The Cronkite School celebrates 100 years of the ‘Most Trusted Man in America’

As anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” Walter Cronkite set the gold standard for broadcast journalism, shepherding the nation through the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War and the beginning of the space program. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, ASU’s Cronkite School partnered with CBS News and the Newseum in Washington, D.C., to honor the late newsman’s impact on journalism.

During an all-day celebration at the Newseum in late September, leading journalists joined Cronkite School alumni and faculty to speak about Cronkite’s legacy and the future of the news business. Arizona PBS aired highlights from the event on Nov. 4, which would have been his 100th birthday.

At the event, a panel of recent Cronkite alumni spoke about Cronkite’s legacy in the digital age. Dustin Volz, who reports on cyber and surveillance policy for Reuters, said much has changed since the days of Cronkite who competed with a handful of other news anchors. Today, he said journalists are competing with everyone that has a Twitter account.

“That’s very empowering, but also terrifying,” Voltz said “I think every journalist is still trying to figure out how to navigate that as we go forward.”

“It does make journalism more open to anyone who wants to perform journalism,” said Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call staff writer Elvina Nawaguna. “For us as traditional journalists, we have to set the bar higher if you want to stand out.”

In an evening keynote panel, Gwen Ifill of the PBS NewsHour discussed the current decline in trust in the media as a contrast to Cronkite’s reputation for being the most trusted man in America. “So many of us in our business are attempting to achieve that level of trust,” she said, “and we’re striving for it with Walter Cronkite’s face in our heads.”

“60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, who worked with Cronkite early in her career, recalled how Cronkite advised reporters to avoid the influence of public opinion. “I remember he’d always say, ‘We don’t go with what the wind is telling us to do,’” she said.

Bob Schieffer, Cronkite’s longtime friend and colleague, recalled the anchor’s curiosity and his passion for the news. “People would walk up to him on the street and I don’t care where it was or what he was doing, he would stop, he would pass the time of day with them and before it was over, he was asking them questions. He the most curious person, and that’s what made him a great editor,” he said.

Scott Pelley, current anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” echoed Schieffer’s sentiment, noting that if Cronkite were a news anchor today, with today’s technology, “you would not be able to keep the man in the building on 52nd Street. He was a reporter first, last and always.”

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