Battinto Batts Jr. is the dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Before serving as a panelist at a Zócalo/ASU Cronkite School event, “Does the First Amendment Still Protect Free Speech?” Batts stopped by the green room to speak about where he takes people when they visit ASU, his talent for matching patterns, and loving Phoenix but missing the ocean.
Where’s your favorite place to grab a meal in Arizona?
The Compass Arizona Grill is the place where I love to take people when they come to visit us at the Cronkite School. It’s at the top of the Hyatt Regency, and it spins, so you get a view of downtown Phoenix. Plus, the food is good.
What's your hidden talent?
Matching patterns when I dress. I can match colors and patterns in ways that other people might not put together on a jacket or a pair of pants or tie or shirt.
Who’s your childhood hero?
My grandfather was a portrait artist. He lived next door to us. I learned about color mixing and matching from him. He had a fifth-grade education. But he started three businesses. And he taught himself to paint. He was a determined man and a great self-promoter.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I'm five years older than my next sibling, so I had to entertain myself. When we had to write for English class, I found myself becoming immersed in the process of writing. I loved making up stories and getting lost in the adventure of it. If a teacher gave us an assignment to write a five-page paper, I would inevitably write 10 or 15 because I just couldn't stop myself. But I didn't recognize that I had a talent for it until someone said: ‘Have you ever thought about journalism as a career? You get to write.’ I said, ‘Well, that doesn't seem like work.’ I won an award for best news story, and that sort of started my career in journalism. But writing is something that I took up as a way to express myself, and to pass the time because I was bored and lonely.
What is the most beautiful film you've ever seen?
The Bridges of Madison County. It’s about the beauty of relationships, and how we all have hidden love or hidden aspirations inside of us that are suppressed to live the lives that we choose, and how we might meet someone who sparks [those nascent desires within us]. Life is about choices. And it comes down to what we choose to do—what path we choose to take.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you want to go and why?
Probably somewhere in the South Pacific. Somewhere I can have water and quiet and just hear the waves. My wife wants to go to the Greek islands. So obviously water has a theme here. There’s not a lot of water in Phoenix. So maybe that’s what we’re missing. We grew up on the East Coast, in the Virginia Beach area. We love Phoenix but we do miss the ocean.
What’s your favorite thing to do on the shore?
I love finding seashells and thinking about the stories that may be attached to seashells. I like the ridges of the shells and the different colors. I collect them and have several of them in a glass vase that I've kept for years, and turned it into sort of an artistic thing that I’ve mixed with some other things—shells and beads and marbles all in there together. And people say what is that? What's the inspiration? And I say it’s everything. It’s about whatever you want it to be, and the art that you find in it.