#MediaMonday – Steve Elliott, Cronkite News Service

“And that’s the way it is, Monday, November 4, 2013…”
Sound familiar?  That’s how the legendary Walter Cronkite, then known as the most trusted man in America, signed off each night as anchor of the CBS Evening News.
Now, among his legacies, the Cronkite News Service provides dozens of original news, feature and investigative stories each week from Arizona’s capital in Phoenix and the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. on issues critical to Arizonans. Launched nearly three years ago as a service to Arizona citizens, Cronkite News is also available free online at www.cronkitenewsonline.com.
Steve Elliott is the bureau’s director of print and digital services, managing efforts for newspapers and news websites. He spent 19 years with the Associated Press, serving as Arizona bureau chief and as an executive at AP’s New York headquarters.
Coincidentally, Steve and I attended the same high school, Washington High School in Phoenix – although I was a few years ahead of him.
Today’s #MediaMonday comes to us from Steve Elliott.
So Steve, time to share:
What do you want to tell the blogosphere about yourself today?
I grew up in Phoenix and was fortunate to have parents who followed the news religiously. Each day began with The Arizona Republic. Each afternoon we’d have the Phoenix Gazette on our doorstep. Then we’d watch Bill Close (KOOL-TV) or Ray Thompson (KTVK-TV, KTAR-AM). There was no question of what I wanted to do with my life when Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles was mortally wounded and lay dying for days. Seeing how affected the community was by that horrific crime, I wanted to be a part of something that was that important to so many people.
It seems odd to say this as a professor at Arizona State University’s journalism school, but I went to the University of Arizona because at the time it was the state’s premier print journalism school. I’m sure some reading this also were lucky enough to learn from Don Carson, Phil Mangelsdorf, Jim Johnson and other giants at UA. I remember hearing shortly after starting there that Walter Cronkite had given his name to ASU’s journalism school. I had no idea then just what that would mean for the Cronkite School.
I spent 19 years with The Associated Press, starting immediately after graduation in the Honolulu bureau. Big stories there included Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ exile, two air disasters in which nearly everyone survived and Kilauea Volcano’s destruction. On the latter, there’s something to be said for getting close enough to lava to dry rain-soaked clothes — and for trying to file a clear story by pay phone when hidden fields of marijuana are burning all around. After spending two years on AP’s national editing desk in New York, I started as a newsroom manager in the Milwaukee bureau (I directed coverage of Jeffrey Dahmer’s death in prison) and then moved to San Francisco as assistant bureau chief for Northern California/Nevada (from there I traveled to direct breaking coverage of the Unabomber’s arrest in Montana) before coming to Phoenix, where I was bureau chief for several years. Big stories in Phoenix included Fife Symington’s conviction (later overturned) and resignation and the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, back when half-million-acre wildfires were rare.
I love the pace of wire service work — making decisions about what is and isn’t responsible to report and about when, where and how intensively to commit resources. I loved working around wire service people, that once-rare breed of journalists who before the World Wide Web covered news in real time. The biggest story I worked on came early on a Saturday morning when I was directing AP’s overnight desk at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. There were two of us in the bureau when a third editor who was outside smoking ran in to report a great commotion in the street. I spent the next 24 hours helping direct coverage of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.
I finished my AP career at New York headquarters, working on the business side and helping manage relationships with U.S. newspapers during a very difficult period. One day I saw an ad on journalismjobs.com seeking someone to start Cronkite News Service. It seemed to line up perfectly with my interests, and seven-plus years later I’m still doing it and loving it.
At CNS I direct a staff of student journalists covering public policy issues out of a Phoenix bureau. They work full days, and I treat them as working journalists because they are working journalists. I do no classroom teaching; this newsroom is my classroom. Along with a staff in Washington, we provide text, photos and, of late, Web video each day to about 30 client news organizations around Arizona along with www.cronkitenewsonline.com. We also have a distribution deal with McClatchy-Tribune Information Services that takes some of our stories national. Other than the challenge of having to break in a new staff each semester, everything about this experience is so energizing and enriching that I’m thankful every day for the opportunity. The students are eager to learn, and they teach me as much as about social media (Twitter???) and multimedia journalism (e.g. what a smartphone is and how it works) as I teach them about the fundamentals of story ideas, reporting and news writing. I’m proud of what students and faculty have built here over the years. Cronkite News Service competes favorably with The Associated Press and other news sources for play around the state, and that’s a testament to the outstanding students and visionary leadership we have here.
As for the future of the news business, I feel silly saying that I’m bullish because it’s so obvious that we should be bullish about journalism. I find it exhilarating that anyone and everyone, including those in public relations, can be a content creator and engage an audience with valuable information. Game on, I say. Our job here is to train journalists in evolving ways to create valuable information by applying classroom lessons in experiences such as CNS. Our alumni get jobs — and not just in traditional reporting roles with traditional news organizations. One of mine now works for Buzzfeed. Another is a producer PBS NewsHour. Yet another designs news apps for the Chicago Tribune. Some are social media specialists. I wouldn’t teach journalism if it didn’t create value for students and society, and from my perspective the value we create at the Cronkite School is only growing as the news industry evolves.
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at Nov 4, 2013

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