New meets old: Walter Cronkite is featured on a flatscreen TV at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. - Bridget Parker

Walter Cronkite reinvented the rules of journalism for television, the new medium in his day. Today people from across America come to a school named in his honor to learn how the rules are being reinvented, yet again.

An annual fellowship opportunity at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University invites teachers from all over the country to learn from experts what journalism is and how it’s changing.

A focus of the program is journalism’s shift from print, radio and TV dissemination of the news, to the Internet. 

“It’s a basic literacy issue. As a teacher of communications, I must teach my students to use current communications technology or they will be left behind,” said Sarah Zerwin, from Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo.

Christopher Callahan, the founding dean of the Cronkite School, knew his school’s namesake personally. He recalls that Cronkite loved to visit with the students and came every year to visit the school.

“We remember him not just because his name is on the door, but through the values in our journalism,” Callahan said.

Cronkite, who helped move journalism from print and radio, to television, one time noted, “I’ve covered some of the biggest news stories of the 20th century, but nothing was as exciting as my first job in journalism at the Houston Post when I was still in high school.” 

Walter Cronkite taught the world what it meant to be on television. 

Douglas Brinkley, in his biography Cronkite, notes that in 1952, “CBS news set up a “school” to teach politicians how to behave on the Tube. With Cronkite as the teacher, the how-to-look-good-on-TV school attracted media publicity and at least a few politicians who learned what to wear (the color blue showed up well), how to speak (briefly, whenever possible), and what not to do, (pound on the table).”

Tips like this that appear obvious today were novel innovations for their time. Cronkite was the first CBS newscaster to insist on using a prop, like a map on the wall or a picture behind his head. He invented being the role of trusted news anchor for the new medium of his day; broadcast television.

Once again a new medium requires new rules. Many journalism teachers are left scrambling to fill a fast opening void. 

“I feel like I can’t properly prepare my students for the work world if I don’t know what they are going to be using professionally and how to use it,” said Rhonda Dickens,  a teacher at Chisolm Trail High School in Fort Worth, Texas.

“There is no job where you’re only going to be a print reporter,” said Dave Siebert, a senior news video producer for The Arizona Republic and  

Modern journalists have to be able to work with video and photographs and write the story.

The role of social media is also increasing in mainstream news operations.

Robin J. Phillips, a journalist, social media editor and educator teaches a course on the Business & Future of Journalism at the Cronkite School. She advocates for the use of social media in the news.

“The Internet is a conversation.  You must talk back,” Phillips says.

At the Arizona Republic, Chad Graham is the senior editor, of mobile/search/social news.  His desk is hiring. He agrees that “social media is a tool,” and he spends time developing things like Twitter strategy, on behalf of his outlet. 

Graham also said that the conversation should be “engaging, but maintain decorum.” He too, is inventing the new rules.

So teachers travel from places like, Sheboygan, Wis., to Pittsburgh, from Seattle to Simi Valley, Calif., to study innovations in the field they teach. They are awarded this opportunity through the American Society of News Editors and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to study modern journalism based on an application essay, education background and qualifying credentials as moderators of student news for their school

Repeatedly, speakers to the institute have reminded the high school teachers to emphasize the storytelling. With all this innovation, the thing history can show is that objective reporting in journalism still matters.

As Cronkite said, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror - to tell and show the public what has happened.”

And that’s the way it is.




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Cronkite Connection ASNE Reynolds HSJ Institute at Arizona State University Phoenix, AZ
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