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Washington Post editor joins Cronkite School faculty

December 08, 2008

Leonard Downie Jr., the longtime executive editor of The Washington Post who led his newspaper to more Pulitzer Prizes than any editor in American journalism history, is joining the faculty of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Downie, the Post’s top editor from 1991 until earlier this year, will be the Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Cronkite School and will hold the faculty rank of professor of practice. He will start in August at the school’s new downtown Phoenix campus, teaching courses and working with advanced students at the Carnegie-Knight News21 Journalism Initiative, Cronkite News Service, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and other new school programs.

Downie spent a week at ASU in October as the Barrett Honors College’s Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecturer. 

ASU President Michael Crow said, “Great journalism is essential to the preservation of our democracy, and that is why we are striving to make the Cronkite School the finest in the nation. Len Downie represents the very best of American journalism, and he will play a major part in creating the next generation of news media leaders.”


Downie is the latest addition to the Cronkite School, which has added numerous nationally recognized journalists and innovative programs over the past three years. Other new faculty include former CNN anchor Aaron Brown, now the Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism; Tim McGuire, the former Minneapolis Star Tribune editor who holds the Frank Russell Chair in the Business of Journalism; Carnegie Professor Rick Rodriguez, the former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee; former BET Vice President Retha Hill, who directs the New Media Innovation Lab; Kauffman Professor Dan Gillmor, a digital media leader and director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship; Jody Brannon, a former and editor who directs the Carnegie-Knight News 21 Initiative; and syndicated Chicago Tribune columnist Andrew Leckey, the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism.

 “I am honored and excited about the opportunity to join Dean Christopher Callahan and the outstanding journalists and educators he has assembled at the Cronkite School,” Downie said. “I look forward to working with them to prepare tomorrow’s professional journalists at a time of extraordinary change and challenge in the news media. I hope to play a role in ensuring that enterprising and ethical journalism that holds the powerful accountable will survive and prosper in the new media age. As a state university graduate who owes much to public education, I am also pleased to help carry on that mission for a new generation of students at ASU.”

The endowed professorship is named in honor of Louis “Chip” Weil, the former publisher of The Arizona Republic and chairman and chief executive officer of Central Newspapers Inc.

Weil created the endowed professorship through a generous gift in an effort to support “outstanding faculty who will impact the country’s future journalists.” He retired in 2000 after a career that also included positions as publisher of Time magazine and The Detroit News.

Downie earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at The Ohio State University and started at The Washington Post as a summer intern reporter in 1964. He became an award-winning local investigative reporter and began moving up the editorial ranks. He helped supervise the Post’s groundbreaking Watergate coverage as deputy metro editor and later worked as assistant managing editor for metropolitan news, London correspondent and national editor. After serving as managing editor for seven years under executive editor Ben Bradlee, he was named Bradlee’s successor in 1991.

Downie announced his retirement in July shortly after his paper won a record six Pulitzer Prizes. The Post won 25 Pulitzer Prize during Downie’s 17 years as the top editor, the best record of any editor in history.

Downie is the author of four non-fiction books, including “The News about the News” with Robert G. Kaiser. His first work of fiction, a novel about Washington, “The Rules of the Game,” will be published Jan. 15 by Knopf.

Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan called Downie “simply the finest newspaper editor of our era. Our Cronkite students will benefit enormously from Len’s vast knowledge, experiences, passion and belief in the news media’s critical watchdog role in holding those in power accountable.”

The Cronkite School, named in honor of the legendary CBS Evening News anchor, has enjoyed unprecedented growth since Crow made it an independent school in 2005.

In three years, Cronkite moved into its new, 223,000-square-foot building in downtown Phoenix, doubled its faculty and staff, added new programs such as the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, Cronkite News Service, Cronkite NewsWatch, the New Media Innovation Lab, ABC News on Campus and the Multimedia Reporting Program.

In July, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $7.5 million grant to Cronkite to lead the 12-university Carnegie-Knight News21 Journalism Initiative. And last month, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation gave the school a $5.3 million grant to expand the Reynolds Center and endow the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism.