A new University initiative — the Center for Media and Citizenship — will serve to scrutinize the cross-section between media and citizenship.
The center, launching this semester, will be led by Robertson Prof. of Media Studies Siva Vaidhyanathan and Media Studies Lecturer Coy Barefoot.
Barefoot, in-house producer and editor of the Center for Media and Citizenship, began a Sunday morning program called the “Coy Barefoot Program,” which will run Thursdays on a local PBS station and Sundays on Newsplex as a part of the Center's launch.
The Center will support students understanding of journalism in a democracy, Barefoot said.
“Our pedagogical mission is to help our students think critically about media and journalism,” Barefoot said. “We are focused on creating a platform for a national conversation, based here at the University, that will connect the dots between the best traditions of journalism — a rapidly evolving media environment — and the ideals of an engaged citizenry.”
Vaidhyanathan, founding executive director of the center, said he was approached by two WUVA radio alumni from the 1960s and 1970s who were concerned about the state of journalism following the collapse of many newspapers due to economic pressure and wondered how the University could contribute to a discussion about the role of journalism in a democracy.
“I said… ‘We could start a center that took as its starting point the needs of citizens in a democratic-republic,’” Vaidhyanathan said. “We would focus on what citizens might need to flourish in a democratic republic, what sources of information should we have, what platforms for engagement should we have, what norms and expectations should we have when we engage with each other.”
While this vision for the center is somewhat bold and grandiose, Vaidhyanathan said, he has long-lasting expectations rather than something to merely keep media institutions afloat. This vision includes a series of podcasts and radio shows the center is doing in conjunction with WTJU radio.
“We are going to, for the next couple of years, focus on enhancing the media ecosystem locally and in the Charlottesville area,” he said. “So, toward that end, we want to create conversations and debates and discussions among all of the student media outlets around Grounds… but just as importantly we want to engage fully with the Charlottesville community.”
While Vaidhyanathan said the Center for Politics is fundamentally different due to its focus on the dynamics and inner workings of politics, he does see some areas of potential cooperation between the two organizations, as well as coordination with the Miller Center.
“For that reason it would be healthy to collaborate on some projects and we look forward to exploring moments of collaboration in the future,” Vaidhyanathan said.
The center should not be seen as a substitute for a journalism degree, Vaidhyanathan said. While the center will be contributing to the Media Studies major, courses are often open to all students.
“What the center will do [is] give U.Va. students access to professional journalists and access to expertise and debates and conversations within the field,” Vaidhyanathan said. “But it’s not exclusively about journalism and it’s certainly not exclusively about training journalists.”
The center is an exciting and historic initiative, Barefoot said.
“As a journalist and as an alumnus, I am so proud of the University for supporting this historic initiative — and I am so sincerely honored to be a part of it,” Barefoot said. “There is exciting and important work to be done, and I encourage interested students to reach out, learn more, and get involved.”