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Bureau chief tackles tough assignments

April 14, 2009

Emily Graham was there when John McCain made his last campaign stop in Prescott during his 2008 bid for the presidency. She covered the story when U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officers busted motorcycle gang members in Los Angeles.

And she was part of a reporting class that journeyed to South Africa last summer to report on immigration and border issues.

The senior journalism major at Arizona State University – who admits to a “ridiculous” work ethic – rises with the sun each weekday to prepare for a 7:15 a.m. phone call to talk stories with her bosses from ABC News in New York. She pitches stories and gets assignments that her five-student bureau will report and produce that day

It’s all part of Graham’s job as chief of the ABC News on Campus bureau at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix. Through a partnership with the Cronkite School and four other top journalism schools across the country, ABC gives students the chance to report on stories in their region and produce a wide array of content for ABC News’ various digital and broadcast platforms, including “Good Morning America,” “World News with Charles Gibson,” “Nightline,” “ABC News NOW,”, mtvU, ABC News Radio and NewsOne.

In addition to working for ABC, Graham also covers stories for Cronkite NewsWatch, the school’s award-winning, half-hour television newscast produced by advanced broadcast students.

“Emily is incredibly driven. She lives journalism,” said Susan Green, who oversees the ABC News on Campus program and broadcast NewsWatch for the Cronkite School. “During the first half of the year she had to be up before 7 a.m. for the morning conference call with the folks back east. It was very early because of the time change, but she never missed a call.”  Graham said the hardest part is managing the workload. “I’ve scheduled my classes to work with ABC,” she said. “You have to be on top of things in order to get everything accomplished.”

John R. Green, executive producer of special programming and development for ABC News, came to ASU to interview Graham when she applied for the bureau chief position more than a year ago.

“Emily was just extremely eager and intelligent,” he said. “She had great story ideas. She showed an ability to think out of the box and to multitask. We agreed that she had the energy and the enthusiasm to do the job.

“We chose the cream of the crop.”

The program has given Graham the chance to do some traveling of her own – including a trip to New York to meet veteran broadcast journalists Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer. Other Cronkite School students who are part of the ABC News on Campus team are Jen Wahl, Ryan Calhoun, Joshua Zuber and Frank Morales.

The students have earned national hits with stories that have appeared on ABC’s Nightline, Good Morning America and World News Tonight. Graham’s story on a rise in the number of independent voters was shown on ABC News in London as well as in other markets across the United States.

Along the way, they have earned a reputation as a go-to school when the network needs a story, Graham said. “They definitely know that we are hard workers at ASU,” she said.

ABC’s Green agreed. “I think that ASU has done an amazing job,” he said.

“The students at the Walter Cronkite School at ASU have far exceeded our expectations. They have created amazing content.”

As an example, he cited an assignment ABC gave to the schools to report on a controversial subject. The Cronkite bureau chose to cover the abortion issue.

“Emily led the charge,” John Green said. She “has really learned how to pitch stories at the network level, the types that resonate with a national audience as opposed to local or campus-wide. She has grown enormously on camera.”

Graham has also learned how to tell a good story, such as a piece she produced about a man in South Africa who had been a banker but resorted to making and selling baskets for a living after he lost his job.

“He traveled 15 hours each way (to another country) to sell baskets. His story was very powerful,” Graham said.

Graham, who will receive a degree in broadcasting in May, has already talked with stations in top 30 markets about a job after graduation. She would like to find a job in online media with the ultimate goal of leading a national news organization. 

“That would be my dream job,” she said.