Whether it’s the upcoming bicentennial or the ongoing fallout from the discredited Rolling Stone article, the University of Virginia has been a frequent subject of news headlines. Since January, students have taken a closer look at how the national and local news cycles work, as well as the relationship between media and citizenship, through UVA’s new Center for Media and Citizenship.
The center’s founding executive director, media studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathan, says its purpose is threefold: To engage students in the production of local media; to integrate media practice and skill-based work with the more traditional academic coursework of the media studies major; and to engage in research projects focused on enhancing citizenship.
“The work of the center is inspired by a deeply Jeffersonian vision that the University should create informed, engaged citizen leaders,” in-house producer and editor Coy Barefoot (Grad ’97) says.
The center is the brainchild of two alumni—Richard Marks (Col ’66), a Washington, D.C.-based media lawyer; and Edward Swindler (Col ’76, Grad ’82, Darden ’84), the president of domestic television distribution and broadcast operations at NBCUniversal—who received a grant from the Jefferson Trust to develop their idea.
Marks and Swindler both worked at WUVA when they were students. “We were concerned that media were evolving so quickly with the advent of digital technology that we needed to change the way we were approaching WUVA’s mission, to train UVA students in the art of commercial broadcasting,” Marks says. “It occurred to me that we would do well to put this in a Jeffersonian framework. How, in a digital age, can citizens inform themselves in order to carry out their responsibilities as participants in a democracy?”
The center’s courses contribute to the media studies major. Under Barefoot’s guidance, students produce a weekly radio show, podcast and TV show. Barefoot and Vaidhyanathan teach courses on everything from ethical issues surrounding reporting on crime and punishment to the role that sports have played in the development of media and society. “UVA is an ideal place to answer these questions,” Marks says. “[The center provides] a great framework for studying the media and for scholarship across all the schools of the University.”