By Franco LaTona
It’s hour 10 of a 16-hour flight that will eventually land in Abu Dhabi. Jason Manning, a professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, awakes from a restless sleep. The plane is dark, and everyone on board is either sleeping or mesmerized by their smartphones. Manning heads to the back of the plane and, as he approaches, he hears voices and laughter coming from the galley. He looks up, and there’s Assistant Dean B. William Silcock, looking fresh and dapper in a suit and tie, hanging out and eating snacks with the flight crew.
“Jason, come meet my friends!” Silcock says. “Do you need a snack or a soda?”
Standing there puzzled, Manning is trying to figure out if this is a dream when suddenly a crew member hands him a banana and a ginger ale.
“That’s when I realized Silcock knows how to do life,” Manning said.
After nearly 20 years at the Cronkite School, Silcock, or Dr. Bill, as he’s more affectionately called, is retiring this month. His legacy is extensive: As director of Cronkite’s Global Initiatives, Silcock developed the school’s study abroad programs and led many of the trips personally; he cultivated a relationship with the U.S. State Department, which led to a series of grants that expanded the school’s footprint abroad and trained journalists from around the world.
But Silcock may best be known for establishing the country’s only Hubert H. Humphrey Fulbright Fellowship program dedicated to training journalists from emerging democracies. Over the past decade, it has brought in 102 fellows from 58 countries to study, acquire leadership skills and perhaps, most importantly, share their cultures with Cronkite students and faculty.
Tran Thi Thu Ha, a Humphrey Fellow during the 2019-2020 academic year, fondly remembers the sailboat brooch Silcock gave her before returning home to Vietnam earlier this year. She said the captain and boat are emblematic of Silcock’s leadership. Since returning home, Thi Thu Ha said she is putting her acquired leadership skills to good use by teaching the next generation of reporters at a local university while practicing journalism.
When asked about his passion for melding cultures, Silcock cited one of his favorite verses from Paul the Apostle: “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is unmeaning.”
“I’m a firm believer that every voice needs to be heard, celebrated and listened to,” he said. “Not just people of different languages, but people with different gender identities, people of color.”
Silcock’s fascination with other cultures stems from an early age. Living in Alaska with his parents, he used to accompany his mother to the Anchorage airport to pick up his father from trips. There he saw airplanes from all over the world that made frequent stops to fuel up.
“I just got really excited and started thinking about international travel,” he said.
Then in the 1990s, Silcock did two stints as a Fulbright Scholar —one in Ireland and one in Sweden.
“Those experiences changed my life,” he said. “I fell in love with this concept of the global newsroom, and how the newsroom is a culture in and of itself.”
The Fulbright Scholarships propelled Silcock to pursue a doctorate in Global News Theory, where he spent time in Berlin at the German global broadcaster Deutsche Welle observing how a newsroom’s culture influences decisions.
But while his work accomplishments are vast, those who have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Silcock tend to recall his personality more than the project.
Bill Silcock speaks with former anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News Walter Cronkite during one of Cronkite’s many visits to the school.
HIs good friend, Dale Cressman, who is now a professor at the Brigham Young University School of Communications, was hired by Silcock at KBYU-TV as a grad student. “Fearless” is how Cressman described his friend.
“He used to always say that he was looking for an idea large enough to be afraid of,” Cressman said.
Susan Keith, now a journalism professor at Rutgers, was hired at Cronkite in the early 2000s around the same time as Silcock. She said his unrelenting positivity was what struck her most about her new colleague. Living in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix at the time, Keith used to arrive at school early every morning to beat rush hour traffic, but not before Silcock, who was usually already in his office blasting U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day.”
“I would go ‘Oh, Bill’s here, and he’s in a good mood,’” Keith said. “He was rarely in a bad mood.”
Silcock’s friend, Kenneth Fischer, now a University of Oklahoma instructor who first met Silcock at Brigham Young during undergrad, said the last time he suffered an asthma attack triggered by uncontrollable laughter was with Silcock. The two attended an International Radio & Television Society Foundation Campaign Competition in 2002. They were placed into small groups and told to come up with ideas for campaigns to promote some brand-new TV networks. Silcock, always the over-achiever, filled the walls with poster paper full of ideas he’d written out with markers, something Fischer found so characteristic of his friend that he burst out into uncontrollable laughter.
And Lynda Kraxberger, now an associate dean for undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri, first met Silcock in the 1990s at KOMU TV in Missouri. She recalled taking a trip with him to a local news station in which the two of them were to give a presentation. Microsoft’s PowerPoint was cutting edge technology at the time, and Kraxberger recalled Silcock spending hours playing with the slide’s fonts and colors. When Kraxberger asked about the presentation’s content, she was amused at Silcock’s response.
“The content!?” she recalled Silcock replying with a laugh. “Who cares about the content!?”
But perhaps nobody can summarize Silcock’s character better than Cronkite’s very own Interim Dean Kristin Gilger, who remembers first meeting him as a new professor back in early 2001.
“I knew three things about him: He was an accomplished broadcaster, students loved him and he was perhaps the nicest person I had ever met. All of those things remain true 19 years later,” Gilger said.
Silcock, who prefers to say he’s “rewiring” rather than retiring, said he’s working on ideas for how he’ll spend his newfound time. He has been granted emeritus status by ASU President Michael Crow, so he’ll continue to work on research with Cronkite’s doctoral students and also assist the dean’s office in global projects and workshops.
In his free time, Silcock said he wants to write, both his own personal history and some poetry; he’s looking into another possible “mini” Fulbright Scholarship that could land him overseas for a month or so; and he and his wife, Angela, just bought a new house in Gold Canyon, so they’re planning on relaxing and spending time together enjoying the outdoors.
“It sounds kind of weird, but I really want to get in touch with nature,” Silcock said. “I think there’s a lot that I need to learn from nature about how to adjust to this stage in life.”