Get to Know Incoming Dean Battinto Batts Jr.!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021


Dean Battinto Batts Jr. shares both big visions and small talk with #CronkiteNation as he takes on his new role as leader of the Cronkite School.

Part I

Today he talks about his vision for the school, faculty research, the Cronkite-Arizona PBS partnership, his favorite course in college and what he’s reading, among other topics. Get to know him in the Q&A below!

What is your vision for the Cronkite School?

The Cronkite School is a beacon and leader in the journalism/communications and education spaces. With that comes tremendous responsibility and a requirement that we meet the needs of an increasingly diverse global society. We can meet that responsibility first by ensuring that Cronkite is a community that welcomes and values diversity and empowers all individuals to make meaningful contributions.

Secondly, we must work continuously to evaluate the curriculum and programs at Cronkite to make sure they are relevant and meet the needs of people at various stages in their careers and lifespan. My vision also involves the School producing impactful research and content that engages people, addresses pressing issues and further establishes Cronkite as a resource for ideas and solutions. Doing this will mean approaching every day and every opportunity with a verve inspired by a desire to serve, work collaboratively with other academic units and to avoid being satisfied with the status-quo.

Cronkite’s history and successes are substantial, and we must leverage those successes – as well as our resources and expertise – to make a difference.

What is your plan to increase and promote faculty research?

I am already engaged in discussions about this topic, as it is of paramount importance to our success here at Cronkite. I would like to see the school develop an even stronger research profile and focus on our inherent strengths: faculty composition, location, societal needs and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. I will be soliciting the input of the faculty and others as we seek to build a roadmap that I envision will involve a mixture of building upon the momentum and bringing more expertise and voices to the team.

What are your plans to enhance the partnership between the Cronkite School and Arizona PBS?

That partnership is unlike any other in higher education and is a big part of what makes the Cronkite School special. Adrienne Fairwell, the general manager of Arizona PBS, and I have talked and are very excited about the possibilities for the future. I love her energy, experience and expertise and feel that the partnership between the Cronkite School and Arizona PBS will only get stronger.

We will be working together on a plan that addresses the opportunities before us while leveraging our successes and improving in areas we deem necessary to maintain our reputation for excellence.

If you could have a one-on-one chat with any historical figure – living or deceased – who would it be and why?

Actually, it would be three people who worked collaboratively to embark on a brave and historic mission: Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend. Baker, Mallory and Townsend pulled off a daring escape from slavery in Virginia in 1861, inspiring others and creating the Contraband movement.

The movement played a significant role in the establishment of several historically Black institutions of higher learning, notably Hampton University, the location of Emancipation Oak, the site of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

As a graduate of and former faculty member at Hampton University, the story of Baker, Mallory and Townsend is an inspiration. They did not know what the outcome of their escape would be, nor could they have known the movement it would inspire. Their story should resonate with us all when faced with challenging circumstances. Rather than accepting fate or a bad situation, we must maintain hope, and be courageous enough to embrace the unknown and choose a course of action that involves substantial risk. The outcome could change everything.

What are you reading?

“The Empowered University” by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and fellow graduate of Hampton University.

Who has been your greatest mentor? What did he or she teach you?

My parents, of course, but most specifically my dad. The further I have gone in my career and life, the more I see the power of his influence and example. He was also a college administrator who worked in career planning and placement. He was driven by a desire to create opportunities for students and was a tremendous networker and connector of people. He believed in education and making the most of opportunities because they can lead to something greater. He passed away much too early in 2018 and I wear his ring on a chain around my neck. I often rub it when thinking and seeking inspiration.

What is the coolest place you’ve ever visited?

France — because of the food, the history, the architecture, the art and the fashion. There is just so much to see and do. If I had to pick one place, it would be the gardens at Versailles. They are visually stunning. One of my favorite works of art is John Vanderlyn’s panoramic painting of the Versailles palace and the gardens at The Met in New York City.

What was your favorite course in college?

Statistics. It was the only math-related course where I excelled and that’s because it taught me how to use numbers to tell stories. The newswriting and communications courses were great, too, but by the time I took those, I was already working as an intern at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, getting hands-on exposure to the craft.

What excites you the most about living in Arizona?

The energy and growth of the region, the proximity to so many wonderful places and things, and, of course, the sunshine. I love the sunshine. And I am not worried about the heat. Bring it on.

Part II

This week, incoming Dean Batts tells #CronkiteNation what to expect in his first 100 days as dean, his plans to promote diversity, what family means to him, his favorite PBS show and more. Read his answers in the Q&A below!

