Research Projects


The coronavirus pandemic is a hoax, said the self-proclaimed right-wing “opinionators,” Diamond and Silk on their popular YouTube channel, in March 2020. The FOX News contributors added that all COVID-19 news was “fake news,” which was designed to threaten Pres. Donald Trump’s path to re-election. 

The irony of these statements is that they were uttered by African American women, whose community would be ravaged by the global pandemic in the weeks to come. But, in the meantime, Diamond and Silk used most of March to spread more misinformation to their 1.2 million subscribers. They bandied about ideas of “black immunity.” They dismissed the deadly symptoms as flu-like. They even suggested that official death tolls were fabricated by left-leaning activists. By May 2020, it was clear that Diamond & Silk were wrong. The U.S. COVID-19 death toll reached 100,000, and African Americans were its disproportionate victims. 

Protests from Black Twitter — to “de-platform” Diamond and Silk — bore fruit quickly. Fox News cut ties with the women reportedly because “they promulgated unproven and dangerous medical advice, false claims, conspiracy theories and misinformation.” While it is unclear how much of the duo’s rhetoric influenced the actual behavior of African Americans, it is evident that medical misinformation did indeed infect many black digital outlets and social media spaces. Herein lies the research interest. Our project will investigate how black digital news outlets handle this ongoing, racialized infodemic. We want to know how they are providing solid facts to a vulnerable community—even as the historic distrust that many black people have for medicine (and the media) grows.

Project Leads: Miya Williams FayneAllissa V. Richardson


With Americans now debating the necessity of social distancing, the utility of masks, and the efficacy of vaccines, the COVID pandemic has thrown into stark relief how crucial it is for a functioning society to have a shared set of facts and mutually trusted sources of information. In the U.S., we don’t. Republicans and conservatives consistently report drastically less trust than Democrats in most news sources at the national and local levels. We need to know more, however, about the precise nature of this partisan-inflected distrust in order to develop a healthier information environment. 

In this project, we aim to understand more deeply how contemporary conservatives view the media and their relationship to it – and start mapping out approaches news organizations might take to more effectively engage ideologically-mixed audiences in a deeply polarized society. We will conduct focus groups and interviews designed to elicit detailed accounts of how participants’ political identities mediate their news use, posing such questions as who they believe journalists are and why they believe bias or misinformation exists. We will also offer a review of techniques and tactics aimed at addressing identity-based polarization. This will include not only U.S.-centered projects like Spaceship Media’s dialogue journalism and the Solutions Journalism Network’s “Complicating the Narrative” project, but also projects in societies facing severe ethnic, religious, political, or other sectarian conflict. Informed by these techniques, as well as our findings about the specific shape of contemporary conservative distrust, we will aim to offer recommendations for possible interventions that we may seek to pilot in a future project phase in collaboration with media partners.

Project lead: Anthony Nadler

Team Members: Doron Taussig, Andrea wenzel, Natacha Yazbeck

Television news has been an understudied area when media scholars investigate news media’s digital transformation. In the rapidly changing media environment, however, television news remains the most popular source for news in the United States. At the same time, with the rise of digital platforms that use algorithms to distribute video content automatically, television news is facing profound challenges and opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic provides a timely opportunity to examine the encounter of video algorithm and television news. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the increased attention to television news and the growth of online streaming have enabled television news producers to explore digital opportunities. Given the strong influence that Google has on media content’s online visibility, this study focuses on Google’s video search to explore factors that affect Google’s video algorithm and television news’ performance in Google’s video algorithm system. Using Google as a case study and the COVID-19 pandemic as a unique opportunity, this study aims to make contributions to better understand the workings of video algorithm and explore what television news could learn about the algorithmic environment in order to diversify its distribution channels and enhance its public service role in the digital age, especially in times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Project Lead: Qun Wang

This project examines the reality and potential of public media, especially PBS, as ‘Island of Trust’ in a post-trust era. The United States, like many western democracies, is experiencing a decades-long crisis in public trust of public institutions, paralleled by dwindling trust in journalism plagued by propaganda, mis and disinformation amidst dissolving business models. In this context, PBS stands out, be it in a a paradoxical position. On the one hand, it is consistently ranked among the most trusted public institutions in the country as an ‘Island of Trust’, a characterization typically assigned to its European public service media (PSM) counterparts. On the other hand, PBS has seen its ratings decline, its allocations flatlined, and its potential for digital audience engagement minimized by law. With this paradox in mind and using mixed methods probing audiences, PSB news producers and PBS management, this project aims to answer interrelated questions: How does PBS understand the level of trust it embodies? How to reconcile PBS’ high levels of trust and decline of viewers? How can PBS capitalize on this trust in a post truth era and problematic media ecosystem? How can PBS improve its audience engagement in an empowering, trust-oriented fashion?

