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Diane Sawyer met with nearly 200 Arizona State University students, accepted the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and anchored ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer” twice from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication during an extraordinary two-day visit.
“It is a beacon to come here and see what you’re doing,” Sawyer told more than 1,200 people Friday at the Cronkite Award Luncheon. “And to all of the people in this community who still believe in the great glory and importance of the news, I salute you. My reward is getting to meet you and rededicate all of us together.”
Sawyer is the 27th recipient of the award, which is given each year by the Cronkite School to recognize a journalist who has embodied the values of the school’s namesake. After receiving the Cronkite Award from ASU President Michael M. Crow at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Sawyer talked about the influence and inspiration of the former CBS News anchor.
“I was in awe of him,” said Sawyer, who spent nine years at CBS News, during which time she became the first female correspondent of “60 Minutes” and co-anchored the “CBS Morning News.” “What he did cannot be replicated.”
The anchor of ABC’s flagship nightly newscast, “World News with Diane Sawyer,” joins the ranks of recipients including TV journalists Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams and Jane Pauley; newspaper publishers Katharine Graham, Al Neuharth and Otis Chandler; television executives William Paley, Frank Stanton and Ted Turner; and newspaper journalists Ben Bradlee, Helen Thomas and Bob Woodward.
In lieu of the traditional acceptance speech, Sawyer was interviewed by two student-reporters of Cronkite NewsWatch, the school’s live newscast airing on PBS four nights a week to 1.1 million Arizona households.
Seniors Kylee Gauna and Siera Lambrecht asked what Sawyer considered her best and worst interviews, what it was like to be among those who paved the way for women in television news and the life of a professional journalist.
Sawyer, who was headed to China immediately following the Friday evening news broadcast, said that while sure to be tired upon arrival, she knew her team’s thirst to seek out answers would prevail.
“We’re all bred for curiosity,” Sawyer said. “That’s what’s in our DNA as journalists. We just wake up in the morning wanting to know things.”
Sawyer recounted stories of interviewing people from Saddam Hussein to impoverished children in Appalachia and said she was glad to have reached the day when the presence of a woman newscaster was no longer “remarkable.”
Sawyer also spoke about the role of the journalist in a changing media environment.
“Our job is to keep journalism alive with burning questions, questions at the center of what matters to our lives, and answer them as best we can,” she said.
Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan thanked Sawyer for making her two-day visit all about Cronkite students, even taking student reporters participating in the ABC News on Campus program out for pizza after the Thursday newscast and talking to students at an early morning event Friday.
Nearly 200 students gathered in the school’s First Amendment Forum for the Friday morning question-and-answer session hosted by Cronkite NewsWatch News Director and Assistant Dean Mark Lodato prior to the award ceremony.
Sawyer started off talking about Cronkite NewsWatch, the school’s nightly newscast that airs on PBS across Arizona. “I read the whole newscast off your desk, and it’s great. It’s simply great, and I’m so admiring of what you do and the seriousness of the reporting that I saw here last night.”
Sawyer also reflected on her career beginnings in Louisville, Ky., her passion for producing investigative journalism that makes a difference in the lives of people she covers and the array of stories she has produced covering subjects as diverse as prescription drugs, politicians and celebrities.
“I look at every story as a possible investigative story,” Sawyer said.
Throughout her career, in roles as anchor of “World News,” co-anchor of ABC’s “Primetime,” correspondent on “60 Minutes,” and co-anchor of “CBS Morning News” and “Good Morning America,” Sawyer has reported on presidential elections, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina and was the first American journalist to report live from North Korea. Her work has won dozens of awards, including duPonts, Emmys, Peabodys, an International Radio & Television Society Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.
Sawyer ended the morning interchange with students with words of encouragement for prospective journalists.
“If I could say one thing to you, I just want you to know this is the best profession in the world,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer also anchored “World News with Diane Sawyer” from the roof of the Cronkite School on two consecutive nights, Thursday and Friday. In doing so, she followed in the tradition set by last year’s Cronkite Award winner, Brian Williams, who did “NBC Nightly News” from the Cronkite School when he was in town. No other journalism school in the nation has hosted a network news broadcast.
Sawyer signed on Thursday evening by saying, “Good evening from Phoenix, Arizona on this Veteran’s Day. And it is beautiful here. We have come here to meet with students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism,” and signed off Friday’s newscast with, “For the students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, for all of us at ‘World News,’ goodnight from Phoenix.”