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Veteran journalist joins UC Berkeley as new head of Public Affairs
19 December 2002

Media Relations

Berkeley - Award-winning journalist George A. Strait, Jr., will be the new assistant vice chancellor for public affairs at the University of California, Berkeley, Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl announced today (Thursday, Dec. 19). Strait's appointment begins Jan. 6.

George Strait
George Strait (Peg Skorpinski photo)

"There are a few great universities in this world, and UC Berkeley is one of them," said Strait, 57, a former correspondent with ABC News. "Berkeley has a long and storied history of providing a safe environment for research, thought and expression. This position will be a great opportunity for me to be an advocate for a truly stellar academic institution."

"George Strait brings a depth of experience in broadcasting and strategic communications that will serve Berkeley well," said Berdahl. "I am pleased that someone with such outstanding credentials has joined our campus."

A nationwide search for the position began after the death last February of Matthew M. Lyon, the previous assistant vice chancellor for public affairs.

As head of the Office of Public Affairs, part of the campus's University Relations division, Strait will oversee University Communications, 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," said Strait. "My challenge will be to keep up with the intellectual rigor of the institution."

A native of Boston, Mass., 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 broadcast journalism with a job as an anchor at a local TV 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 where he covered 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 not shied away from tackling challenging stories and presenting them to a wide audience. While health was his beat, Strait said the most memorable story he covered during his time at ABC was the peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa.

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 in Tuskegee, Ala. Strait produced stories that spotlighted race and gender discrimination in modern-day health care, and fought hard to get the shows aired.

"In television, where images are everything, I assumed the responsibility of showing minorities in positions of power, not just as victims," said Strait. "One of the responsibilities of African Americans who have some standing is to bust down stereotypes and open doors for others."

He helped found the National Association of Black Journalists in 1975 out of his concern for the paucity of blacks in the media and the way they were portrayed.

His achievements earned him some of the highest honors in journalism, including two Columbia University Alfred I. DuPont awards. In 1995, Strait received a gold medal for his reporting on sexism in the health care system, and, in 1989, a silver medal for his reports on minorities and HIV/AIDS. In 1986, Strait received an Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence from the Overseas Press Club of America for his stories on how health care in Russia threatened international security.

Strait has also remained active over the years as a media consultant and 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.

In 2000, during the height of the dot-com boom, Strait shifted gears and moved to California to embark on a new venture with The Dr. Spock Company, where he was senior vice president of content and media until September 2001. He oversaw the distribution of parenting and childcare content produced by a staff of doctors and other experts, and developed programs for TV, radio, print and the Web.

This past July, Strait completed a special project for the Kaiser Family Foundation, where he is a former chair of the board of trustees. He led the foundation's online coverage of the International AIDS conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Strait has been a senior advisor for policy at the public relations firm IssueSphere in Washington, D.C. He has also been devoting himself full-time to MedComm, a healthcare and communications consulting firm he formed in 1996. He will step down as CEO of MedComm to join UC Berkeley.

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