Project lead: Christopher Ali

Team Members: Hilde Van den Bulck 

Automated journalism is generally understood as the auto generation of journalistic stories with the use of software and algorithms, with no human intervention outside the initial programming (Graefe, 2016). In the midst of the pandemic, at least three news organizations; The Helsingin Sanomat in Finland , The Aftonbladet  in Sweden and RADAR  in the United Kingdom; resorted to the technology to deliver daily updates on the spread of the disease (Danzon-Chambaud, 2020) while, in the United States, the news agency Bloomberg used it to cover its financial repercussions (Beckett, 2020). 

Through these case studies, and possibly more, I will look at how media organizations should leverage technological innovation in times of crisis and will develop a roadmap for future utilizations. To do this, I will look at the conditions that need to be met in order to leverage it in time, at the differences between outsourcing the production of automated stories to an external provider (i.e., The Aftonbladet), using a third-party application that lets journalists craft their own automated news (i.e., RADAR) and developing an in-house solution that is the result of a collaboration between technologists and media practitioners (i.e., The Helsingin Sanomat, Bloomberg).

Project Lead: Samuel Danzon-Chambaud

After witnessing scandals in online political advertising like Cambridge Analytica, deleting unwanted political e-mails for years, and getting texts from unknown political campaigns, many Americans believe their personal data is being sold in the political marketplace somehow. But how? Through signing petitions, joining mailing lists, or donating to a cause, are Americans unwittingly setting themselves to be bombarded with political messaging because their details are shared or sold by political entrepreneurs? PACs? Political marketing and consulting firms?  Campaigns? How does this market work? How can we inform the average reader on how their data is actually being shared and put to rest other speculations?

This study seeks to understand how the world of political list making and sharing operates through digital forensics and ethnographic interviews of industry insiders. How are lists created? Are they sold? Are they donated? What data is collected? Is there coordinated activity and data sharing between separate PAC’s, media organizations, and campaigns? Given great public interest in how personal data is collected and sold, particularly during election cycles, this project aims to create an explanatory resource for journalists, teachers of journalists, and researchers interested in the markets of personal data for political purposes.

Project Lead: Danielle Lee Tomson

This research will compare how journalists for nonprofit and commercial online news organizations describe and operationalize their responsibilities to produce public service journalism that meets the needs of Black, Hispanic, and lower-income news readers during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Southern United States. 

The project builds on the work of scholars who argue that the failure of commercial news media to adequately produce public service journalism amounts to market failure. These scholars assert that nonprofit journalism is a possible corrective to this failure, because it separates the profit imperative from the production of journalism. This enables journalists to focus on stories that might not attract the audiences that advertisers seek the most. 

However, just because a news outlet is incorporated as a nonprofit organization does not mean that it will produce public service journalism that meets the needs of all communities. Absent a strong and clear commitment to produce such journalism across all levels of a news organization, it likely will not. Therefore, my research compares how journalists and news executives who work for commercial and nonprofit news outlets in the Southern U.S. define public service journalism, describe their commitment to produce it, and explain how they operationalize this commitment in their everyday production of news. 

My work focuses on the South because the South has the highest population of Black and lower-income Americans of any U.S. region, and the second-highest population of Hispanic Americans. Therefore, the failure of commercial media to produce inclusive public service journalism might have a disproportionate impact on the South. However, while my research focuses on Southern news outlets, its findings could inform the efforts of funders of nonprofit newsrooms across the country to evaluate the commitments of those newsrooms to produce inclusive public service journalism.

Project Lead: Christoph Mergerson

Unexpectedly, the COVID crisis indelibly marked the public’s perception of digital games and virtual worlds. With profits soaring, they are being hailed by news outlets as a vital industry and force for communication. However, this is no quarantined-induced change of heart: media companies like Vox and The Washington Post have created game-related verticals; newsrooms have experimented with games and virtual/augmented reality tools. However, the coronavirus has deepened mainstream acceptance: even Democratic National Convention organizers are considering modeling the conference after the virtual world/game Fortnite. Such a suggestion recognizes that, compared to upstarts like Zoom, game makers and publishers have greater knowledge about key concerns of interacting in virtual environments, such as privacy, infrastructure and access. 

