Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb interviewed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl at the Community Conversations event at the Walter Cronkite School. They discussed the relationship between politics and journalism. (Alexis Macklin/DD)
By Linnea Bennett
Politics and the Press, the first installment of the Walter Cronkite School and the Arizona Republic’s joint Community Conversations series, took place on Friday at the Cronkite School.
Attendees paid $150 to enjoy a day of up-close interactions with the media to see how journalists work. The event took place in the First Amendment Forum of the Cronkite School, and just over 40 people attended.
The event included several keynote speakers, including Dr. Leonard Downie Jr., vice president at large for the Washington Post, former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and Washington bureau chief for USA Today Susan Page.
Other speakers included well-known writers from the Arizona Republic, including columnists Laurie Roberts and E.J. Montini as well as political cartoonist Steve Benson. Longtime Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb hosted the day’s events.
Attendees were also given a tour of the Arizona Republic and 12 News building, where they watched a live taping of Channel 12’s Sunday Square Off with Brahm Resnik, followed by a Q-and-A with Resnik.
Kristin Gilger, associate dean of the Cronkite School, said she has been planning the Community Conversations series since last fall and thought that, coming out of an election season, Politics and the Press was an appropriate theme for the first event.
“I’m very happy with the turnout,” Gilger said. “With this kind of topic, I didn’t want hundreds of people. I want people to feel like they can ask their questions.”
The day began with an interview with Downie by Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School and vice provost for the Downtown campus. Downie, who has been working in journalism since 1964 and served as executive editor for the Washington Post for 17 years, detailed certain points in history that changed journalism.
Gilger said she thought the audience would benefit from hearing Downie speak.
“I don’t think people often get a chance to hear someone talk about making these decisions,” Gilger said. “He has an amazing richness of experience and people don’t often get to hear from that.”
Downie’s segment was followed by the Sunday Showdown taping, Arizona Republic tour and a break for lunch. Attendees then returned for the afternoon portion of the event, began with an interview with Robb and Kyl.
During the interview, both men seemed good-natured and referred to each other as “friends”; a far cry from the contentious relationship that journalists and politicians typically display. Robb even joked about “codependency” issues between journalists and politicians.
Kyl spoke about a variety of topics during his interview. One was the 24-hour news cycles that he said he finds detrimental to both politics and the journalism profession.
However, Kyl was quick to say that the media is not the only figure to blame.
“I don’t want the headline out of this to be ‘Kyl blames media for all problems,’” he said.
Arizona Republic columnists discussed the changes they saw in Arizona during their time as journalists covering the state. (Alexis Macklin/DD)
Retired engineer and Gilbert resident Dennis Beals was one attendant at Friday’s events and said he came as a “Kyl fan,” excited for a chance to hear the former senator speak. He also said he was looking to gain a better perspective on journalists’ views of the media.
“I’m one who thinks the news media is so biased its ridiculous, including the Republic,” Beals said. “Maybe listening to some of their reporters and maybe asking a question or two…I’ll get a better understanding from their point of view.”
Beals received that chance later in the day when columnists Roberts, Montini and Benson spoke to the crowd and opened themselves up to questions.
The three journalism veterans spent the hour on stage discussing the changes they have seen in Arizona during their time covering the state, and if and how their roles have changed as journalists.
“I don’t actually see myself any differently than when I started,” Roberts said. “The role is a little different but the goal has always been the same: to go out and find the truth….and wreak havoc on those who deserve it.”
Another highlight of the day was a talk with Page, who opened her segment by commenting on Arizona’s ties to national issues like gun control and immigration reform.
Page also acknowledged the dynamic and often conflicting political figures that come from Arizona.
“Any state that can boast both U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a state with some political range,” Page said to a riff of laughter.
Attorney Najia Haddock, who attended Politics and the Press with her husband, said one of her favorite parts of the day was the tour of the Arizona Republic’s newsroom.
“Unless you’re a journalism student you don’t really know ‘How does this information culminate? How do they get that?’ That was really fascinating to see, the inside workings of the newspaper,” Haddock said.
Another installment of Community Conversations is scheduled for March, and will involve sports and the media. The event will coincide with major spring sports events, including baseball spring training and college basketball’s March Madness. Patrons who are interested in attending the second Community Conversations will be able to register online as the date approaches.
Contact the reporter at Linnea.Bennett@asu.edu