The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, holds as a central component of its mission placing the knowledge created by its faculty and students in service to society. Through teaching, research and policy outreach, the Center responds to opportunities and challenges facing the media and our democracy today.
In 2009, DeWitt Wallace Center Director James T. Hamilton established a plan to bolster the research and teaching functions of the Center. The resulting planning document lays out the Center’s research, teaching, and policy outreach by focusing on two main questions:
Focus of the DeWitt Wallace Center: 2 Guiding Questions
Question # 1: How can the watchdog function of journalism be supported and expanded?
Journalists have historically held institutions accountable through the daily monitoring of beat reporting and deep digging of investigative reporting. Time-consuming, time-honored watchdog stories by reporters familiar with the details of policy and politics are often a casualty as outlets cut back on resources and reporters. Solutions that increase the likelihood watchdog coverage will survive will be explored in at least four different venues:
- Nonprofit ownership of media outlets/nonprofit subsidies for information creation
- Computational journalism
- Monetizing attention to hard news
- Partisan information provision
Question # 2: What are the particular information needs of people with low incomes and low educations, and how can these needs be better filled?
The set of stories produced today in media markets and the types of data generated depend on who is interested in the information. People with fewer resources have less to pay for information, and their attention may be worth less to advertisers. For individuals who are less likely to be someone’s marginal consumer or marginal voter, the odds are lower that someone will be competing to serve their information needs.
To learn more about the Center’s efforts to stimulate debates about possible answers to these questions, see the full text of the DeWitt Wallace Center strategy paper. And, to find out more about the research initiatives which have developed from the Center’s strategic planning, please visit the Center’s Research page.
Another key component of the DeWitt Wallace Center’s strategic planning has been to identify ways in which the Center’s contributions are distinct and complementary to the work of colleagues and partners in the field. The strategy paper addresses this issue as follows:
What is distinctive about the DeWitt Wallace Center?
The recognition that media markets are rapidly changing is widely shared, as is the desire among many academic institutions to contribute to new ways of generating and distributing information about public affairs. The efforts of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy will be distinctive in at least three ways:
• Rooted in a department of public policy, the Center’s scholars will be more likely to approach media questions using an interdisciplinary approach. The Sanford Institute’s policy analysis tradition encourages scholars to define information problems with an appreciation for lessons learned from economics, political science, statistics, ethics, and history.
• The Center’s work also will be distinctive in the way it combines insights from social science with innovations in technology and computer science to develop real-world applications. This will mean, for example, developing ways to analyze trends and patterns in crime data so that journalists are more likely to recognize local problems with crime, policing, and the courts.
• Finally, the DeWitt Wallace Center’s work will be distinctive in its focus on problem-solving. Scholars across Duke aspire to put knowledge at the service of society. This is at the core of what we do. By trying to lower the costs of watchdog journalism and increase the returns in the market to covering public affairs, the Center will try to increase the circulation of information to allow citizens to hold many different institutions, including government, accountable.