The Cronkite School building.

Our history

The Cronkite School has a rich history at Arizona State University.

A history of the Cronkite School

Journalism’s start at ASU

Journalism courses have been offered at Arizona State since 1931 when President Ralph Swetman wanted a publicist. He employed William D. Taylor in both a public relations capacity and as the first journalism teacher at the institution.

In 1936, C.E. “Chuck” Southern of the English faculty began teaching the first journalism classes. In 1946, George C. “Pappy” Yates joined the faculty as chairman of the Division of Special Services and taught some journalism courses. The primary role of the journalism classes in the early years was to provide talent to produce the student newspaper and yearbook.

Ernest J. Hopkins, who is recognized as the founder of the journalism program, was employed as an associate professor of journalism in 1949 and became the first faculty member with journalism in his title. The Division of Journalism was established with 10 courses offered. The first class in radio news was offered in 1951 and a major in radio-television appeared in 1954, as did the first class in news photography.

In 1957, journalism left the English Department and radio-television courses were removed from the audio-visual curriculum to form the Department of Mass Communication. The new department had a faculty of three and 31 majors; Marvin Alisky served as head. In 1958, the department became a member in the American Society of Journalism School Administrators.

In the beginning, the State Press, the campus newspaper, served as a laboratory for reporting and editing classes. The adviser was a member of the faculty as was the general manager of KAET-TV.

Donald E. Brown was recruited as a full professor from the University of Illinois in 1963 and immediately became department chair. In 1969, the department moved from its unairconditioned quarters in Old Main to the top floor of what is now the Academic Services Building.

Joe W. Milner joined the faculty from the University of Wyoming in 1967 and was named department chair in 1970. He had two major goals: national accreditation and a new building for the department. Both were achieved in 1973. Mass Communication, KAET-TV and the Department of Communication moved into new quarters at Stauffer Hall.

The department changed its name to Journalism and Telecommunication in 1979-80 and became a member of the newly formed College of Public Programs. ElDean Bennett became chair in 1979, providing the leadership to establish an endowment that became the Walter Cronkite Endowment when the former CBS managing editor not only permitted the use of his name but also became an active participant in school activities.

Becoming an official college

In 1984, the endowment trustees suggested that the name of Walter Cronkite should be affixed to the department. Cronkite agreed, providing the term journalism would remain in the title. The department was elevated to a school. The Board of Regents approved a change in the name to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication. When Bennett resigned in 1986, a national search was conducted for a new director of the school. The search committee decided that Professor Douglas A. Anderson was the right person to direct the school into the 1990s.

Under Anderson’s leadership, the Cronkite School exploded onto the national journalism education landscape. The school launched a weekly student-produced TV newscast and a summer program for high school students. Cronkite students quickly began dominating in the Hearst intercollegiate journalism awards, often called the Pulitzers of college journalism. The Cronkite School finished first in the Hearst writing division nationally in 1990, and the following year took first in the broadcast division. In 1994, the Cronkite School was No. 1 in the overall Hearst competition.

In 1995, the Cronkite School received its largest gift at the time — $1.5 million — from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to endow a chair in computer-assisted reporting. Five years later, The Arizona Republic endowed a $1 million chair in the Business of Journalism in honor of former Republic Publisher Frank Russell.

Joe Foote became the director after Anderson left to assume the deanship at Penn State’s College of Communications. Under Foote’s leadership, the Cronkite School began international programs in Mexico and other countries, and the school was renamed the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The school moves to Phoenix

ASU President Michael Crow announced in 2004 that the Cronkite School would become an independent unit and be an integral part of a newly planned campus in downtown Phoenix. The following year, Christopher Callahan of the University of Maryland was named the school’s founding dean and charged with leading the Cronkite School into its next era.

Callahan developed dozens of professional partnerships and affiliations with major news organizations around the country and launched a series of immersive professional programs that have come to define the school. These include Cronkite News, in which students report on issues of concern to Arizona audiences from bureaus in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Other professional programs include an innovation and entrepreneurship lab, a student public relations agency, and newsrooms that focus on coverage of sports, health, the borderlands and bilingual news.

