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Journalism courses have been offered at Arizona State since 1931 when President Ralph Swetman wanted a publicist. He employed William D. Taylor in a public relations capacity and as the first journalism teacher in the history of 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.
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 ever - $1.5 million - from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to endow a chair in computer-assisted reporting. And 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.
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 created major new professional programs such as Cronkite News Service, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, the New Media Innovation Lab and Cronkite NewsWatch, a 30-minute newscast that airs nightly on PBS across Arizona. He also more than doubled the size of the full-time faculty and added national figures such as Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of The Washington Post, and former Minneapolis Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire.
He also brought to Cronkite the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, ABC News on Campus, the second Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program in journalism in the world, and the Carnegie-Knight News21 digital media initiative.
In addition, he has raised more than $50 million, led the journalism 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 Journalism Administrator of the Year Award in August 2010.
The Cronkite School was featured for its focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and the digital future in The New York Times, The Times of London, Nieman Reports, the FCC’s “Information Needs of Communities” and USA Today.
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.
A Cronkite documentary on heroin in Arizona was simulcast on all 33 TV stations statewide and 93 radio stations, seen by more than 1 million viewers.