Cunning began her career with the Nevada State Journal in 1971 and joined the Reno Gazette-Journal with a merger in 1983. A graduate of Whittell High School and the University of Nevada, Reno, she had been a feature writer, feature editor, assistant managing editor and managing editor before being named executive editor in 1999. Cunning built a newsroom culture that integrated online, television partnerships and print, orchestrated the publication of various books based on the newsroom’s work, and fostered innovation such as audio recordings of church choirs and tapes of cowboy poets. She helped launch the newspaper’s Latino and business advisory boards. She was a member of the NPA board and its president in 1999.