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Cronkite student leaves rich legacy at ASU

April 30, 2010

Arizona State University senior Leigh Munsil has a close family connection to the university’s student newspaper.

“My parents met at the State Press,” Munsil said.

That meeting took place during the 1980s when her mother, Tracy Munsil, served as editor-in-chief and her father, Len Munsil, was a copy editor who also went on to become editor-in-chief.

Their daughter followed in their footsteps, but had first considered going into college softball after earning accolades as a high-school star player. A charitable trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina sealed her decision to go into journalism instead. After blogging about the experience, she knew she wanted to travel to different places and tell stories of the people who lived there.

“It really hit me hard,” she said. “I want to go places that not everyone can see.”

ASU was a logical choice since the university is close to her Scottsdale home and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is known as a top journalism school.

During her four years at the university, Munsil has kept a schedule that effectively amounts to a full-time job on top of a full class load.

“Every semester has been busy,” she said.

Munsil started as State Press night editor during her sophomore year and also landed an internship at The Arizona Republic. This “boot camp” introduction to journalism required working weeknights from 7 p.m. to midnight, days at the Republic from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and taking classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“I loved that sink-or-swim part of it,” she said.

Munsil landed an internship at the Arizona Capitol Times during the second semester of her second year while simultaneously working as a government reporter for the State Press. Serving in two government reporting roles presented challenges, especially when calling the same source for different publications.

“I had to keep the beats separate,” she said.

During that summer, Munsil was State Press editor-in-chief, an experience that taught her about delegating, hiring staff and appreciating an editor’s role. “There is a really nice dynamic to doing your editing and being done (for the night),” Munsil said.

What followed would set the stage for her primary professional goal. As an intern in the White House’s Office of Public Liaison, Munsil participated in presidential events, constituent relations and even gave tours.

“It was an absolutely incredible experience,” she said. “I got to see the inside workings of the most powerful political office in the country.”

Munsil eventually left the White House and returned to the State Press as a junior where she carried a dual role of managing and multimedia editor. A summer internship at the Orange County Register’s San Clemente Bureau followed and Munsil returned during her senior year to the State Press as editor-in-chief.

“It’s a full-time job that doesn’t leave me much time for anything else,” she said. A typical day encompasses a story budget meeting, editor’s meetings, page layout, deciding on the paper’s editorial and working with reporters.

“I read all the front-page stories and work with the reporters on grammar, AP style and what they might have missed in their stories,” she said. Putting the paper to bed means taking care of duties such as writing cutlines and headlines.

Working at the student newspaper is one of the experiences Munsil will count as the best of times at ASU.

“The State Press is a community that doesn’t really exist anywhere else,” she said. “It’s a real collaborative effort to put a paper together.”

Munsil’s historical perspective of the paper is enhanced through her parents who tell stories of the old days when they worked there. Leigh’s father, Len Munsil, earned degrees in journalism and law at ASU. He was also the Republican nominee for Arizona’s governor in 2006. Her mother, Tracy, earned a journalism degree, homeschooled her eight children and is now working on her doctoral degree at ASU.

Their daughter’s next adventure starts after graduation when she’ll begin a year-long fellowship at the Dallas Morning News covering breaking news through a fellowship from the Collegiate Network.

At some point, a Washington job beckons to Munsil.

“I want to get to DC. I got Beltway fever when I was there,” she said.

Her professors at the Cronkite School are confident she’ll do well no matter where her professional journey takes her.

“Leigh is a smart, focused and natural leader," said Aaron Brown, Cronkite School professor of practice. "I am certain she is destined to do good and important work. The where and the what of that work is up to her - and only her.”