Philip Bennett, the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy, has been named director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University. His two-year appointment will begin July 1.
Bennett joined the Sanford School of Public Policy faculty in 2009 after a four-year stint as managing editor of The Washington Post during which he helped lead the newspaper to 10 Pulitzer Prizes.
As managing editor of the PBS documentary program FRONTLINE for the last two years, Bennett supervised work on more than two dozen films, including the award-winning “Money, Power and Wall Street” series, and “The Choice,” an in-depth look at the 2012 presidential candidates. He will step down from that role in May, while continuing to consult with FRONTLINE on a film about the NFL scheduled for broadcast this fall.
Bennett said he intends to deepen the DeWitt Wallace Center’s support for accountability journalism, a research focus defined by current DeWitt Wallace Center (DWC) director James (Jay) T. Hamilton. Hamilton is leaving Duke to become the Hearst Professor of Communication at Stanford University. Under Hamilton’s direction, the DWC hired leading journalists as professors of the practice, sought new economic models for news, and aimed to create new tools to lower the cost of investigative reporting.
“Jay Hamilton has been a great director of the DeWitt Wallace Center,” said Bruce Kuniholm, dean of the Sanford School. “While we will miss him enormously, we are fortunate that he recruited top-notch faculty to join the center, and with his departure, Phil Bennett was the obvious choice to succeed him. We could have found no better successor to Jay if we searched the entire country. I am absolutely confident that he will sustain the same high standards set by Jay in his leadership of the DWC,” Kuniholm said.
“When Phil joined our faculty in 2009, he brought to Duke a wealth of experience on the international front, and his peers were glowing about his extraordinary creativity as a thinker and his skills as a mentor. We expected that he would catalyze our effort to explore how, as developments render the old business models obsolete, the watchdog function of the press can be sustained, and that he would nurture students with the same care that he nurtured reporters at The Washington Post.
“He already has more than fulfilled those expectations,” Kuniholm said. “His teaching of undergraduates, both at Duke and in our Duke in DC program, has been terrific. His mentoring has been widely praised and enormously appreciated. And his work in developing the Rutherfurd Living History Program in conjunction with his work as managing editor at FRONTLINE has reached a wide audience, with more than 150,000 page views of the Duke-FRONTLINE oral histories.”
Bennett said academic centers like the DWC can contribute ideas, research, and tools to improve journalism at a time when accountability reporting is receding.
“One leading challenge for journalists is to make sense of an expanding universe of available data and to put it in the service of more accurate and thorough reporting, and rich storytelling,” he said. “Universities can help experiment and create in ways that have become more difficult for the news industry.”
Bennett praised Hamilton for building DWC into “one of the nation’s leading centers of thinking and innovation in the emerging field of computational journalism, which seeks to use new technologies to lower the costs of accountability reporting and to increase its impact.
“The arrival of Bill Adair will help us accelerate and deepen our ability to do that,” he added. Adair, creator and editor of PolitiFact, was recently appointed Knight Professor of Computational Journalism and will join the Sanford School faculty on July 1.
“I have great confidence that Phil will be a wonderful successor to Jay,” Kuniholm said. “He understands the importance of teaching and mentoring, he has a demonstrated capacity to innovate in developing new models to sustain the watchdog function of the press, and he also has had important administrative experience as managing editor of the Washington Post.”
Bennett joined The Post in 1997 as deputy national editor, became assistant managing editor for foreign news in 1999, overseeing 20 international bureaus, and rose to managing editor in 2005. From 1984 to 1997 Bennett held a series of positions at The Boston Globe, including Latin America correspondent and Mexico bureau chief (1986-1990), immigration and race reporter, and foreign editor.
Bennett began his journalism career as a reporter and then editor for The Lima Times in Peru. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Harvard College in 1981.