The Susan E. Tifft Initiative on Documentary and Journalism

 Boy and Girl at U.S. Marines Recruiting Event, Orchard Beach, New York, 2007. Photo by Nina Berman.

Boy and Girl at U.S. Marines Recruiting Event, Orchard Beach, New York, 2007. Photograph by inaugural Susan Tifft Fellow Nina Berman.

The Tifft Initiative at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) explores the meaningful ways in which documentary approaches and methods can inform, and be informed by, journalism’s evolution in the digital era: the Susan E. Tifft Initiative on Documentary and Journalism, part of CDS’s emerging DocX lab, will bring together documentary artists, journalists, media professionals, independent publishers, and others working in text, photography, radio, and film. The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy is a partner on the project.

“Today’s incredibly complicated environments—visual, technological, political, social—have really pushed to the forefront some of the questions that we have long contemplated at CDS,” says CDS director Wesley Hogan. “We wanted to create a meeting place to delve into how time-honored traits of documentary—such as artistic points of view and extensive fieldwork, reflection, and analysis—might suggest new forms of journalism, and by the same token, how the current practices and realities of journalism might help shape the documentary form and its usefulness in society.”

The project was initiated by a lead gift from CDS board member Diane Britz Lotti, and is named after a friend whose devotion to the power and importance of journalism guided her life’s work. Susan Tifft was a member of the CDS board for five years until her passing in 2010, and was the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism at the Sanford School from 1998 to 2009. A graduate of Duke, Tifft worked as a press secretary, a political speechwriter, and a prizewinning reporter and editor at Time magazine; she was coauthor of two biographies of newspaper dynasty families, the Binghams (Louisville Courier-Journal) and the Ochs-Sulzbergers (New York Times).

The Susan Tifft Fellows, the inaugural program of the initiative, are selected from an international pool of women media artists, journalists, and documentarians for a one-week creative residency at CDS.