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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

Knight Center Senior Associate Director interview about online teaching

Knight Center Senior Associate Director David Poulson was recently interviewed for a story about teaching journalism online. See story here.

The article was produced for the EJ Academy section of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ online newsletter. It interviewed several university instructors about the challenges and opportunities of moving courses online. Michigan State University and most all universities shifted classes online because of the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Poulson has taught online before.  But the pandemic crisis in the middle of the semester required a significant shift for a course that had been designed for a traditional face-to-face environment.

Still, he said the move was relatively seamless and prompted him to adopt successful techniques that he may not have tried without the motivation of a sudden switch in platforms.

One tip: Require students to turn on their own video when using a remote conferencing system like Zoom, he said. They take the class more seriously, pay better attention and are more likely to interact with the instructor and each other.

Freedman named to board of nonprofit news fund

Knight Center director Eric Freedman has joined the board of directors of the newly formed  City Pulse Fund for Community Journalism, established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to support community and investigative reporting by the 18-year-old alternative weekly newspaper based in Lansing.

Freedman is the board’s vice president.

Berl Schwartz, the founder and publisher of City Pulse, said the new nonprofit will support the paper in its mission to continue and expand its local coverage, with an emphasis on investigative reporting.

Nonprofit status will allow gifts from individuals and foundations to be tax deductible, he added. “We hope the tax break will encourage our readers to be even more generous and help us win foundation support for special projects.”

Schwartz, the ex-general manager of the State News and a former adjunct faculty member at the MSU School of Journalism, is president of the board.

Bill Castanier is the board secretary. An alum of the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences, he’s a former journalist and state agency public information director who now writes frequently for City Pulse.

Open call for 2020 proposals for high school journalism and environmental science collaborations

To encourage collaboration between high school journalism and environmental science classes, we invite teachers to submit proposals for innovative class projects in which journalism students will report about field research by environmental science students. Our principal goals are:

  • to help young prospective journalists better understand and explain to the public how science is done
  • to help environmental science students learn to use the media to explain their work to the public.
  • To promote environmental and science journalism.

The Knight Center intends to award 1-year grants of $2,000 to up to 3 high schools: $1,000 to the journalism program and $1,000 to the environmental science program for equipment, software or scholarships. In addition, the Knight Center will pair each school with a professional journalist to serve as a mentor to participating students and teachers.

Here are the details:

  • Your proposal must include a project description (750 words maximum), the names and contact information for a partnering journalism and environmental science teacher from the same high school; grade levels of participating classes; and the estimated number of students in the participating classes. A proposal form is attached.
  • Your projects must generate student-produced news or feature stories with visuals (photos and/or graphics) for print, online, audio and/or video that your school will disseminate. The Knight Center will also disseminate these stories to the public through our website, and some stories may be posted on Great Lakes Echo (greatlakesecho.org), the center’s award-winning online regional environmental news service.
  • Grantees must comply with MSU financial reporting procedures.
  • Grantees (students, teachers and professional mentors) will be invited to a one-day workshop at MSU in Fall 2020.
  • Application deadline: March 15, 2020. Awards will be announced by March 20, 2020. Projects should begin in March 2020 and be completed with a final report by the end of December 2020.
  • Read about the successful 2017-2018 grantees at https://knightcenter.jrn.msu.edu/2018/01/16/three-high-schools-win-journalism-environmental-science-grants-from-the-knight-center-2/

Send along a Grant Application Cover Sheet with the following information:

  • School name and address
  • Participating journalism teacher (name, email, phone)
  • Participating environmental science teacher (name, email, phone)
  • Project description (750 words maximum): What do you intend to do (scientific research
    and journalistic coverage) and how? What are your goals for the project? How will you
    assess accomplishments?
  • Titles and grade levels of participating classes:
    • Journalism:
    • Environmental science
  • Name, title, email and phone of administrator authorizing submission of the proposal:

Submit by March 15, 2020 to Barb Miller at mille384@msu.edu

If you have questions, email Eric Freedman at freedma5@msu.edu