10 Questions with Gayle King
1: What does it mean to you to be recognized as the 39th recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism?
I’m very flattered and have to say, when they first told me, I was surprised and said, “Me?” because Walter Cronkite is such an icon and legend that to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as his is very humbling and extremely flattering.
I lived in Turkey as a kid, and we didn’t have television, so I was a voracious reader. When we came back to the States, I was in seventh grade and the thing that I wanted, and enjoyed more than anything, was watching television. I loved looking at TV and still do, but my dad used to make us, and I do mean make us, watch the evening news every night. He thought it was important to know what’s going on in the world. I would say, “It’s so boring. Why do we have to sit here? Why can’t we go outside? Why can’t we turn the channel?” I know my dad is up in heaven getting a kick out of this full-circle moment.
Not only am I getting the award in his name, but I work at CBS and sat in the studio with Walter Cronkite’s map. I could see it every single day I was sitting there. I’m still blown away that I even worked at CBS, the same place Walter Cronkite used to be. To get the award, I can’t even tell you what that means to me. It feels very personal and special.
2: Walter Cronkite presented the first award in 1984 to two CBS legends (William Paley and Frank Stanton) who played influential roles in his extraordinary career. Who has played an instrumental role in your career?
I swear by local news because that’s how I came up. I got all my training in local news. I majored in psychology, and this career was never something I intended to pursue. I was either going to be a child psychologist or a lawyer. Then I got a job at a TV station when I was in college and became hooked. I was like a little puppy clinging on to people. I don’t care who you are; someone has helped you along the way. I don’t care how successful you are or what you’ve done; somebody at some point said, “Hey, let me help you, or what are you interested in?”
For me, it’s J.C. Hayward, who was a local news anchor in Washington, D.C.; Bruce Johnson, who is no longer with us; Pam Coulter, who was a radio reporter; and Ralph Begleiter, who I worked with very closely and learned a lot from. It was by osmosis, and I soaked up everything they did. J.C. would look at my scripts and say, “You could change this and make this better.” I would go out on stories with Bruce, and he allowed me to shoot interviews or standups and would then critique them. For me, it’s local people who took the time and were very hands-on with me.
3: You’ve had a remarkable career in journalism. What are the most significant changes the profession has experienced since you started?
Everything is 24/7. You used to have to wait overnight to get the news or until the news came on. Now, when I say 24/7, I mean that anybody can take a camera and start shooting the story. Everything is online, so I am cognizant of how the news is always changing and how you have to be on top of it. That’s the thing that blows me away, that the news could change from the time we went on air this morning to an hour after talking to you. You have to figure out a way to get that out there because we always want to be accurate. The thing that amazes me is the speed at which the news happens and how there really is no time off.
What I like about morning news is that you can go to bed, wake up, and the news has totally changed. We’re the ones who are bringing you up to date. By the time you get to the evening news, you’ve had all day to hear the news, so you have an idea about what the story is. Morning television is different in that respect. Back in the day, you had the three big networks. That was it, and you didn’t get anything until the evening news. When I was a little girl watching it, my dad said, “That’s why you need to know what is happening.”
4: You have conducted numerous notable interviews and covered significant world events. What’s your secret for maintaining composure when delivering high-profile, sometimes emotionally charged news and stories?
I don’t really have a secret. I just know that people aren’t there to hear my opinion. Although, believe me, I have an opinion on every damn thing! We are not robots, so I do have an opinion. The challenge is not expressing my opinion. Sometimes it’s very difficult for me if I think something is nuts or if I think that people are loose with the truth. I know I have a job to do, and I take that job very seriously. I see it as a big privilege and responsibility, so I’m always mindful that it’s not my job to give people my opinion. My job is to make sure they’re informed and give them the news.
5: You graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in psychology. How do you apply what you learned in college to your day-to-day work?
I can’t say I use my degree in psychology to do my job. I think college was important for responsibility and maturation. The thing that has helped me most is on-the-job training. You’ll talk to 10 people about how they got into the business, and you will get 10 different stories on how they started. This profession isn’t like medical school or law school, where there are certain things you have to do, such as take the LSAT, MCAT or have a residency. Nothing beats getting in the trenches, doing the work and getting the experience.
6: You are a first-time grandmother. How has your grandson, Luca, changed your life?
He’s changed my life in that I’m so happy to see my favorite daughter, Kirby, become a mother. I see what a good mother she is and how the circle of life really does continue. It’s nice to see that because of me, he is here. He’s here because of Kirby, and Kirby’s here because of me. Luca is 16 months, walking and eating avocado and bananas. I’m nuts about this child and fascinated by everything he does. It’s the wonder of a child. Whenever I want a pick-me-up, I sit and look at a picture of him.
7: It’s common knowledge that you have an enduring friendship with someone who is very well-known. How do you define friendship, and what impact have your closest friends had on you?
We did a story recently, and I know this is true — the happiest people, and the secret to long life, are good, solid friendships. You don’t need a lot of friends, but I do think it’s important to have a tight circle of people who you can totally trust and who have no agenda other than to lift you up and you do the same for them, who will tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it and will not betray you. That, to me, is a true friend.
I’m lucky in that Oprah and I have been friends since we were 21 and 22. We are now 68 and 69. She knows she can always count on me and trust me with anything. And I know this about her too. She’s a lot of fun, and we have a good time. People ask me, “What do you guys do?” I ask them what they do with their friend and explain we hang out too. She is a global icon and most people don’t have that as a friend, but at her core, she’s just as normal as most people you know. And I’m definitely normal.
8: If you were writing your O, The Oprah Magazine column, “The World According to Gayle,” what would you list as the top three things you love about Arizona?
The look of Arizona is very distinct, and the mountains are spectacular. This is what I love about the United States of America — that you can go to different parts of the country and get different feels. Your botanical garden is stunning and pretty to see lit up at night.
Arizona has great food. Years ago, I was doing a story and got to know Chris Bianco with Pizzeria Bianco. I was one of those people who waited in line because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. After you taste the pizza, you realize it is worth standing in line for. One of the best things is you get to have that on a daily basis.
And I am excited and it makes my heart sing that Brittney Griner is back home in the state of Arizona.
9: Do you have any upcoming projects Frontdoors readers would be interested in knowing about?
I remain open to all possibilities. I’m always trying to think about what I could do to get better and be better. We have some things we’re working on, so I’ll just say stay tuned!
I wake up every day and marvel at the job I get to do and who I get to do it with. I look at my life and the people I’ve met and the places I’ve gone are mind-blowing to me. I’d like to do it as long as I possibly can. Walter Cronkite had to retire at 65 because of CBS’s rules. He didn’t want to retire, but that’s how it was back then. I’m so glad times have changed because I’m looking for more stuff to do, not less.
10: What is your superpower and how do you use it on a regular basis?
I think my superpower is curiosity. When I was a kid, I was called nosy and inquisitive and was actually offended by that. I prefer the word curiosity, and I really hope I never lose it. Because when you’re a curious person, you’re always looking for new experiences, new things you want to know the answers to and how and why people do what they do. That has served me well on and off camera.
The Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism will take place on Feb. 21, 2023. To learn more, visit cronkite.asu.edu/community/walter-cronkite-award.