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And that’s the way it is

On April 19, the College of Communication dedicates its plaza to alumnus and respected journalist Walter Cronkite with an art installation by Ben Rubin.

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After a long day of work or school in the 1960s, Americans might have gathered in front of their TVs to catch up on the day’s events.

Walter Cronkite

Cronkite with his trademark pipe, undated.Photo: Walter Cronkite Papers, Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

For 30 minutes each weeknight, with no Twitter or Facebook newsfeeds to distract them, they would watch Walter Cronkite, who anchored “The CBS Evening News.” Instead of using a dizzying sequence of b-roll footage, pundits or scrolling news tickers, the program simply relied on Cronkite’s accurate, balanced reporting.

From 1962 to 1981, Cronkite covered many of the pivotal events of the 20th century including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the first moon landing and Watergate and eventually became known as “the most trusted man in America.”

But before Cronkite earned this title, he studied at The University of Texas at Austin.

To honor the Cronkite legacy, the College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin will dedicate the Walter Cronkite Plaza on Thursday, April 19, in front of the Jesse H. Jones Communication complex, near Dean Keeton Street and Whitis Avenue.

The plaza dedication will feature activities to honor Cronkite, including the unveiling of “And That’s the Way It Is,” an art installation by renowned new media artist Ben Rubin.

Cronkite at The University of Texas at Austin

In 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, Cronkite was one of 6,652 students to enroll at The University of Texas at Austin. He studied political science, economics and journalism. He also wrote for The Daily Texan and served as an afternoon sports reporter at KNOW-AM, the campus radio station.

Soon thereafter, when William Randolph Hearst’s International News Service opened a bureau at the Texas Capitol, Cronkite obtained a part-time administrative position that he referred to as “one of the best breaks of my life.”

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite and his Chi Phi fraternity brothers from The Cactus, 1935.Photo: Walter Cronkite Papers, Briscoe Center for American History,
The University of Texas at Austin.

From there, he went on to work as a reporter at the Houston Press and as a war correspondent with United Press International during World War II.

In his nearly 20 years at “The CBS Evening News,” he helped to establish the role of anchorman in journalism, and also served as the managing editor for the program.
However, he would continue to return to The University of Texas at Austin.

In 1988 Cronkite donated his personal and professional papers to the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

The Cronkite Papers cover virtually every aspect of the respected journalist’s life but focus on his career with CBS News, including research files, audio and video recordings, personal correspondence, production materials, photographs, and more.

That same year he also taught in the College of Communication as part of the “Senior Fellows” honors program, lecturing on ethics in journalism and sharing lessons from his storied career.

Walter Cronkite

Cronkite at his news desk at CBS, undated.Photo: Walter Cronkite Papers, Briscoe Center for American History,
The University of Texas at Austin.

Roderick P. Hart, dean of the College of Communication and founder of the Senior Fellows program, organized Cronkite’s lectures at the university and taught alongside him. He says the college is dedicating Walter Cronkite Plaza in honor of Cronkite’s devotion to the craft and principles of journalism.

“As one of the college’s most accomplished sons, Walter Cronkite epitomized the traditional values of journalism accuracy, courage, independence and integrity that we seek to imbue in our students,” says Hart. “By honoring the Cronkite legacy we hope to instill in our students the moral and ethical framework they will need to help them navigate a new digital era.”

Installation Captures Changing Conceptions of News

As part of the Walter Cronkite Plaza dedication, the university’s public art program, Landmarks, will unveil an art installation by Ben Rubin titled “And That’s the Way It Is.”

Named after Cronkite’s trademark nightly signoff from “The CBS Evening News,” “And That’s the Way It Is” will illuminate the face of the Communication A (CMA) building with projections of choreographed text. It will be visible every evening from dusk until midnight from the Walter Cronkite Plaza.

Walter Cronkite

Cronkite during one of his many reports on the space program, ca. 1960s.Photo: Walter Cronkite Papers, Briscoe Center for American History,
The University of Texas at Austin.

It honors the Cronkite legacy by drawing from archival transcripts of his broadcasts as well as live network news. As daily news is generated, the text adapts to reflect current events connecting the past and present.

“I’m looking for ways that the Cronkite perspective his reporting, language, the subjects he covered and the news of his era might illuminate our contemporary news,” Rubin says. “Part of what I’m looking for are rhythms figures of speech or grammatical constructions that when placed one after the other form a litany that will occasionally seem poetic.”

The installation was commissioned for the College of Communication by Landmarks, and it is the first of three public art acquisitions that the program will unveil this year.

“Ben is highly regarded in the art historical community for his pioneering experiments in new media technologies,” says Andrée Bober, Landmarks director. “This piece, projected on an architectural scale, will be the first digital art installation to be added to the university’s growing public art collection. It will intrigue and inspire the public for years to come.”

New York-based Rubin creates art that incorporates audio, visual and digital electronics. His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, among others. He has realized large-scale public works for The New York Times, the city of San José, Calif., and the Minneapolis Public Library, and is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the San José Museum of Art, and the Science Museum, London.

Several university units collaborated to realize this installation. The College of Communication provided funding as part of its capital improvement project, the Briscoe Center for American History contributed transcripts from its archive of Walter Cronkite papers, and the School of Information offered technical expertise to the artist.

The April 19 dedication ceremony and unveiling of “And That’s the Way It Is” will feature activities that are free and open to the public.

Dedication Schedule

  • 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Rubin will hold a QandA session at the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s Visualization Lab, at the Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences (ACES) building, 201 E. 24th St. The QandA will be moderated by Kathleen Forde, artistic director of the Borusan Contemporary Museum in Istanbul.
  • 6 p.m. The dedication ceremony will take place at the CMA building, 2504 Whitis Ave. Various speakers will honor the Cronkite legacy, including Roderick P. Hart, dean of the College of Communication; Steven Leslie, provost of The University of Texas at Austin; Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center for American History; and College of Communication students.
  • 8:30 p.m. “And That’s the Way It Is” will be unveiled at the CMA building, 2504 Whitis Ave.