Gayle King, the award-winning co-host of “CBS Mornings,” reflected on her life, career and rise to prominence as she accepted the 39th Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism presented by Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
King, who is also editor-at-large of Oprah Daily and host of a live, weekly radio show titled “Gayle King in the House” on SiriusXM, was honored during a ceremony on Tuesday at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown.
ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Nancy Gonzales presented King with the award in front of approximately 1,000 attendees, including Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs. The luncheon culminated a two-day visit that began on Monday at the Cronkite School where she answered questions and provided career advice to students during a Q&A session.
Cronkite students were heavily involved with the luncheon. The event marked the first time that a student, Chrystal Stone, emceed the event while another student, Autriya Maneshni, introduced King.
“We are very excited to honor Gayle with the 39th Walter Cronkite Award and celebrate her tremendous career. She has had a profound impact on the journalism industry and the communities across the nation that benefit from her excellence in reporting and storytelling,” said Cronkite School Dean Battinto L. Batts Jr.
In her acceptance speech, King recalled when she first learned of Walter Cronkite as a seventh grader and her father required their family to watch “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” every night together.
“That was not my idea of a good time. I thought Walter Cronkite and the news were so boring,” King said. “But my dad insisted, it was important to know what’s going on in the world. My dad had no idea how he was preparing me.”
King still didn’t envision herself pursuing journalism as a career when she enrolled at the University of Maryland, majoring in psychology with the goal of becoming a child psychologist or a lawyer. However, it was around that time that she caught the “news bug” and was hired as a production assistant at a CBS station Washington, D.C.
She was accepted into a reporter training program that eventually prepared her for her first on-air job in Kansas City, Missouri at WDAF-TV. She then moved to CBS affiliate WFSB-TV in Hartford, Connecticut, where she worked for 18 years.
“When you pay your dues in local news, the pressure is relentless, the competition is fierce and quite simply, it is the opportunity of a lifetime. Nothing will teach you more or throw you to the curb quicker than local news,” she said.
King moved to CBS after she received a phone call from former executive producer Chris Licht, who recruited her when the network wanted to reimagine its morning news broadcast.
“He laid it out for me and by the end I said ‘yes, please pick me!’ And he did,” she said.
Although King also works with Oprah Daily and hosts her own radio show, television provides her biggest thrills, she said.
King has built a reputation as one of the most prominent interviewers in the country, but she approaches every interview with the viewer in mind.
“I don’t really consider myself a celebrity interviewer. Sometimes, the people I’m sitting down with happen to be famous, and many are celebrities,” she said. “But if I’m asking the right questions, regardless of who it is, I’m always trying to find out something I didn’t know before, and I always think about the people watching.”
King thanked her team at “CBS Mornings,” as well as Neeraj Khemlani, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations, and George Cheeks, president and CEO of CBS and chief content officer, News and Sports, Paramount+.
In addition, she recognized some of the women at CBS News who she considers leaders in the industry, including Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews executive vice president and CBS News Washington bureau chief; Shawna Thomas, executive producer of CBS Mornings; Wendy McMahon, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations; and Susan Zirinsky, the president of See it Now Studios, the in-house production company of CBS.
She also paid homage to Cronkite, who unknowingly influenced her decades ago and paved the way for her to build her own legacy at the same network.
“I thank Mr. Cronkite for the gifts of transparency, critical thinking, objectivity, perspective, and, the most important thing, decency. Thank you for teaching me through your example, to report the news, stick to the facts, and keep my opinions to myself, although I am still working on that,” she said. “Every morning when I take my front row seat to history at CBS News—the place you dedicated so many years to—I do my best to honor your legacy.”
All funds raised from the luncheon support the Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism fund, which advances the mission of the Cronkite School and supports future generations of journalism and media professionals.
Other Cronkite Award recipients include award-winning weatherman and anchor Al Roker; TV news anchors Lester Holt, Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper, Scott Pelley, Christiane Amanpour, Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill; sportscasters Al Michaels and Bob Costas; newspaper journalists Dean Baquet, Ben Bradlee, Helen Thomas and Bob Woodward; and media executives Katharine Graham, Al Neuharth and William Paley.