The school also added new degree programs, including the nation’s only master’s degree devoted exclusively to investigative journalism and undergraduate and graduate degrees in digital audiences, delivered entirely online.

From 2005 to 2019, the student body grew more than 50 percent and the faculty grew by more than 70 percent. National journalism figures who joined the faculty include Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post; Sarah Cohen, former data editor for The New York Times; Walter V. Robinson, former editor of the famed Boston Globe “Spotlight” team; and Pauline Arrillaga and Maud Beelman, former enterprise and investigations editors, respectively, for The Associated Press. During the same time period, the diversity of the student body grew to nearly 40 percent and the diversity of the faculty to 30 percent.

Arizona PBS joins the school

In 2014, Arizona PBS became part of the Cronkite School, the largest media outlet operated by a journalism school in the world. The school’s professional programs were united under Cronkite News at Arizona PBS and became a true journalistic “teaching hospital” and the second-largest news organization in Arizona.

Callahan also brought to Cronkite the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, the U.S. State Department Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program in journalism, and the Carnegie-Knight News21 digital media initiative.

In addition, he oversaw the school’s move to a new state-of-the-art building in downtown Phoenix and led a revision of the curriculum with a new emphasis on high standards, digital media, innovation, entrepreneurship and professional program experiences for students.

Callahan received the national Journalism Administrator of the Year Award in August 2010.

In 2020, Callahan stepped down after 15 years to become the 26th president of University of the Pacific, California’s oldest university. Kristin Gilger, senior associate dean, took over as interim dean while a search for a permanent dean was conducted. In July 2021, Battinto Batts Jr. took helm as dean of the Cronkite School.

The Cronkite School has been featured in a number of national publications, including The New York Times, Nieman Reports and The Times of London, for its focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and the digital future.

Walter Cronkite’s legacy

The journalism program at Arizona State University was named in honor of former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite in 1984.

The relationship started when Tom Chauncey, the longtime owner of the CBS affiliate in Phoenix and a leading supporter of journalism education at ASU, contacted his old friend in an effort to help the program. An endowment on behalf of the program was soon established in Cronkite’s name, and the school was named in honor of the former CBS anchor.

Walter Cronkite
Walter Cronkite lecturing at the school.

Attaching the name of the nation’s most prominent and respected journalist to ASU’s program gave the school an immediate boost and national recognition.

But that was just the beginning. Cronkite became intimately involved with ASU, advising the journalism school’s leadership, meeting with students and faculty, and traveling to Arizona each year to personally give the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism to a media leader.

Since Cronkite’s death on July 17, 2009, the school has renewed its commitment to carrying on his ideals and values.

“The values that Mr. Cronkite embodies – excellence, integrity, accuracy, fairness, objectivity – we try to instill in our students each and every day,” said Cronkite School Founding Dean Christopher Callahan. “There is no better role model for our faculty or our students. There’s no doubt that our close affiliation with Walter Cronkite has helped the school become a national journalism powerhouse over the past 20 years, and will continue to help us as we grow into the best professional journalism program in the nation.”

About the Cronkite building

The Cronkite School building is a $71-million, six-story state-of-the-art facility that is unparalleled in journalism education. The 223,000-square-foot building features four television studios and a combined 17 newsrooms and computer labs with more than 380 computers. 

The building also is home to Arizona PBS, which is operated by the Cronkite School and features a digital video plant with transmissions reaching 1.9 million households.

Opened in 2008, the LEED Silver-certified building features the First Amendment Forum, a large two-story public forum with balconies for formal events. The building also includes a 150-seat theater-style auditorium and the Cronkite Gallery, the school’s journalism museum featuring hundreds of historical items. A 77-watt solar system was installed on the roof of the Cronkite building in December 2011 and includes 322 solar panels. The system generates approximately 122,335-kilowatt hours of electricity annually and reduces greenhouse emissions by 153,000 pounds per year.

The Cronkite School building also has won an International Architecture Award, which is conferred on the world’s most significant new buildings and urban or landscape developments by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design in conjunction with The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.