As a consequence, the proposed project explores how games and virtual worlds are being covered during the COVID-19 crisis and assesses what the related multibillion-dollar industry can teach socially distant journalists about disseminating information to consumers. Through an analysis of coverage and qualitative interviews, the project will issue “lessons” on how journalists can engage with users in our new “normal.” Specifically, we will answer: How has reporting on virtual worlds changed during the COVID-19 crisis? What lessons can be gleaned from virtual world makers (ranging from Facebook-owned Oculus to Activision Blizzard) about critical issues surrounding online spaces and the public, including access, infrastructure and privacy? How can journalists use virtual worlds to connect with users both during and after the COVID crisis? How can journalists better describe and frame these virtual worlds as they normalize?

Project Lead: Maxwell Foxman

This study aims to analyze the effectiveness, the clarity and the impact of the different visual stories, data visualizations and trackers published on the main U.S. and international media to cover the covid-19 pandemic. Reporting on a complex news event such as a pandemic implies to produce clear, simple and explanatory graphics, so this research will also look to describe the effect that these visual pieces have produced on the audience. 

As a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, and despite their time consuming production, explanatory visual stories flourished in the homepages of main newspapers and publications. Although reporting on these numbers could look as straightforward (most of the reporting revolves around cases, deaths and tests), a few issues surrounding the access, production and interpretation of these numbers arise. 

This study will address the different strategies that graphics teams have followed to report on these numbers. The scope of the study will be focused on a selection of graphics and visual stories published around the world depicting original and successful stories but also pitfalls. The research will also analyze the effect on the audience of these different pieces published during the pandemic era. Some of the aspects the researchers will look into are how these graphics helped the audience to get informed about covid-19,  if they break any of their presumptions, as well as identifying which feelings evoked in them.

Project Lead: Adrián Blanco 

Team Members: Javier Sauras



The TikTok social media platform is experiencing rapid growth across the globe particularly with the youngest audiences.  The mobile-first network drives high engagement with users who produce short video clips of themselves dancing or lip-synching to music and other pop-culture content that is frequently created by other users.

The rapid growth of this network has already attracted hyper-partisan political messaging,  disinformation, and conspiracy theories to the platform.  Monitoring and investigating the propagation of these messages is confounded by a lack of an approved API (application programming interface) to access the stream of data generated on the platform and existing social monitoring tools do not provide TikTok coverage.

As the 2020 Census and presidential election approach, this new platform presents a unique threat because it does not have an established fact-checking program or clearly defined standards for addressing misinformation.

TikTok must be analyzed systematically to better understand the risks posed by the spread of problematic content on this emerging network.

I will develop a TikTok-specific extension of my existing work mapping similar networks on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube (NewsTracker). This approach starts with identifying a sample set of problematic content and associated publishers to use as the seeds to grow a larger comprehensive network by traversing each of the different kind of relationships described above.  The system will enable users to explore the public content produced by this network of potentially problematic sources.  Users will be able to search through the content and explore the themes and messages that are pervasive on the platform.

This tool will support the collection and analysis of data from TikTok in order to give a wider range of researchers and journalists the ability to probe the network to better understand how messages spread on the platform.

Project Lead: Cameron Hickey 

Social media platforms are invaluable tools for journalists to conduct research, promote their work, and build followings. However, the chasm between social media norms and journalistic ethics often creates ambiguity about best practices. The rise of journalist-influencers (journalists who are known for their unique or even incisive voices online) complicates this even further. 

The lack of agreed-upon rules for journalists’ use of social media leads to situations like the recent suspension of the Washington Post’s Felicia Somnez after an ill-timed tweet referencing Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault allegations, as well as the well-known ritual of digging up old online statements from newly hired pundits and opinion columnists. 

Though many news publishers have established social media guidelines, these are often outdated or inconsistent, and sometimes outright ignored by staff. Furthermore, social media guidelines across different publishers also differ significantly, leading to the absence of an industry-wide consensus. (The last major project to suggest industry-wide best practices for journalists using social media was conducted by the American Society of Magazine Editors in 2011, almost a decade ago.)

