Cronkite Journalism Award

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Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts is the latest recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Hear her comments on her career, life and receiving the award.

Ted Simons: Tonight on "Arizona Horizon," "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts is the winner of the 2014 Cronkite Award for Excellence in journalism. Hear what Robin Roberts had to say about her life and career next on "Arizona Horizon."
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Each year ASU's Cronkite School of journalism and mass communication honors a leading journalist with the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism. This year's recipient was Robin Roberts of ABC's "Good Morning America." Robin Roberts has worked in journalism for 28 years. She's worked in radio and television, from sports to international news. She is also a breast cancer survivor, and her public battle with the disease helped increase breast cancer awareness. Robin Roberts talked with two student journalists about her career path and optimistic outlook on life during the Cronkite award luncheon in downtown Phoenix.

Analise Ortiz: You have had such a wildly successful career in broadcast journalism for more than 30 years now and we wanted to know as we are college students, we all kind of have questions. Did you always see yourself in this kind of career? Is that something that you ever questioned?

Robin Roberts: I knew that I wanted to be in the very beginning, I wanted to be an athlete. I wanted to be a professional athlete. And a little thing called ability that you have to have. I didn't quite have that. And it was sister sally who really encouraged me. I had an interest in what she was doing in journalism, but passionate about sports. She was the one that initially encouraged me to combine the two. I really felt that -- so grateful early on, becoming a sports journalist, my interest became sports and my passion became journalism and I never in a gazillion years no, I could not have thought of that. All I wanted to do was to be a sports journalist at first, and I'm just so grateful that I had so many people who were giving me opportunities and wanting to do more and more. And I just feel still like I feel like I'm just rounding first base in all that I hope to accomplish.

Megan Thompson: I know you started in sports like we talked about, and how was the transition different? How was sports going into news and how was that transition for you?

Robin Roberts: You know, we are all very comfortable in our comfort zone and it is very difficult to venture out of that. And in the local markets where I work, the news director would always try to get me to come over to the side. I was well received by the audience. They wanted me to have more air time and to do more important stories it seemed than the people thought with sports. I never used it as a stepping stone. But I -- sometimes we get in the habit of saying no. Because I was like when they would say do you want to go into news. I'm like no. That's a four-letter word. No, it is because I'm a girl. You don't think I can go into sports. I was saying no out of habit. I was very, very grateful that ABC and other places were very interested and there was a wonderful, wonderful world about sports, and those sports journalists and it is the perfect training ground, though I didn't treat it like that. Because it's completely unscripted. You could not script the ending of that ASU, USC game come on, now. Am I right? Am I right? No, no. So, it's wonderful. You have to think on your feet and all of those things. So, I was so grateful and I realized I was limiting myself just staying in sports. I still cover sports and I'm grateful for the bigger platform that I have.

Megan Thompson: When it comes to news and sports, what is similar about it?

Robin Roberts: Journalism is journalism. A sports story is a sports story, news story. Doesn't matter what it is. As you approach it as young journalists, the background and research that you do, how you approach a story is absolutely the same. And so when I realized that and that journalism is just that, it put me at ease a little bit to realize that it is all the same.

Megan Thompson: And you talked about your athletics a little bit.

Robin Roberts: I got a little eligibility left if you want me to play one more year of college hoops.

Megan Thompson: Competition, competitive edge is still there for you. Want to be number one, fought for the number one spot and got it. Where does that competitive spirit come from?

Robin Roberts: My dad was a Tuskegee airman, my mother was the first at her family to go to college. They met at Howard, Howard University. And I just really -- we weren't competitive. I mean people feel because Sally Ann and I are in the same line of work and she's quick to remind me that she has a number one television morning show in New Orleans. You know, she is very quick to point out they're number one in New Orleans. I will give you New Orleans. We're good. We're good. People thought that we were that we are competitive. And it's not that. It really comes through playing sports. I think for generations, I'm a proud product of title 9. I'm very grateful for title 9. Yes. Provided me with an athletic scholarship, paid for my education. The opportunity to, as I said to you all yesterday when I was talking with you, all I want is the same opportunity to succeed or fail as anyone else. And when you play sports, it really instills that in you. I think that competitiveness comes from playing sports. Yes.

Analise Ortiz: Now, you've covered such amazing moments in our nation's history from hurricane Katrina, to President Barack Obama make is his historic statement on gay marriage. Under all of these moments you have under your belt, is there any particular story you felt was the most impactful for both you and your viewers?

