Knight Center’s Cepak, Van Witsen, earn doctorates

Two doctoral students affiliated with the Knight Center earned their Ph.Ds. at the end of the spring semester.

Tony Cepak and Tony Van Witsen successfully defended their dissertations on topics related to environmental and science journalism.

Tony Cepak

Cepak’s dissertation used oral history, archival and ethnographic fieldwork to explore the long- term picture-making projects of Jack Corn and Milton Rogovin in Appalachian coal fields during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Corn, a photojournalist, and Rogovin, a social documentary photographer, both worked to disrupt popular discourse and advance mining photography past the stoic, soot-covered aesthetics of the early 20th century.

His dissertation, “Views of the Valley of Despair: The Photography of Jack Corn and Milton Rogovin in Appalachian Coal Communities (1956-1979),” examines the intimate and powerful imagery they created that repositions coal mining from being celebrated as a material vital to economic and social prosperity, to illuminating the exploitive and devastating effects mining had on miners, their families, their communities and the land.

Tony Van Witsen

Van Witsen’s dissertation, “How Daily Journalists Verify Numbers and Statistics in News Stories: Towards a Theory,” recognizes that statistics are widely acknowledged as an essential part of journalism but acknowledges that routine news coverage involving statistics leaves much to be desired.

He examined the verification process in detail by combining 1) qualitative interviews with 15 working journalists about their attitudes, decision-making and work practices regarding statistics; 2) a content analysis of statistical information in a sample of stories created by these journalists; and 3) an item-by-item examination of the decision-making processes behind each statistic in each sampled stories.

Appalachian miner and wife. Milton Rogovin, 1962–1987

With a framed portrait of John F. Kennedy at his side, Ed Marlowe, paralyzed from a roof fall in a coal mine, gazes out his window to see who is approaching the house.
Jack Corn, 1969

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