This research project will rely on interviews with news publishers to track the evolution of social media policies, both official and unwritten, across the industry. I will start with a literature review of existing social media policies and past reports on the topic from journalism organizations. Then I will compile findings from interviews with news publishers Tow has included in the Platforms and Publishers project in the past. Lastly, I will offer a concrete list of best practices for journalists using social media that takes into account the inherent ambiguity of such an endeavor.

Project Lead: George Tsiveriotis 

The COVID-19 virus has upended how we live, work, and move. A range of quarantine and lock down orders around the world has dramatically changed where people go and how they travel. In a matter of weeks, public transit ridership around the world plummeted as much as 80 percent, and road traffic has declined approximately 50 percent in the US compared to last year.

The unfolding global health crisis has catalyzed new initiatives in data sharing and reporting. Facebook, Apple, and Google, have made an unprecedented amount of anonymized, aggregated location and movement data available to researchers, users, and the general public. Ideally, the data can help governments forecast the spread, adjust response efforts, and evaluate the impacts of different interventions. 

The containment of COVID-19 relies—in part—on personal location data. Throughout 2020, the research and activist community has continued to scrutinize key issues in contract tracing, including data privacy protection, shortcoming of anonymized and de-identification techniques, expanded emergency powers and government surveillance, and data sharing between public and private sectors. 

This research project focuses on the underexamined topic of how patterns of movement in the COVID era are captured, analyzed, and visualized in online news publications, as well as means of collaboration between publishers and external data partners.

Project Lead: Kathy Zhang

Journalism ethics in the U.S. are considered crucial as “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and foundation of democracy,” according to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Although these ethical standards may still be practiced in newsrooms and taught in educational settings, their sustainability is put into question as mediated online spaces and emerging technologies have become the new grounds for public engagement.

Underlying these major technological trends is the use of algorithmic processing that determines the metrics for successful news content, tracks news consumers’ behavioral patterns, and distributes information through new channels. Social media and search engines have decentralized the production cycle of news, allowing virtual communities to grow. In doing so, new forms of information are bred, spread and consumed. The emergence of a hybrid media system shows at a macro-level, the increasing interconnectedness of different media businesses and the growth of cross-genre content. 

The purpose of this project is to explore how the adoption of algorithms and advanced technologies in newsrooms have particularly impacted local news distribution and digital news editorial design. What challenges do local newsrooms face when it comes to technological resources and partnership opportunities with information technology and social media companies? What new ethical standards are important when architecting a digital news interface? How do elements of a mobile interface design affect the perception of a news content? 

This study will collect insights by interviewing local newsroom professionals and conducting a visual content analysis of mobile news applications. By highlighting unique patterns in the news production and distribution space, this study aims to help guide the next generation of digital news outlets, technology companies, and educational communities to reassess journalism ethical standards that can better align with the evolving cultural and technological environment.

Project Lead: Sejin Paik


This study builds upon past Tow Center research exploring the relationship between communities and local news, and between platforms and publishers. It centers voices who have been marginalized from the conversation about local news—including communities of color from small towns and suburbs. As numerous initiatives seek to support local news, it is a critical moment to investigate whether making local news more inclusive has potential to contribute to greater sustainability, and how projects centering communities of color fare in varying demographic contexts. Cases are likely to include: 1) Maywood, IL where a community paper led by a journalist of color is attempting to play a bridging role between majority Black and Brown suburbs; 2) Chambersburg, PA a majority Republican town where 30% of residents are of color but have had difficulty securing representation in local news outlets (though they are now the focus of a statewide 2020 election coverage project); and 3) Philadelphia, PA where a Black-owned radio station is receiving FJP’s Community Network support for a community engagement initiative. In each location, the study will: conduct an assessment of local information needs and assets, follow interventions underway, and convene workshops connecting residents, community stakeholders, and journalists to discuss findings and brainstorm and develop follow-up interventions that respond to local needs and assets.

Project Lead: Andrea Wenzel

Team Members: Letrell Crittenden

Amidst growing concern about the problem of news deserts, local news has seen an increase in scholarly interest. The questions researchers are asking focus on what has been lost in the transition to the digital age, whether and how digital-native outlets are filling holes in the journalism landscape, and how well communities’ critical information needs are being met.

Phase II of this three-phase project is a first-of-its-kind effort to map the local journalism ecosystems for an entire U.S. state: New Jersey. One result will be a public-facing website that houses a map of these local journalism ecosystems – including news deserts – as well as a comprehensive and interactive list of the local journalism outlets serving the state.