Robin Roberts: Oh, my, Analise. I would have to say, the two you mentioned in particular, the morning after Katrina -- or actually the night of Katrina is when I finally made it there. My sister's station they had evacuated to Baton Rouge from New Orleans. We had lost contact with our mother and sister and nieces on the Gulf coast. When I arrived there that night and this is just a short time after I had been named the third co-anchor with Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer. There was part of it golly, how did I get here? Did I do the right thing? Take me back, take me back to ESPN. I promise you so, I was having these doubts that you all have at different points in your career. The night after Katrina. I made it down to Lafayette Louisiana, drove all night to the team to get to the Mississippi Gulf coast. Didn't realize, didn't know anything about my family. Was still trying to find them. And so the producers that I was with, I said for them to set up for a live shot and I would try and get back if I could, but I was going to find my mama. And, so, police officer was very nice to take me to the neighborhood. It was a lot of destruction, but the house was standing. The police officer, he had that big old light and he was shining it and knocked on the door and Dorothy, our sister, Dorothy answered the door and the big light shining on her. She is like no TV. No TV. I'm like I'm going to bring a TV camera here, you know. But I was more concerned because the police officer had knocked on the door and my nieces recognized the police officer's knock. We were like how do you know a police officer's knock on the door. How do you know what that sounds like? Mama is at the back of the house. Robin. Robin my sweet mama. I ran back there. She said I knew you would find me. She said I that's how she was. She said go and tell our story. I made sure they're okay. She said go. You need to let the world know what has happened here. I made it back and with seconds to spare to go on the air live. And we lost the satellite at the last second and it came back. And so I'm there and giving the facts of what happened, what I had seen, destruction. I was proud of myself. I was holding it together. And Charlie Gibson, in my little earpiece, said Robin, when you left here you didn't know about your family. Were you able to find them? Mama said there is no there is no beautiful cry. It is always an ugly cry. And she saw a little bit of the tape and I'm thinking I'm going to get fired. Oh, I just cried on national there is no crying on national TV. And just the opposite happened. People really gravitated to the fact that I was being so authentic at the moment. So, the fact that people saw that, that they donated, that they adopted my home town, that was a very significant story for not only myself, but for our viewers and I really feel it was the cornerstone and turning point in my career.

Megan Thompson: We kind of, you know, you talked about how the viewers are important to you and how the viewers are -- they appreciate you and your message and stuff like that. Do you often feel when you went through that medical journey that you had to put on a brave face sometimes and maybe you were just tired or sick?

Robin Roberts: That's a fair question. I mean, I never people can see through you if you if you are insincere. And did I share everything? No. Did I share what I felt would be helpful for someone and I wish and I hope I was sitting there and people were very nice, trying to allow me to eat my lunch. And I got a sweet note from somebody who is one year from their transplant, their one-year birthday. Hi, how are you? I'm so happy for you. I'm so I'm just so incredibly happy for you and I'm happy that I was able to put a face to what we are going through. What we went through together. And that if it brought you comfort and your family and your friends and to know what the journey is like, so that is the reason why we shared as much as we did. And you showed a bit of it in the tape. And I didn't realize this when we did the special when I came back, when I was just in immense tears and holding my face. I don't even remember that moment. There was a part that said I didn't want to show that in the special. But we did, and I heard from more people because they wanted to they want to see that. They don't want to just see the smile. They want to know that there were difficult times, but, yet, the vast majority of the time I was able to bear through it, smile, and let people know that this, too, shall pass. I feel that I am a living, breathing, wonderful example of this too shall pass, whatever anybody is going through.

Analise Ortiz: And now, In Everybody's Got Something this goes along with the being a living example for others, in your book, Everybody's Got Something, you do mention that sometimes there is those mornings that we all have that we don't want to get out of bed. But in your position, with the job you have, that's not a possibility. Because you are the motivation for so many people and you mention in your book that you just want people to wake up on a positive note. And, so, you know, that's such a powerful statement. Such a powerful position. Where do you find the inspiration to do so?

Robin Roberts: My family, we grew up with the three Ds. You know, people talk about the three R's. Three Ds, determination, drive, and da Lord. So that -- that is really -- my faith has really -- and there is a funny thing. There is a funny thing. I know when -- I look at you two and I'm just -- so great. I mean, you're -- to be on the cusp of this wonderful career that you are about to launch, the great start that you've gotten here at the Cronkite school. There is just very slight difference between fear and faith. They both are the unseen, the unknown. We're fearful of things that may never happen. Faith is the unseen. Why not have faith instead of fear, both are unknown and unseen. And I'm just so grateful that I have been taught to have faith and to know that when fear knocks to let faith answer the door.

Megan Thompson: Now also in your book, you have --

Robin Roberts: Bookstores right now.

Megan Thompson: In your book, you asked yourself, you know, all of these questions will this disease kill me? How will I tell my mother? And you are -- you are the interviewer all of the time. You always ask people the tough questions. How do you turn such a tough question back on yourself?

