Yahaira Jacquez was thrilled by the prospect of going to Arizona State University to study journalism. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she was the first in her family to attend college. “It was very exciting for me and a very proud moment for my parents, too,” recalls Jacquez, who is now a reporter and producer with Thomson Reuters.
Once on campus, however, Jacquez struggled. “I definitely wrestled with my identity and confidence, especially in the beginning,” she says. “I was around such smart, talented and ambitious people… I would ask myself, ‘Am I really as qualified as them to be here? Do I belong?’”
But Jacquez managed to overcome her doubts with support from people at ASU—especially, she says, Mark Lodato, who was an assistant dean. “[He] always made me feel like I belonged and made me feel valued and respected. Mark has been a key person in my journey as a journalist.”
This summer, Lodato wraps up his 14-year career at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to become dean of the Newhouse School.
“There is no greater time to be a leader in communications education—it’s important work. And I want to go into battle with the best—that’s the Newhouse School,” he says. “I intend to be a visible force at Newhouse, someone who can both rally the troops and bring a calm presence to the challenges at hand.”
Lodato was first drawn to journalism as a child growing up in Menlo Park, California. His parents read the newspaper every morning so he did, too. “There was this natural curiosity that I could satisfy through journalism,” he remembers.
As a sophomore in high school, he started the news and sports departments for the school’s 100-watt radio station. After graduation, he went to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. For the next 17 years, he worked as an award-winning investigative reporter, political correspondent and anchor at network affiliates across the country—from San Francisco and Phoenix, to Washington, D.C., and Fort Myers, Florida.
“I loved being a journalist because I always felt like I was witnessing history in real time,” he says. “When I look back, it’s the big stories that stand out, like reporting live outside the Pentagon on 9/11, covering the Oklahoma City Bombing or Hurricane Andrew as it passed over south Florida. But along the way there were so many other, smaller stories where I met terrific people and sometimes made a difference in their lives—that always felt good. It’s important work and an important piece of our democracy.”
Lodato’s segue into higher education came in 2000, when he took a position as a news director and lecturer at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism. It felt like a logical transition. Lodato’s father was a first-generation college graduate who served on the board of trustees and the athletic board of nearby Stanford University while Lodato was growing up. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but an affinity and appreciation for higher education was growing stronger,” Lodato says. “Even during my reporting career, I would look for opportunities to teach on the side.”
A Commitment to Students
In 2006, Lodato was appointed news director and professor of practice at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He was hired by former Cronkite dean Christopher Callahan, who hadfirst worked with Lodato at Maryland. “He was my first hire,” Callahan says. “Much of what you’ve seen at the Cronkite School over the last14 years, in terms of our growth and success, can be attributed to Mark.”
In his early years at Cronkite, Lodato directed and expanded the school’s television curriculum and consulted on the broadcast facilities for a new $71 million building, which opened in 2008. He also shifted the student-produced newscast, “Cronkite News,” from a weekly program to a live show airing four times a week and focusing on statewide public policy issues.
Jacquez worked on the program as a student. She remembers Lodato’s guidance as key to her professional development. “I remember him taking me aside after newscasts and providing educative feedback that I still draw from to this day,” she says. “As a student, that’s what you want from a professor because improving your craft is your number one priority.”
That sentiment is echoed by Ian Lee, another of Lodato’s former students, who is now a correspondent with CBS News in London. “His guidance gave me the tools that I needed to become a successful foreign correspondent. He took the time to mentor students and I’m still applying those lessons today.”
Lodato’s commitment to students was always evident, says Callahan, who knew late Newhouse dean Lorraine Branham. “He’s not unlike Lorraine—both came out of the profession, neither was an academic by training, but they came into education because they wanted to make a difference in students’ lives.”
Named assistant dean in 2010, Lodato was later promoted to associate dean, adding enrollment management to his portfolio and overseeing all undergraduate recruitment and retention. Under his leadership, Cronkite achieved an 11 percent increase in enrollment and a 93.8 percent retention rate among first-year students.