A key difference between this project and other news ecosystem research is the use of organic local journalism ecosystem boundaries (as opposed to using lines drawn by government, such as the municipality or the county). We believe this approach will lead to a map that more accurately reflects people’s lived experiences with local news and information, thereby leading to more actionable results.

The other deliverable from this phase of the project will be a paper discussing the process of creating a composite list of local news outlets using existing lists and databases. Collecting information about local publishers is time consuming because there exists no single, clean, vetted list of publishers at the local level. But there are some lists and databases that come close, or at least close enough to meet acceptable standards. 

The paper will evaluate the three most commonly used databases (Cision, Editor & Publisher, and BIA/Kelsey) by calculating error. That is, to what extent does the information in Database X differ from the final composite list? Once we know how comprehensive each list is, and where their systematic blind spots are (e.g. digital-natives, ethnic media), we will be able to proceed in future iterations more efficiently. We also think this analysis will be of use to other researchers who are interested in these same commonly used lists, but who might not be able to afford them all.

Project Lead: Sarah Stonbely

Team Members: Jesse Holcomb, Matthew S. Weber


Building on the progress of our already engaging intrapreneurial product #ThisIsTucson, we will test and evaluate a new audience-first revenue stream — membership — adding this to our existing audience-first revenue streams including live events, sponsored content, and merchandise. We will demonstrate a new, sustainable business model for our local-level news organization, the Arizona Daily Star.

Audience-first revenue streams are different than traditional advertising-supported business models. For example: Transparent underwriting instead of pop-up ads, events instead of inserts, and memberships instead of subscriptions. We plan to show this audience-first model is viable in a mid-sized news market and can alleviate the pressure of replacing declining advertising revenue.

Local journalism’s survival depends on the answer to this question. We will learn, launch and share our discoveries with other news organizations in a published case study, at industry conferences, and other supportive resources for newsrooms.

Project Lead: Irene McKisson

Team Members: Becky Pallack, Jeannine Relly


The last 12 to 18 months have seen an explosion of new businesses created on blockchain technology—the underlying technology behind Bitcoin which is rapidly expanding to support new businesses with a wide range of functions in a wide variety of markets. Funded with “ICOs” (Initial Coin Offerings), these businesses form by creating new cryptocurrencies and selling them to a large and diverse group of buyers, who then become stakeholders in the resulting company; the currency is then used to power the activity of the company, increasing the value of the company and distributing the rewards for that value increase to the users, who in effect are the shareholders.

The new, “decentralized” web has attracted increasing attention as ICOs have pushed into the nine-digit stratosphere in initial raises, creating companies with pretty massive spending power right out of the gate.

At least three such companies are presently operational or in formation with the idea of developing a media economy on the blockchain that will support journalism with an entirely new, decentralized business model. One of these three—Civil—is a project the author is working on directly; two others—Steemit and DNN (Decentralized News Network)—are pursuing similar goals, differently.

“Journalism on the Blockchain” will explore the possibilities for creating new economic models for journalism on the blockchain. In the process, it will document the challenges and successes of the people who are trying to execute on this idea right now, assess where the space is heading, and what the major challenges and proven successes are and have been.

Project lead: Bernat Ivancsics

January 01, 2018

Read on CJR

To be free and independent as media, it is important to have baseline protections such as security and privacy; yet over the last several years, numerous journalists and news organizations have reported incidents in which their communications have been hacked, intercepted, or retrieved (Der Spiegel staff, 2015; Wagstaff, 2014). When journalists’ digital accounts are vulnerable to hacks or surveillance, news organizations, journalists, and their sources are at risk.

This study is interested in analyzing 1) how surveillance and concerns about surveillance have changed/are changing journalists’ digital newsgathering practices, including interactions with their sources; 2) how security culture is being established and maintained in leading news organizations in the United States; and 3) motivations and barriers to the adoption of information security practices by journalists in the newsroom. This study will clarify how information security practices by journalists and newsrooms more generally may be changing journalistic culture and norms of professionalism at a time of increased labor precarity and loss of trust in the media. In so doing, this study will connect the empirical study of journalists’ changing digital news practices and newsroom culture to the larger question of what journalism is and what it can be in an age of surveillance.

