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Cronkite School celebrates 25 years of excellence

November 04, 2008

Arizona State University’s journalism program has experienced an amazing evolution during the past 25 years.

Technology changed the way that students work from the demise of the typewriter to the advent of video display terminals. Laptop computers, email and the Internet are modern-day tools of the trade.

What hasn’t changed are the basic tenants of journalism.

As the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication celebrates its 25th anniversary, the school continues to teach professional journalism ethics while expanding its offerings to embrace the multimedia age.

Highlights throughout the years have been many. One of the biggest was naming the school after Walter Cronkite, the CBS news anchor who was an essential member of American’s households during the 1960s.

“The landing of the Cronkite name - thanks to Tom Chauncey - in 1983 was, of course, huge,” said Doug Anderson, who joined the school in 1979 as a professor and served as director from 1987 to 1999. Chauncey, the owner of the local CBS affiliate, contacted Cronkite and asked him to help the school.

Other milestones included broadcast students earning real-world experience when the school’s weekly television newscast called “Southwinds” was launched in 1989. (Today’s broadcast students host Cronkite NewsWatch three days a week from the school’s new building downtown.) Cronkite students also began dominating the William Randolph Hearst Foundation's Journalism Awards Program during the 1990s, elevating the school’s reputation and showcasing the best work that budding journalists were turning out. They also worked at Valley newspapers, radio stations, television stations and public relations outlets through internships established during Anderson’s tenure.

Today’s students continue to dominate the Hearst awards.

“That is a great measure of the quality of a journalism program,” said Christopher Callahan, current dean of the Cronkite School.

Landing the sixth $1.5 million Knight Chair from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in the 1990s was another milestone that took Cronkite from a nationally known program to a top-10 journalism school.

“The Cronkite School was among the first 10 journalism programs in the nation to receive the Hearst Foundation's Visiting Professionals Program endowment and was among the first nine to be selected for the Freedom Forum's Professional-in-Residence program,” Anderson said. “Another of many highlights was having the privilege of being able to hire so many bright, talented and hard-working professors to make the school far more nationally formidable than anyone would have dreamed possible.”

The Cronkite School took another leap forward in 2004 when ASU President Michael Crow announced that the school would become an independent unit and be an integral part of the new Downtown Phoenix campus.

Since arriving at ASU three years ago as dean of the Cronkite School, Christopher Callahan has continued to raise the quality of the school with a new curriculum that emphasizes hands-on, multimedia training, star faculty who bring years of media experience to students and a state-of-the-art journalism complex in the heart of the city.

“We’re really living in the digital age. This school – more than any in the country – embraces that,” Callahan says.

But the Cronkite School keeps traditional journalism values at the heart of its core mission – teaching students to write and broadcast objective, comprehensive stories under tight deadlines using digital skills that are increasingly in demand.

“Those students are highly sought out,” Callahan said.

So are the faculty who teach them from former CNN anchor Aaron Brown to former BET executive Retha Hill. Relative newcomers join veterans such as Frederic “Fritz” Leigh who served as the Cronkite School’s first associate director and started ASU’s campus radio station in 1982.

“It’s a great mix of high-level professionals coming out of newsrooms and professional scholars,” Callahan said.

Recent Cronkite students have benefited from an expanded faculty that has doubled in size during the past three years. Partnerships with major corporations such as Gannett, Knight Foundation and Carnegie Corporation build the school’s programs and reputation for excellence.

The school’s new 223,000 square feet, six-story building in the heart of downtown Phoenix offers students the chance to learn in a state-of-the-art facility equipped with seven digital media laboratories, seven digital computer labs, five working newsrooms and two TV studios with adjoining digital control rooms for daily newscasts and satellite feeds.

“This is one of the best journalism schools in the country today,” Callahan said.

The new building, which Cronkite shares with Eight/KAET, also reflects the most important values of great journalism. Floor-to-ceiling versions of the First Amendment are displayed on each of the six floors, and inspirational quotes about journalism and the free press are visible throughout the building.

With a past that is built on excellence, the school’s future looks bright.

“Over the next 3 to 5 years, we’ll take the Cronkite School to the top school in the country by focusing on the future and traditional journalism values,” Callahan said.