Author Archives: Barb Miller

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

Journalism students shine with COVID-19 coverage

By Eric Freedman

While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc around the globe, our environmental journalism and Capital News Service students are bringing localized news to papers and online news outlets across Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

Our stories address a wide range of topics with impact on our readers — from domestic abuse to police suicides, from online education to expected fall college enrollments, from Great Lakes research to financial insecurity, from telemedicine to public transit, from hunting and fishing to child support payments, from boater safety to women’s shelters.

The Knight Center’s Great Lakes Echo and CNS play an important role as many local and community newspapers struggle due to plummeting ad revenue. One newspaper reports a 90% drop in weekly ad pages.

In Michigan and across the nation, some papers have laid off employees and cut back or eliminated print editions. As their news hole shrinks, the amount of pandemic-related information they can provide their readers dwindles as well.

We help fill that gap. So does Focal Point, the Journalism School’s broadcast news magazine. Those students’ coverage just won a first-award place from the Society of Professional Journalists in the weekly College Coronavirus Coverage competition.

And while news organizations are putting more coronavirus stories and information online, many families still lack broadband internet service for infrastructure, technological and economic regions. Data from Connect Michigan, a nonprofit group advocating for increased internet access, shows nearly 381,000 homes across the state lack broadband service. At the same time, the public libraries that provide local residents with free internet access are closed.

That adversely affects adults who must work at home, job-hunters and children who are supposed to do schoolwork online. Continue reading

New study of local coverage of the Flint water crisis

 

Dr. Bruno Takahashi and Jack Nissen

Reporting crises, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, presents multiple challenges to journalists, such as the prevalence of misinformation, a faster pace of reporting and the potential threat to their own well-being and those they care about. The latter could result in physical and emotional harm, which could in turn affect their journalistic performance.

Knight Center Research Director Dr. Bruno Takahashi published a new study that examines local news reporting about the Flint water crisis. It applies a framework grounded in environmental justice research and community attachment to determine the ways journalists do their work when they perceive their communities are threatened and discriminated against. The article was co-authored with Ellis Adams, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Georgia State University, and Jack Nissen, a digital content creator at WJBK Fox 2 Detroit and graduate of the journalism MA program at Michigan State University.

The article, “The Flint water crisis: local reporting, community attachment, and environmental justice,” appeared in the journal Local Environment and was based on in-depth interviews with reporters in and around Flint. The study found that some reporters struggled to separate their personal experiences from their professional practices, but in general maintained their journalistic integrity in the midst of the crisis. These reporters were empathic toward impacted residents, which made them skeptical of official sources, which motivated further in-depth reporting.

Knight Center students honored with scholarships, awards

MSU environmental journalism students have won more than $21,000 in scholarships and awards for their outstanding work this academic year, including stories written for Great Lakes Echo and research projects.

The money comes from generous endowments and donations to the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and the School of Journalism. The scholarships and awardees are:

Len Barnes AAA Michigan Fund Scholarship;  Kaylie Connors, Claire Moore, Marie Orttenburger, Apoorva Joshi

Don Caldwell Memorial Scholarship;  Carol Abbey Mensah, Yue Jiang

Rachael Carson Award;   Apoorva Joshi

Donald K. and Katherine K. Dahlstrom Scholarship;  Kyle Davidson

Michael A. and Sandra S. Clark Scholarship;  Cassidy Hough

Mickie L. Edwards Endowed Scholarship;  Leigh Anne Tiffany, Kurt Williams

Great Lakes Echo Excellence Award;  Marie Orttenburger

Edward Meeman Award;  Cassidy Hough

Kyle C. Kerbaway Graduate Scholarship;  Weiting Du

Eric Freedman Award;  Indri Maulidar