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Walter Cronkite

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Walter Cronkite Obituary
NEW YORK — Retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, 92, "the most trusted man in America," has died at his home in New York. CBS Vice President Linda Mason said Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. today after a long illness with his family by his side.

He was the face of CBS News from 1962 to 1981, when stories ranged from the Kennedy assassination to Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis.

Born in St. Joseph, Mo., Cronkite began his career as a newsboy and became a campus reporter for the Houston Post while in high school. Cronkite attended the University of Texas at Austin in the 1930s and worked as a student reporter for The Daily Texan campus newspaper.

He juggled classes and worked at both The Daily Texan and the State Capitol for two Depression-era years.

"It was a very happy time in my life," he said during a 1999 visit for the centennial celebration at The Daily Texan. "I had too good a time."

He said of trying to get an education in the midst of the difficult economic times: "I balanced it by not attending school. I missed a lot of classes," he said. "I should have spent a lot more time there and concentrated more on my studies."

As a UT student, Cronkite joined the Chi Phi fraternity and ran in his only political race — for freshman class president. He lost to high school buddy Joe Greenhill, who later became chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Both had gone to San Jacinto High School in Houston.

Cronkite volunteered for The Daily Texan while getting paid for part-time work as a copy boy and sometimes reporter for newspapers at their Capitol bureaus. He said newspaper work intrigued him enough to quit UT in 1935 to take a full-time news job.

"I regret my dropping out of the university, but I welcomed the opportunity to drop into journalism during the Depression," he said. Joining United Press in 1937, he covered everything from the Texas Legislature to the major battles of World War II and the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

"I think the press service is one of the most exciting jobs with literally a deadline every minute," Cronkite said.

After the war, Cronkite was United Press' chief correspondent in Moscow. In 1950, CBS beckoned, but Cronkite still counts his wire service days as among the best.

He joined CBS News in the early 1950s and became the anchorman and managing editor of "The CBS Evening News" in 1962.

He covered the civil-rights movement and the Vietnam war and broke the news of President Kennedy's assassination to a shocked world and narrated every step of America's landing on the moon. He said in a 1997 interview with the Statesman that the moon landing was the most important story he covered: The fact that man escaped his environment, got out there to another orb ... is a story that will have an importance for the rest of mankind's existence."

He stepped down as CBS news anchor in 1981.

Austin ties

At a 1999 visit for the Daily Texan reunion he said he visited Austin "as often as I can but not often enough."

In one of his most recent visits, Cronkite received the Texas Medal of the Arts at the Paramount Theatre in April 2007.

He was given a moon rock from the Apollo XI mission by NASA in March 2006 during an awards ceremony at the University of Texas. He donated the rock to UT. Also in March 2006, he received the History-Making Texan Award presented at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

He has been an adjunct faculty member in the College of Communication since 1988. Friends and supporters have endowed the Walter Cronkite Regents Chair in Communication, which at his request is reserved for the dean of the College of Communication.

Cronkite's papers are at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas. The collection spans his life from his youth in Houston and his years at UT to the highlights of his career. Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, invited Cronkite to donate his papers to the university's archives, when Cronkite was visiting the campus in 1988 as a guest lecturer.

Cronkite did the voice-overs for a series of 30-second ads for UT's "We're Texas" campaign. The ads debuted in 1998. GSD&M, the Austin ad agency that produced the ads as well as the "We're Texas" slogan, campaigned heavily to get Cronkite, who contributed his voice work for free.

Journalism past, future

He shared memories from his long career during a 1997 visit to the UT campus. He answered questions posed by a capacity audience of 1,000 at the Lyndon B. Johnson Auditorium. He shared memories in vivid detail — a Harvard banner decorated then-Sen. John F. Kennedy's bedroom and late Yugoslav Communist leader Marshal Tito had an unexpectedly contagious sense of humor.

During that 1997 visit, he recommended that the next generation of broadcasters follow his path of writing for publications before tackling television. Only by writing for print, Cronkite said, can a broadcaster learn how to organize a story and "write well the two or three paragraphs" crucial in the faster, briefer medium of television.

In a 1997 interview with the Statesman, he said: "The education of journalists today is far better than it used to be. In my day, there were very few who were college graduates at all. It wasn't a learned profession. And the competitive nature of the business in those days — there were a lot of shortcuts taken in reporting — kind of skipped the truth a few times. On the other hand, today you've got a different problem. You've got almost too much education on the part of the reporters so they all want to be pundits. Everybody wants to write their own opinion instead of reporting the facts."

He also noted: "As far as instantaneous reporting goes, we're better off than we've ever been. As far as getting news in depth, we're suffering severely today, because most of the people are getting most of their news from television, and that's not an adequate form of communication. The news broadcasts aren't long enough or detailed enough in handling the major stories of the day. They're showing even less of an inclination to do so today than they used to."
Published in Austin American-Statesman from July 17 to July 22, 2009
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