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The new Phoenix home of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications officially opens Monday, a spectacular 21st century learning center designed to teach and inspire digital media innovation while capitalizing on a premier location in the heart of the nation’s fifth-largest city.
The Cronkite building, which also will house one of the country’s largest PBS stations, KAET/Eight, is the culmination of a unique partnership between a major university — Arizona State University – and a major metropolitan city.
It was only four years ago that Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and ASU President Michael M. Crow conceived of a downtown ASU campus. In 2006, a $223 million bond, strongly supported by the Phoenix City Council, was approved by voters by a 2-1 margin. The Cronkite building represents the largest single portion of that investment at $71 million.
“We’re grateful to the city of Phoenix and its citizens who supported the creation of the Downtown Phoenix campus in the center of the city,” Crow said. “This incredible state-of-the-art building offers students the opportunity to learn their chosen trades in a facility that is equipped with the latest technology in close proximity to the Valley’s major media outlets.”
The Cronkite building, an ultra-modern structure of glass, steel and concrete built by Sundt Construction Inc. and designed by Steven Ehrlich Associates in partnership with HDR Architecture, rises six stories along North Central Avenue, two blocks north of Van Buren Street.
Features include the First Amendment Forum, a multi-tiered public space designed for informal daytime gatherings of students and faculty as well as nightly public events; the Cronkite Theater, a 144-seat venue that, along with the Forum, is equipped with ready-for-broadcast high-definition TV cameras; and the Marguerite and Jack Clifford Gallery, a museum-inspired, glass-enclosed space to display artifacts that bring to life the history of the news media, the school and the career of the school’s namesake, legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite.
Other building features include seven state-of-the-art professional newsrooms and media incubators, seven other digital computer labs, the Sony TV Studio, the Cronkite NewsWatch Studio, two Eight studios, 17 fully mediated classrooms, nearly 1,000 classroom seats and 280 digital workstations for students.
The space is about five times the size of the school’s previous home, Stauffer Hall, on the Tempe campus.
“This is an extraordinary complex that is unmatched in journalism education today,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. “We will be able to not only teach tomorrow’s great journalists, but we will help redefine the news industry in the digital era through hands-on learning, innovative experimental centers and a spirit of invention and entrepreneurship.”
Passersby can peer into signature professional programs of the school such as Cronkite News Service, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and the New Media Innovation Lab. The First Amendment Forum will be a hub of activity not just for ASU students, but the entire community. And a giant, Times Square-style news ticker will stretch across the front entrance of the building to herald Cronkite events and up-to-the-minute headlines from around the world.
“We want the new Cronkite home to be one of the great public spaces in Phoenix,” Callahan said. “We are encouraging everyone to join us not just for our speaker series, movie nights and other special programming, but to help us – as news consumers – discover what the news media should look like in the future.”
Callahan said the new building’s location is among its biggest assets. Cronkite students will be closer to major metropolitan news organizations – newspaper, magazine, TV, radio and multimedia – than any other journalism school in the country.
“Our students will be able to walk to critically important internships at The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com, News12, Fox10, Eight, the Phoenix Business Journal, La Voz and public relations outlets,” Callahan said. “And they’ll have easy access to all of the other major media outlets in the Valley, especially when the light rail opens in December.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is a theme repeated throughout the building. Floor-to-ceiling versions of the First Amendment are found on every floor, and inspirational quotations about the importance of those 45 words to journalism and democracy are sprinkled throughout the building.
“The First Amendment is the intellectual cornerstone of the Cronkite School, and our new home reflects its central importance to what we do, who we are, and what we teach everyday,” the dean said.
The new home comes at a time of unprecedented growth for the Cronkite School that began in 2005 when the school became an independent college at ASU and hired its first dean. In three years, Cronkite has doubled its faculty and staff, added new programs such as the Donald W. Center National Center for Business Journalism, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Cronkite News Service, Cronkite NewsWatch, ABC News on Campus, the Azcentral.com Multimedia Reporting Program and, most recently, the Carnegie-Knight News21 Journalism Initiative.
In that same period, the school has recruited nationally recognized journalism leaders, including former CNN anchor Aaron Brown, former Minneapolis Star Tribune Editor Tim McGuire, former BET Vice President Retha Hill, former Sacramento Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez, digital media pioneer Dan Gillmor and former washingtonpost.com editors Jody Brannon and Jason Manning.
New privately funded positions include the Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship, the Carnegie Professor of Journalism, the Arizona Republic Editor-in-Residence and the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence. In total, the school has raised more than $17 million in the three years.
In addition, Cronkite students have placed first nationally in the prestigious Hearst Foundation intercollegiate journalism awards and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence contest.
“We’re very proud of what our students have achieved in recent years under the leadership of Dean Callahan,” said Win Holden, publisher of Arizona Highways Magazine and chairman of the Cronkite Endowment Board. “Already, we have one of the premier journalism programs in the country. Factor in our spectacular new facility, and the sky’s the limit.”
The Cronkite building is the latest addition to the 2-year-old Phoenix campus, joining University College, the College of Public Programs and the College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation.
Cronkite students will be able to live in Taylor Place, the new 13-story residence hall on the downtown campus, and walk across the street to their journalism courses in Cronkite and their liberal arts classes in University Center.
Walter Cronkite, Mayor Gordon and President Crow will officially dedicate the new building at ceremonies Nov. 20.