What can #CronkiteNation expect in the first 100 days after you take over the dean’s position?

You can expect me to be doing a lot of listening, talking and being as visible and accessible as I possibly can. The listening, visibility and accessibility will be most important, as I want to hear from everyone about their visions and aspirations for the school. The talking will be an opportunity for me to share my own visions and aspirations.

Together, we will embark on the work of creating alignment around the path(s) forward. That process will involve group meetings around the focus areas of: Experience, Expertise, Access and Advancement. That will provide a framework for us to analyze where we are and where we want to go. I am very excited about taking part in this process.

How will you help promote race, diversity and inclusivity initiatives at Cronkite and ASU?

I plan to take a multi-pronged approach to ensuring that Cronkite is a driver of diversity, inclusivity, and most importantly, empowerment. Empowerment helps to create a culture of belonging.

That starts with providing opportunities for students, faculty, staff and administrators to share the stories of their culture and upbringing as part of the curriculum and learning process. It also involves bringing the stories and perspectives of underserved communities to the forefront and giving them prevalence. It means working every day to ensure that Cronkite is an environment that values its diversity and utilizes it to remain at the forefront of journalism and in education.

As the dean, I plan to leverage diversity in structured and organic ways to further infuse it into our DNA — and make it more of an inherent strength and a reason why people choose Cronkite. I will be more specific with this soon.

What is the toughest challenge you’ve ever faced?

The sudden passing of my father from cancer. I am the oldest and I had to call my brothers in Philadelphia to break the news. They were at a Super Bowl party together rooting for the Eagles to beat the Patriots when I called. My brothers and I are very close, and it was extremely difficult for me to make that phone call.

What’s your favorite PBS show?

“Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” I am a huge fan of Dr. Gates and I am researching my ancestry.

What’s your most memorable interview as a journalist?

When I was an intern at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I had to do a story on famous former Boy Scouts. I looked up a list of former Scouts and found the contact information for H. Ross Perot. I called, left a message at his office, and then went out to grab lunch.

I returned and the newsroom receptionist was excited because Mr. Perot had called for me. I called back, got him and he spent 30 minutes with me, telling me how the Boy Scouts had shaped his life. I knew he was a successful businessman, a billionaire and expected him to be short with me but he was very down to earth. This was a couple of years before he ran for president. It was the first time I interviewed someone famous.

What do you do to decompress and relax?

Talk to my wife Tamala, read, play golf, work out, eat chocolate.

Coffee or tea? Iced or hot?

Coffee: hot; Tea: cold.

What is your favorite meal?

Barbecue. I could eat that every day. Carolina minced barbecue sandwiches with creamy coleslaw are a delicacy. But I also enjoy Kansas City-style barbecue. And any restaurant that makes a good house ranch dressing is a winner with me. I love ranch dressing on salads, with barbecue wings and, sometimes, as a dip for steak.

Part III

This week, incoming Dean Batts tells #CronkiteNation about his plans to expand Cronkite’s global footprint, his favorite quote, the most impactful story he’s reported and more. Read his answers in the Q&A below!

You’ve said that you want Cronkite to have a bigger global footprint. How will you accomplish this?

Surveying our programming, infrastructure and capacities, there truly are no limits to where we can go with the Cronkite brand. When I think of how we can expand, I look at our online offerings and see tremendous possibilities for growth. Our enrollment numbers are trending upward, which is an indicator that people want what we have to offer.

So, how can we give people more of what they want and need in a cost-effective and sustainable manner? Online degrees and programs are a way to do that. I am also very bullish on the Cronkite Global Initiatives program, which is an obvious means for us to grow our footprint.

I am very excited about our recent hires in the Global Initiatives program (Juan Mundel) and the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism (Jeffrey Timmermans) and how they will help expand our global reach. I also believe Cronkite News and Arizona PBS offer us the potential to reach and serve many more people and expose them to who we are and what we offer. And there are lots of partnerships for us to explore internally at ASU and externally that can help us accomplish the goal.

What are your views on objectivity in journalism?

That must remain fundamental if we are to address the issue of trust. There is clearly space for opinion, commentary, personal perspective and advocacy. And I am receptive to that if there is a clear delineation and understanding of the difference. 

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment in journalism?

Playing a role in helping emerging journalists start their careers and providing advice and guidance to help them navigate their way to promotions and greater responsibility.