“As educators we must adapt to allow greater access to higher education,” Lodato says. “That means increasing outreach to underrepresented high school populations—often first-generation college students—and creating programs to help students feel included when they arrive on campus. Everyone deserves the opportunity to feel welcome and see a pathway to success.”
Student success is always the top priority, Lodato says. At Cronkite, he taught foundational courses on the principles and history of journalism, and skills courses in television reporting and newscast production. He plans to continue teaching at Newhouse.
“I believe a dean needs to be accessible and understand what students are going through on a daily basis. That means being in the classroom. Teaching also enables to me to walk in the shoes of our faculty, and know what I’m talking about when making key decisions.”
Connecting Education to Industry
If Lodato’s past accomplishments are any indication of the school’s future, look for greater awareness of the Newhouse brand, increased connectivity to industry and more opportunities for collaborative research and education through new partnerships.
At Cronkite, he built successful partnerships with a number of media organizations—including ABC News, NBC News, Fox Sports Arizona, Univision, Meredith Corp. and others—which Callahan attributes to Lodato’s “fantastic connectivity to the professions.”
He also worked to establish the first Scripps Journalism Career Program. “These kinds of partnerships can come in all shapes and sizes,” Lodato says. “It’s about finding the intersection of what the media entity needs, and what we can provide in a way that also benefits our students.”
He’s especially proud of “Catalyst,” an Emmy Award-winning science magazine program airing on Arizona PBS, where he has served as associate general manager since 2015. “It’s a great example of the power of interdisciplinary collaboration. The ASU science community provided funding to support a faculty position, which in turn teaches students to produce high-quality television focusing on ASU research.”
Lodato also built good working relationships with faculty members. “His affable nature and patience allow him to fully listen to faculty and students—be it a request for resources or problems in the classroom,” says longtime Cronkite School associate professor Fran Matera. “At Cronkite, he has demonstrated a respect for research faculty as well as industry practitioners and often bridged the gap when differences of style and substance arose. He elevates every conversation and situation to find the best way forward.”
During his time at Cronkite, Lodato also co-authored “News Now: Visual Storytelling in the Digital Age,” released in 2011, and was honored with ASU’s Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Curricular Innovation in 2014. He expanded the sports curriculum and helped establish the Cronkite Sports Bureau in Los Angeles. And he found the time to earn a master of education in higher and post-secondary education and complete the Scripps Howard Academic Leadership Academy.
Lodato assumes the position of dean on July 1, moving to Syracuse with his wife, Valery, and 15-year-old daughter, Sydney. His son, 18-year-old Tyler, will begin his freshman year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas this fall.
Lodato comes to Newhouse during an unprecedented time in modern history. The coronavirus pandemic has altered all aspects of Newhouse School operations, as it has at colleges and universities worldwide. The first priority, he says, is to ensure that Newhouse continues to offer a high-quality educational experience while facing this challenge. “That takes everyone’s best effort.”
Beyond dealing with the crises at hand, Lodato plans to begin his time as dean absorbing the Newhouse culture, getting to know the people and departments that make up the school, and looking for new opportunities.
“Big picture, I want to expand the school’s footprint, both in the U.S. and globally,” he says. Developing new professional partnerships, elevating the work that students and faculty are doing, stepping up fundraising and growing the number of students from underrepresented populations make for an aggressive to-do list. “And today, being a leader in communications and journalism means supporting the people and programs that vigorously defend the First Amendment,” he adds.
“I’d like to believe that I’m good at identifying new opportunities for collaboration and can bring the needed pieces together. Sometimes this is in the building, but often it’s interdisciplinary, or involves industry. Nothing is one-size-fits-all,” he says. “Each school, each company and each department of Newhouse is unique, and it’s important to go into the process with a solutions-oriented open mind. That’s how great ideas come to life.”