This study is important and timely amidst the rise and rhetoric of “fake news”, which is leveraged by populist and authoritarian politicians to discredit and delegitimize truths and the watchdog role of the press. This study will shed light on how socio-technical processes are shaping journalism culture and the professionalization of norms in the newsroom and how security culture is being established or inhibited as a result.

Project lead: Jennifer Henrichsen

January 01, 2018

City Beat is a social media tool that uses publicly available hyper-local social media geo-tagged data to extract real-time information about city life and search for newsworthy events. The system collects streams of geo-tagged photos and texts, identifies trends, and offers an interactive visualization of urban activities. 

Project leads: Nicholas Diakopoulos, Alexander Howard, Jonathan Stray

January 01, 2018

In recent years, social tasks and strategies have been integrated into work processes across newsrooms, and social media-based reporting and sourcing are taking an increasingly central place in journalism work. And yet, news distribution on social media is often discussed in strategic more than editorial terms. Many in legacy news organizations still consider the editorial voice conveyed on social media as extraterritorial and secondary to the core journalistic voice reflected in the full stories published on proprietary news sites.

For the majority of the public, however, social platforms have become a prominent source of news, and social content a significant part of the service offered by news outlets. Stories posted on news organizations’ social feeds are guaranteed enhanced visibility, accessibility, and public resonance, compared to those published only on their proprietary news sites. The editorial decision to distribute a certain story on social media is thus not only a coveted resource in the newsroom, but also a matter of public relevance.

This project examines the stories that news organizations promote on social media from an editorial perspective. The study will offer a comparison of the total body of content that news organizations publish on their own sites with the subset of content they promote on social platforms. By comparing the total body of stories published on leading news sites with the curated content they choose to amplify on social media (and the language used to introduce them), this study provides insight into the news landscape constructed on social platforms, and whether it diverges from the one offered on news organizations’ own proprietary platforms. Interviews with social editors will provide further insight into how they make curatorial decisions on which stories to promote on social media.

Project lead: Efrat Nechushtai

January 01, 2018

Launched in 2018, the Digital Forensics Initiative is part of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Led by Dr. Jonathan Albright, this initiative will explore the complex interface between news, data, and impacts through applied forensics, data reporting, network analysis, and observational and situational study. The intention is for the program to act as a resource for scholars, practitioners, and policymakers by providing timely scholarly analysis, evidence-based insights, data resources, and critical commentary through applied media analytics.

The goal of this initiative is to promote better understanding for improved reporting, research, and policy decisions. This involves in-depth investigation of the mechanisms affecting the reception, retention, and impact of information and topics in the news through a multidisciplinary, mixed methods, and computational social science approach. While the focus of the Digital Forensics Initiative involves the analysis and collection of data related to political messaging and digital campaigning, important themes and questions we seek to study include:

- What are the pathways that tend to increase and/or decrease the salience and resultant impact (i.e., behaviors and attitudes) of information online?

- What are the relative shapes of the networked information spheres and relationship structures of actors involved in politics, healthcare, science, business, entertainment, and popular culture?

- What is the relationship between bias and impact in the dissemination of information between different sources and platforms? Where do comparative differences exist, and do they matter?

- Where does the least reliable (and most biased) information tend to circulate the most? What are the key mechanisms and distribution vectors through which this process occurs?

- What are the themes in the amplification tactics involving information related to issue controversies, political debates, social activism, and other topics of high salience?

- What roles do platforms and legacy media play in the spread of unreliable information? What are the roles of professional journalists, institutional media, and independent media?

- Where (and how) do automation and inauthentic participation affect the pathways through which people are exposed to and/or are more likely to encounter certain types of information?

- What roles do content personalization, ideological preferences, geographic- and demographic-based targeting, and preferred delivery channel(s) play in the types of information people encounter?

Project lead: Jonathan Albright

January 01, 2018

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A systematic analysis of the challenges facing managers of modern news organizations in order to provide publishers and managing editors with specific recommendations regarding recruiting strategies, target skills, and educational backgrounds that will complement existing newsroom workforces.

Project leads: Allie Kosterich, Matthew Weber

January 01, 2018

This project examines the expert networks of economic news on social media and the ways they are involved in the everyday routines of journalism.

Project lead: Burcu Baykurt

January 01, 2018

A project investigating the degree to which editors and reporters think about audiences as they produce and publish stories—and how it influences their decision-making.