It is rewarding to see former students on TV or in other high-profile roles committed to bringing along others because someone helped them. That is what inspires me, too. I am here because someone helped me along the way. To be in a place to do the same and instill that same commitment in others is my biggest accomplishment because it means I’m serving my purpose as a link in the chain. 

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made and what did you learn from it?

Assuming. The adage about the perils of assuming is very true. Don’t assume anything. Trust but verify. Ask questions. Listen to your gut.  

What was your first job?

I launched a lawn care business when I was in the 6th grade and ran it until I graduated from high school. At its peak, I had about 10 customers and earned a few hundred dollars a month. I liked being able to set my own schedule. I got most of my work done Thursday, Friday and Saturday, if it wasn’t raining. 

What is your favorite quote?

“If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” – Tony Bennett, head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team. The Cavaliers were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2018 and then won the championship the next year.  

What’s the most impactful story you’ve reported?

I was a part of a team of reporters that explored the untold negative impact of Brown v. Board on the economic vitality and sense of community on a predominately African American neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision on integration opened possibilities for people to live and shop where they wanted, it also undercut the network of support in minority communities, hurt businesses and impacted the educational system. The series of stories, entitled “Church Street: What Was Lost” won an award, and a version of the story was produced for TV by the local PBS station.

Favorite dessert?

Tie: Carrot cake v. pineapple upside down cake

Favorite sports team — besides the Sun Devils?

The Pittsburgh Steelers. My dad was born in Pittsburgh and most of my family is there. I have been a Steelers fan all my life. I got my first Steelers jacket when I was 6. 

Part IV

In our final conversation of the series, Dean Batts tells #CronkiteNation how the Cronkite School can help increase respect for the journalism profession, shares the advice he would give to his college-aged self, what Walter Cronkite’s legacy means to him and more. Read his answers in the Q&A below!

What can Cronkite do to increase respect for journalism and journalists throughout the world?

First, we need to continue to spotlight the importance of journalism to the global society and leverage the pivotal role it plays in our democracy. That means recognizing and honoring excellent work and promoting standards, ethics and accountability in the craft.

I also firmly believe that the path toward increased respect for journalism involves giving more people exposure to training and access to tools to practice journalism. Cronkite can be a greater conduit for this access through the expansion and diversification of our online offerings. This will enable us to reach a broader audience through diverse means.

What steps can news organizations take to improve coverage of marginalized communities? And what can Cronkite do to help?

Effective coverage of any community involves developing an understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing it, maintaining relationships with its leaders and stakeholders, and being an ongoing, visible and accountable presence in those communities. The term marginalized is used quite a bit, and I understand why, but I prefer to use underrepresented. That underrepresentation is a result of a lack of connection that is developed through involvement and presence.

Since news organizations don’t have the resources to be everywhere all the time, we must find a way to train and empower more people to tell the stories of their communities and encourage partnerships with news organizations to bring those stories to the masses. I think you will see Cronkite play a bigger role in this process.

What does Walter Cronkite’s legacy mean to you?

Excellence. The standard for how it should be done. My family watched Walter Cronkite on the evening news and his voice was a trusted presence in our household. If he was on, we knew to pay attention because it was serious and something we needed to know.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your college-age self?

Be prepared for an interesting ride in your career, one that will take you places that you can’t imagine, so buckle up and enjoy it all. But be sure to see and read all the signs.

Who inspires you?

People who give of their time, expertise, talent and connections to make a difference in the lives of others and improve society. People who do these things without expecting attention and recognition, and are rewarded by playing a role in something much bigger than themselves.

What does the future of journalism look like to you?

A lot like it did historically when cities and communities had many voices and outlets for news. There is no one main source for news and this is a good thing because it encourages innovation and competition. But it also creates challenges around the facts and what to believe. We will have to continue to work through that.

But I am encouraged by all the innovators and entrepreneurs who are involved with journalism and who use it as a means toward solutions. At Cronkite, we need to encourage, train and support them in any way possible.

What book has had the biggest impact on you?

“Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership” by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. It was a required resource in the doctoral program in higher education management I completed at Hampton University. I reference the framework in my thinking and have used it as a foundation for my four-part model for higher education.

If you could have only three things while stranded on a desert island, what would they be?

A pen, a notebook and my wife. We could come up with a plan for how to survive and how to get off the island. And while we worked on that we could document the process for how couples can work together to solve problems.

Most people don’t know … about me.

I love shoes. I can develop websites in WordPress. I make pretty good homemade meatballs.