When Walter Cronkite speaks, Aaron Brown listens.
After one semester as a visiting lecturer at Arizona State, Brown hadn’t actually decided whether he’d return to Tempe in the fall. Then he ran into Uncle Walter at a campus event last spring. “He sort of ordered me, in the way he does, ‘I expect you’ll continue to work at the university,'” says Brown, lowering his voice several octaves. “What else could I do?”
And that’s the way it was for the inaugural Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism at ASU.
Brown, named to the post earlier this month, will join the full-time faculty in January. He’ll teach one course per semester, on the evolution of television beginning with the JFK assassination.
Uh, one course, Professor Brown?
“One class is plenty for someone with my attention span. I think a gnat would be offended. It’s one of the few things my young students and I will share.”
In addition to his crushing course load, the CNN exile will schmooze up potential donors, when asked nicely.
Speaking of donations, Brown cracks up when we ask him how academia’s pay scale compares to cable’s.
“Are you kidding me? This wouldn’t even be a mid-market job. I will say this: I’m not doing this for the money. I’m not doing it for free, either.”
Brown will bag big bucks on the lecture circuit. At 58, he’s found his second act in the classroom.
“I expect to do this for a good while,” says Brown, a University of Minnesota drop out. “I donâ€™t know what that means, exactly. I certainly see myself doing it for five years or so.”
To Brown, “Mr. Cronkite” holds an iconic status that no living anchor will ever match.
“He really invented this job in all the ways that count — the way he connected to viewers and the way viewers connected to him. He brought a level of humanity to the job.”
Unlike many cable hosts today, Cronkite’s work was understated, Brown says. “He didn’t showcase his emotions or make a big deal about them. They were genuine.”
“You can show you’re moved by something without having neon lights saying, ‘I’m moved.'”
Which is why Brown — a deliberate slowpoke who actually turns over a thought or two before starting his engine — didn’t play all that well on cable, and why he’s in no hurry to return.
“I really think what viewers want from cable is big, broad personalities who scream, ‘I’m right. You’re wrong. Shut up,’ in one shape or form. That’s not me.”
At ASU, it doesn’t have to be. And that makes all the difference