Washington, D.C., as they learn about key issues of global diplomacy, public policy and international relations. The nation’s capital is home to the U.S. — and much of the international — foreign policy community. The program leverages this unique location as a source of learning and help as young professionals seek to launch and advance their international affairs careers. The MA degree in the nation’s capital also allows students to pursue their first career positions and internships in organizations located here that are crucial stepping stones to building a foreign affairs career.

Q: What do students have to look forward to in taking classes from top experts in the fields of foreign policy and national security?

A:  MA classes will be led by renowned experts such as former Deputy Secretary of State Ambassador John D. Negroponte. Guest lecturers will also include U.S. policymakers and program managers, senior diplomats, think tank experts and other international leaders and decision-makers. These professors’ experience in developing and implementing policies over five decades will both inform the students of “best practices” and “lessons learned,” and also lay a foundation for the students’ own creativity in addressing future challenges and issues in their own careers.

Q: How do you think this degree best prepares students for a career in international affairs?

A:  This MA degree is unique and unmatched by other MA programs in two respects: (1) Students learn directly from senior experts in an interactive “learning lab” that projects “over the horizon” to center on the new global and international environment; and (2) the integration of how to be a “character-driven leader” prepares the MA students for leadership positions that require creativity and courage in an increasingly complicated and dangerous world. 

The Master of Arts in international affairs and leadership has a scheduled launch date of fall 2021. Learn more about program on the School of Politics and Global Studies and the McCain Institute websites.

Matt Oxford

Assistant Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, College of Global Futures