Television broadcaster Robin Roberts, whose nearly 25 years within The Walt Disney Company has taken her from ESPN sportscaster to Good Morning America co-anchor, received the prized Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism on October 6. Roberts is regarded not only as a journalist and television personality, but also as a spokeswoman for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) awareness. Roberts candidly discussed some of her personal and career highlights this week at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix, where I attend college.
This edition of Disney In Depth showcases some of Roberts’ Disney connections and her time in Phoenix while obtaining the prestigious Cronkite Award honor.
Whether anchoring SportsCenter to Good Morning America, we can count on Robin Roberts’ charismatic personality, personal drive, and comfortable authenticity to deliver the news. She has interviewed everyone from President Obama to Robin Williams. The passionate and disciplined journalist started her career more than 30 years ago, covering Mississippi sports. In only several years she would ascend to the big leagues of ESPN, where she called home for 15 years. She became the third co-anchor of ABC’s morning show in 2005, joining Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson in what was a terrific team. Roberts and Sawyer co-anchored for three years together before Sawyer took over World News. George Stephanopolous joined Roberts in 2009. Over the past two years, Good Morning America has topped the ratings charts, beating competitor Today for the first time in over 15 years.
As we Disney fans know, The Walt Disney Company represents the parent company of ABC News and ESPN, among many other television outlets. In a sense, then, Robin Roberts has “worked for the Mouse” for a few decades now. However, this has not influenced Roberts’ reporting whatsoever. Sure, she occasionally interviews the leads of the latest Disney film, serves as a guest judge on Dancing with the Stars, or travels to the theme parks for a special event — see video below posted on YouTube by user DisneyParkVideos — but Robin Roberts is a journalist first and foremost. That came through at the Cronkite Luncheon on October 6, when Robin Roberts was awarded the prized honor.
Like the rest of America who has followed Roberts’ journey, I have watched her beat breast cancer, tackle MDS, and continue to thrive. She has taken viewers through each step of the process, even during the most challenging moments. However, despite these difficulties, she has continued to showcase an unwavering spirit and commitment to overcoming major obstacles – nothing short of admirable. Roberts visited the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication the day prior to the luncheon. Speaking to a few hundred of us, Roberts offered some life lessons and anecdotes.
“Optimism is a muscle that gets stronger with use,” Roberts said. She noted how we can make our own happiness and view new opportunities positively. Roberts indicated that she remained in her comfort zone by sticking with ESPN for 15 years, fearing the possibilities of what could await in reporting non-sports news. But the team at Good Morning America welcomed her in, giving her a chance to grow in new ways. For instance, covering Hurricane Katrina allowed viewers to see Roberts reunite with her family members in the thick of the storm. Roberts suggested she was concerned about how individuals would perceive her raw emotion, crying on screen. Would she lose her job over this? Robin Roberts wondered just that. Instead, it was a turning point in her career, when we viewed her as both a journalist reporting on the natural disaster and as a human being caring for her loved ones.
Roberts’ presentation at the Cronkite School drew numerous questions from the audience and several rounds of applause. Sometimes she joked about her family life. At other points she grippingly told about her ascension in broadcasting while not initially being taken seriously as an African-American woman reporting on sports. By the end of the lecture, though, along with the end of the following day’s Cronkite Luncheon, what we heard and saw was the Robin Roberts we know and continue to watch with dedication every morning. We laughed and smiled a bunch. Some of us swelled up with tears. Most of all, her conversations felt honest. What a treat.
Bad circumstances can unfold in life, but positivity exists right around the corner. Whether chronicling her health challenges or detailing the aftermath of a storm, Robin Roberts does not sugarcoat the truth. The journalist objectively sets up the scene and shares stories; sometimes her own, but most often, other individuals’ experiences. She shows that no matter the hardships, we can all persevere. Everybody’s Got Something is the title of her latest book. How appropriate. Fortunately, some of us in attendance at the Cronkite Luncheon received signed copies of her new release. Such a wonderful gesture and gift from an equally wonderful and gifted woman.
She’s the real deal.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.