Evan Smith — co-founder of the nationally renowned newspaper The Texas Tribune — begins his term as The Karsh Institute of Democracy’s inaugural Practitioner Fellow, aiming to facilitate conversations that introduce individuals to ideas different from their own. As the Institute’s first Distinguished Fellow in Journalism, Smith will study the role of local news in achieving this goal and democracy as a whole.
The goal of the Karsh Institute is to address the problems that face democracy through research in three pillars — democratic culture, laws and institutions and social and economic conditions. Much of the Institute's programming facilitates collaboration between the seven schools at the University to advance the University’s mission to enhance nationwide engagement in a thriving democracy.
Smith — who was announced as the fellow in early January — said he was honored by the opportunity this position creates, partially because he was familiar with the Karsh Institute.
“It’s the inaugural fellow, so in some ways, there's not really a playbook here,” Smith said. “We're kind of making it up as we go but we're making it up as we go with really good intentions.”
Currently, Smith serves as a Senior Advisor at both The Texas Tribune and Emerson Collective, a for-profit corporation which advocates for change in areas including immigration reform, media and the environment. At The Texas Tribune, Smith aims to foster a newsroom which promotes accessible and unbiased news reporting, especially when covering local news.
Smith said unbiased and credible news sources have long been disappearing across the country, which has proven to be detrimental to the health of our nationwide democracy.
“You can go a day or a week or a lifetime without encountering a point of view other than the one already in your head, that that is definitely a fact of life today,” Smith said. “The best journalism is an antidote to that.”
Smith said democracy works better when people are better informed. He wants to use this position to host public events that will introduce individuals to points of views that are different from their own.
“[I’ve been] creating an opportunity for the kinds of conversations that ultimately cause people to think differently than they did maybe when they came in the door,” Smith said. “Maybe they don't change their minds, but at least they're exposed to points of view different from the ones they have and they understand the complexity of the issues in front of us.”
The Karsh Institute was created in 2021, funded by a $50 million donation from the Karsh family, which was matched by the University for a total of $100 million. There are many organizations that work in tandem with the Institute, including the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the University’s Center for Politics and the Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Karsh Institute Executive Director Melody C. Barnes oversaw the creation of the new practitioner fellow position and helped appoint Smith. She said the new Practitioner Fellows program is designed to enhance the scope of the Institute by engaging professionals who are working in external fields.
“Our fellows will work to address challenges and crises of democracy, and propose promising approaches and solutions to those challenges,” Barnes said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. "[Smith] will examine the critical role of journalism in our democracy and the impact that shrinking local journalism has had on government accountability and public policy literacy."