Network journalist is new AVC for public affairs


george strait

George A. Strait, Jr.
Peg Skorpinski photo

16 January 2003 | Award-winning journalist George A. Strait, Jr., is the new assistant vice chancellor for public affairs at Berkeley, effective Jan. 6.

A nationwide search to fill the position began after the death last February of Matthew Lyon, the previous AVC for public affairs. In the interim, the AVC’s duties were assumed by Marie Felde, director of media relations, and Karen Holtermann, director of university communications.

As head of the Office of Public Affairs, part of the campus’s University Relations division, Strait will oversee University Communications (including the Berkeleyan, the Berkeley gateway website, publications, and the General Catalog), Media Relations, Government Affairs, Cal Parents, and Visitor Services.

“I want people to value UC Berkeley for the rich source of information that it is,” says Strait. “My challenge will be to keep up with the intellectual vigor of the institution.”

A native of Boston, Strait earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Boston University in 1967. While he was completing the coursework for a master’s degree in biochemical genetics at Atlanta University, he began to explore the world of broadcasting, working first as an all-night disc jockey, then migrating to television as a local reporter (and later anchor) for an Atlanta station.
Strait moved quickly into ever-larger television markets and increasingly complex beats. In 1977, following stints at a Philadelphia station and at CBS News, Strait joined ABC News as a political reporter, covering Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and George H.W. Bush.

In 1983, Roone Arledge, then president of ABC News, chose Strait to be the first medical and health reporter in network television news. He held the position of chief medical correspondent until he left ABC in 1999.

Throughout his career, Strait has tackled a number of challenging stories, presenting them to a wide audience. Though health was his primary beat, Strait says, the most memorable story he covered during his time at ABC was the peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa.

As one of only a handful of African American on-air reporters, Strait fought hard to get his network to run stories that explored race. He co-anchored, wrote, and produced “Black in White America,” a critically acclaimed documentary on race, and produced a documentary on the syphilis experiments on African American men that were conducted in Tuskegee, Ala., between 1932 and 1972. He also produced stories that spotlighted race and gender discrimination in modern-day health care. And as chair of ABC’s minority advisory board, Strait helped the network appreciate the value of using more minority experts and fewer stereotypical pictures.

“In television, where images are everything, I assumed the responsibility of showing minorities in positions of power, not just as victims,” says Strait. “One of the responsibilities of African Ameri-cans who have some standing is to bust down stereotypes and open doors for others.” Out of his concern for the paucity of blacks in the media and the way African Americans in general were portrayed, he helped found the National Association of Black Journalists in 1975.

Strait’s achievements earned him some of the highest honors in journalism, including two Columbia University Alfred I. DuPont awards (one for reporting on sexism in the health-care system, another for reports on minorities and HIV/AIDS). In 1986, he received an Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence from the Overseas Press Club of America for his stories on how the lack of health care in Russia threatened international security.

Strait has also remained active over the years as a media consultant, and has taught seminars and courses on science reporting and broadcast journalism at institutions such as Columbia, Rutgers and Wesleyan universities.

At Wesleyan, he and his wife, Lisa, spearheaded efforts to establish the Parents Council, the equivalent of UC Berkeley’s Cal Parents. The council at Wesleyan provides an infrastructure that facilitates parents’ involvement in various aspects of university affairs, including student recruiting and fundraising.

Strait and his wife live in Belmont. Their son Eric is studying law at the John F. Kennedy University School of Law in Walnut Creek. Their younger son, Kevin, is a candidate for a PhD degree in American studies and cultural theory at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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