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Arizona PBS, the 53-year-old public television station based at Arizona State University with more than 1 million viewers, will become part of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, continuing to provide quality PBS programming while serving as a national hub for news innovation and reinvention, the university announced Thursday.
Eight, which includes three TV channels and azpbs.org, will be the largest media organization operated by a journalism school in the world when the move becomes official next Tuesday. The station had been part of ASU’s Office of Public Affairs.
“Eight has served Arizonans for more than 50 years, providing important national and regional content in public affairs, education, the arts, science and culture across our state,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “That critical mission will continue and we will redouble our efforts to make Arizona PBS the best public television enterprise in the nation featuring all of the outstanding PBS programming now available on Eight.”
Under Cronkite, Arizona PBS also will serve as a journalistic “teaching hospital,” tapping into the talents of advanced students in journalism and other disciplines who work under the guidance of top professionals from the ASU faculty and Eight staff to provide rich, new and innovative broadcast and digital content.
“A leading journalism school joining forces with one of the nation’s largest PBS stations at a university known globally for its leadership in innovation is a powerful and potentially game-changing combination,” the ASU president said. “We will be able to serve Arizonans on new levels while providing a national testing ground for new approaches to digital storytelling, audience engagement and revenue models to help serve a news industry that needs to rapidly adapt in the fast-changing digital world.”
Since ASU made the school a free-standing college in 2005, Cronkite has been at the vanguard of a movement in journalism education to create highly immersive, professional programs in which students create journalism products under the guidance of top professionals recruited onto the faculty from some of the nation’s leading newsrooms. Harvard University documented Cronkite’s leadership role earlier this month in Nieman Reports.
Like a teaching hospital in medical education, these immersive professional programs provide intensive learning environments for students, important services to the community and the ability to experiment and innovate. In this case, the community service is providing critically needed, in-depth journalistic content to readers and viewers.
“We have called this a ‘teaching hospital’ approach to journalism education, but until now, we haven’t had the hospital,” said Cronkite Dean and University Vice Provost Christopher Callahan. “Now we do – a multiplatform media organization in one of the nation’s largest media markets.”
Cronkite leaders will spend the next few months designing the new enterprise, starting with combining the school’s immersive professional programs with Arizona PBS.
An expanded version of the school’s TV newscast, Cronkite NewsWatch, which covers public policy news around the state, will give Arizona PBS one of the nation’s only daily local PBS newscasts. A new study by the Radio Television Digital News Association found that only 16 of the nation’s 170 PBS stations have some kind of daily local public affairs programming. And most of those are not newscasts but public affairs interview shows, such as Eight’s award-winning “Arizona Horizon.”
Some of the other established Cronkite professional programs that will become part of Arizona PBS include multiplatform daily news bureaus in Phoenix, Washington and Los Angeles, which provide news coverage to professional media outlets across the region; an innovation lab that creates new digital media products for clients; the community engagement Public Insight Network Bureau that serves news organizations nationally; and the Carnegie-Knight News21 investigative multimedia initiative whose publishing partners include The Washington Post and NBCnews.com.
Cronkite plans to add new immersion programs in business reporting and sports within the next six months and will look to other disciplines across the university to create other professional programs within Arizona PBS.
“As a veteran newsman now on the Cronkite faculty who has been immersed in the reconstruction of American journalism, I could not be more excited,” said Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of The Washington Post who helps lead the News21 program. “This is a very important development, not just for journalism education and the development of outstanding journalists for tomorrow, but also for the transformation of the news media in the digital age.
“The future of news depends on the kind of ‘teaching hospital’ innovation and training that the creative combination of the Cronkite School and Arizona PBS will make possible,” Downie said. “At the same time, it promises to provide residents of the Phoenix area and much of the rest of Arizona with significant public service journalism in a university-based non-profit model that could serve as a blueprint for universities and public broadcasting stations everywhere.”
ASU also hopes other media organizations will bring their ideas to Cronkite to experiment on the Arizona PBS platforms.
“There remains a tremendous need for reinvention and disruptive innovation in today’s news industry,” Callahan said. “Our Arizona PBS initiative can provide a place where commercial news operations can try out their ideas.”
Kelly McCullough, a Cronkite alumnus and general manager of Arizona PBS, said his team is excited about Eight becoming a more integrated part of the university while continuing to serve Arizonans at the highest levels.
“We will continue to proudly bring Arizonans all of the quality programming they want and deserve,” McCullough said. “And now, as part of the Cronkite School, we will be able to develop new local content to complement our current signature PBS programs — everything from ‘Arizona Horizon’ and ‘Horizonte’ to ‘PBS NewsHour,’ ‘NOVA’ and ‘Downton Abbey.’”
Arizona PBS reaches nearly 1.9 million households and 4.8 million people across 80 percent of the state. Located in the 12th largest media market in the U.S., it has more than 1 million weekly viewers and the fourth-highest prime-time viewership per capita among the nation’s major market PBS stations. Eight also has the second-largest viewership of the 57 university-operated PBS stations.