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Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil, the PBS news anchor tandem who epitomize the best of thought-provoking and in-depth broadcast journalism, will be this year’s recipients of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, Arizona State University announced today.
Cronkite and the school that bears his name – the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU – will honor Lehrer and MacNeil at a Phoenix ceremony on Nov. 21.
The PBS duo first teamed up to cover the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973. Two years later the newscast that would become “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” was launched, and in 1983 it was expanded to “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” the first 60-minute national TV evening newscast. MacNeil stepped down from the daily newscast in 1995. Lehrer continues to anchor “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
“Jim and Robin represent the kind of journalism that is too often missing from television news,” Cronkite said from his New York office. “Their brand of probing, in-depth, sophisticated and nuanced journalism stands in stark contrast to the shrill and superficial reporting sometimes found on TV today. It will be a great honor to give them our award.”
The former CBS News anchor said this year’s award has special significance: 2008 is the 25th year of the Cronkite Award.
The Cronkite Award luncheon will cap off a week of activities in November celebrating the Cronkite School. The school is moving from its long-time home on the ASU Tempe campus to a new campus in downtown Phoenix, just blocks from major newspaper, TV, radio and online news outlets. Part of the festivities will be the official opening of a new $71 million, state-of-the-art media complex on Nov. 20. The school will share the new building with KAET/Eight, the ASU-operated public television station.
“I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish with our journalism program at Arizona State,” Cronkite said. “Our week of activities, culminating with the grand opening of our new home and the 25th Cronkite Award ceremonies, will show how this has truly become one of the great journalism schools in our nation.”
The Cronkite School, a nationally recognized professional journalism program with 1,400 undergraduate and graduate students, was named in honor of the former CBS anchor in 1984. In the past two years it has added an array of new programs, including the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, the New Media Innovation Lab, the Reynolds High School Journalism Institute and Cronkite News Service.
The school also has added 14 new full-time professors over the past two years. They include news industry leaders such as former CNN anchor Aaron Brown, former Minneapolis Star Tribune Editor Tim McGuire, BET Vice President Retha Hill, former Sacramento Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez and digital media leader Dan Gillmor.
Cronkite students finished first place nationally in the Hearst intercollegiate journalism competition last year and first in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards for the past two years.
Dean Christopher Callahan said Cronkite students “can learn much from the balanced, in-depth, comprehensive approach that Robin MacNeil and Jim Lehrer have practiced so well for so long. It’s a great honor to have these two outstanding journalists as our 25th year recipients.”
Lehrer and MacNeil are only the second pair of co-winners in the history of the award. The first were CBS founder William Paley and former CBS President Frank Stanton, who were co-winners of the inaugural award in 1984.
Lehrer started his journalism career as a reporter for The Dallas Morning News and later the Dallas Times-Herald, moving up to political columnist and eventually city editor. He moved into television as executive director of public affairs and nightly news host at KERA-TV, the public television station in Dallas.
He first teamed with MacNeil in 1973 to provide continuous live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings. In October 1975 PBS launched “The Robert MacNeil Report,” with Lehrer as the Washington correspondent. It was renamed “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” the following year, ultimately winning more than 30 awards for journalistic excellence.
The newscast became “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” after his long-time partner stepped down from the daily newscast in 1995.
MacNeil’s career began at the Reuters news agency in London in 1955. Five years later he entered TV as a London correspondent for NBC News, and in 1963 he joined NBC’s Washington bureau, covering the civil rights movement, the White House and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He also worked for the BBC before joining PBS in 1971.
The journalists have won Emmys, George Foster Peabody Awards and Fred Friendly First Amendment Awards. They were jointly inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 1999.
They also are prolific authors. Lehrer has written 17 novels, three plays and two memoirs. MacNeil also has written fiction and non-fiction books.
The long-time partners continue to work together at the company they founded, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, which produces The NewsHour in addition to documentaries, Web sites and interactive DVDs.
Previous Cronkite Award recipients include TV journalists Tom Brokaw, Bill Moyers and Jane Pauley; newspaper publishers Al Neuharth, Katharine Graham and Otis Chandler; television executives Ted Turner, Roone Arledge and Don Hewitt; and newspaper journalists Bob Woodward, Helen Thomas and Ben Bradlee.