Robin Roberts: That's why I began my book talking about there are some years that ask questions and there are some years that we get the answer to those questions, and 2012 was the year that I asked more questions than I answered. Will I survive? Will my mother survive? Will -- there was just so much uncertainty. And I -- I think that the reason that I started that is that life is a journey. It just is. There is no two ways about it. And I'm so grateful that there are peaks and valleys and when I say this too shall pass, it means the good and the bad. The good will pass. And the bad will pass. And I'm glad that I had that as a cornerstone for how I live my life.

Analise Ortiz: And now you say, you know, your relationship with your viewers is so important and powerful, I think. As you became more open with your audience, you know, sharing your personal journey, do you feel like it changed the way that you report stories and the way you tell stories?

Robin Roberts: No, I think the -- because I did that is the way I developed a relationships. I didn't really have to change anything. I was very grateful that for, again, that -- can we get a copy of that piece? Any time I'm feeling blue, I will run the piece --

Megan Thompson: Make sure you get a copy.

Robin Roberts: When someone said I have huggability, and there were so many people. It was great. We were taking pictures. Some people were like I just want a hug. So, there is a connection. And if you -- if you met our mother, you would understand where that comes from. And I'm very grateful for that. Because there is an intimacy to morning television. I mean, you're getting up, starting your day, your day. There is just this connection, I mean, audiences really feel like you are part of the family.

Megan Thompson: You also talk about your mom a lot in the book and how important she was to you and family in general. I know that you always -- a lot of great quotes.

Robin Roberts: When you strut, you stumble --

Megan Thompson: When you think about make your mess your message after you have been through so much and accomplished so much, what is your message at this point in your life right now, your message today?

Robin Roberts: My message today is really to be here at the Cronkite School and look at the students and let you know that this is a wonderful, tremendous, scary, all of these things rolled into one profession, and that it is an honor. It's an honor to -- for people -- of all of the recognition, and this is just so phenomenal, when I was also recognized as the most trusted woman -- most trusted news person, not woman, most trusted newsperson by readers' digest, and I realized probably the reason I did that is I trust the viewer. I trust that I'm just going to give you the information and you can make -- I trust that you're going to make your own decision. You don't need me to color it in any kind of way. And I just really very grateful that I was -- that I was taught to trust people. To trust myself and to trust others.

Megan Thompson: And you have the Walter Cronkite award.

Robin Roberts: Yes, it is right here.

Megan Thompson: So, we know Walter Cronkite, known as the most trusted man in America, like you talked about. You watched it and all of that great stuff. There is kind of a distrust, kind of, sometimes with the media and the viewers. How do you overcome that?

Robin Roberts: That's -- that's a tough one. I mean, I know that there is a reason why that some people who watch what is on television, there has been a level of distrust. And it is something that we have to earn and win back. I can only speak for us at "Good Morning America" and I'm very grateful that the people have given us the benefit of the doubt. That's one of my rules to live by. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt and not always think bad of them. So, I -- I think that there is a reason why there is that mistrust and I think we're working really hard to win that trust back as a profession.

Analise Ortiz: And finally here, you have beaten cancer. You have gotten through MDS and you have the number one morning show and today you received the Walter Cronkite award, excellence in journalism. We want to know what is the next step for your career?

Robin Roberts: That's not enough? I mean, come on! I'm tired. Oh, gosh, I -- I'm very grateful with the support of ABC. I started a new production company, and I -- look, I watch "housewives", too, I watch the reality shows. But I feel that the pendulum is beginning to swing back. I want to provide programming, much of it that will be seen on ABC that's uplifting, informative, entertaining. So I'm really looking forward to building the production company and providing programming like that.

Megan Thompson: We want to say congratulations to you. Such an honor to be here. Everyone is so excited to have you.

Robin Roberts: One final -- first of all, very good. A little too good, but very good. All right, all right. This honor means so much. And it's poetic in some ways. I shared it this morning in talking at ABC 15. When I was in the hospital and one of those scenes that you saw when I was in a really bad state, because of the medication that I was taking, I was hallucinating a great deal. This is a true story. I was hallucinating, amber, my girlfriend, made all of my family leave the room. I wanted to be alone. I didn't want anybody staying with me that night. The next day, my family and friends came in and friends that were here, Scarlet and Linda in that hospital room with me from Phoenix, dear friends, they would make the TREK to see me. The nurse came in laughing. We asked what is so funny? You missed it. Robin was hallucinating last night and she was at the foot of her bed when the nurse came in and she said that you were interviewing someone. And I said really. And true story. Who was I interviewing? Walter Cronkite. [Applause] So, true story. So, when I -- when I received word that I was receiving this honor, I felt that it has all come full circle. So thank you very much. Thank you everybody. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Robin Roberts is the 31st journalist to receive the Cronkite award. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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