Project lead: James Robinson

January 01, 2018

In 2016, the Illuminating project was supported by a Tow Fellowship, and was able to build an interactive website targeted to journalists, academics, and the public that provided real-time analysis of the U.S. presidential candidates’ Twitter and Facebook accounts. The Illuminating website ( generated news coverage and spawned academic conference presentations and journal articles. The Illuminating project would like to expand its work to encompass the 2018 midterm elections. Midterms pose great challenges for newsrooms. Cuts in political reporters (especially state and local reporters), a complex, multi-campaign context, and the ever-expanding communication environment challenge the abilities of newsrooms to provide comprehensive coverage of political campaigns and detect shifting public opinion. The Illuminating project's goal is to expand its website and analysis to the gubernatorial, House, and Senate races, to add topic analysis to its existing categories, and to further improve its analysis of the public’s discussion around the campaigns. Continuing its effort to support journalists, Illuminating aims to automate article briefs based on real-time analysis of social media messages so as to allow journalists easy understanding of key insights so they can report on them. The project is also working on a partnership with the Associated Press to observe newsroom practices and share leads for potential stories.

Project lead: Jenny Stromer-Galley

January 01, 2018

Over the past decade, data has had an immense impact on the world. It has overhauled the technology industry, made immense shifts in the business and medical sectors, and even altered the way government functions. The media industry is no exception. This paper hopes to explore how the immense growth of data has affected reporters’ legal risks and legal rights. More specifically, it will examine how data has changed the legal risks for reporters’ newsgathering. For example, in the past decade there has been an increased risk of prosecution of journalists under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The paper will also investigate how the data society has affected leaks and leak reporting. It will examine how the data boom has swelled the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process—and instigated the government to monetize its own data—and make journalists pay for information that should be free under the federal statute. Lastly, it will delve into the entangled relationship between robotics, AI, data, and the newsroom. In essence, this project hopes to understand how journalism responds to the growing changes in the information society.

Project lead: Victoria Baranetsky

January 01, 2018

Read on CJR

Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media is at an all-time low. Compounding this effect is the increase in “fake news.” It is becoming increasingly difficult for media consumers to distinguish between truthful and fictional news stories; readers of fake news reports often believe them, while readers of accurate reports question and mistrust them. A free press is a critical component of democracy, yet it seems to be in danger in the current age of media mistrust. To combat this trend, there have been recent efforts in the Natural Language Processing (NLP) community to use machine learning to automatically distinguish between “real” and “fake” news. This work is very important and will hopefully equip media consumers with the necessary tools to navigate the murky world of truth in media.

This project aims to study a complementary problem to fake news detection: trusted news detection. Instead of focusing on determining what is true or fictional, this study aims to discover the characteristics of trusted or believed text, regardless of the veracity of the text in question. Trust in media has been previously studied qualitatively: this proposed research is to our knowledge the first effort to quantitatively study trust in media on a large scale, using automated crowdsourcing, machine learning, and natural language processing methods. Further, this project proposes to analyze group-specific indicators of trust, to discover whether perception of trustworthiness varies across different categories of media consumers.

Project leads: Julia Hirschberg, Sarah Ita

January 01, 2018

A new web dashboard that allows journalists to analyze, visualize, and interact with contractor data from governments.

Project lead: Alexandre Goncalves

January 01, 2018

This project explores the way that three news organizations (City Bureau, Hearken, and The Chicago Tribune) conceptualize, implement, and measure audience engagement. At a moment when the news media’s credibility and economic sustainability are in doubt, this project examines what journalists in both traditional and innovative newsrooms believe “success” should look like. In doing so, it attempts to answer the question: Are journalism’s goals changing, or just its methods?

Project lead: Jacob Nelson

January 01, 2018

Algorithms are playing a growing role in determining which news stories reach audiences as they increasingly assist or replace humans in the distribution and curation of news. This development begs the question: What kind of information landscapes are algorithmic platforms creating for individuals and communities as they direct millions of people to news via recommendation engines and search interfaces? Indeed, such engines and interfaces are currently among the main sources of traffic to news sites, making them crucial objects for study.

This study will compare thousands of real-world news searches conducted by a large and diverse set of participants across different digital services (e.g., Google, YouTube and Facebook) in order to gain insight into patterns of news distribution on the most popular algorithmically driven gatekeeping platforms. It will examine if news search algorithms promote filter bubbles and fragmented audiences as feared by some scholars and in popular media—or, alternatively, if they perhaps construct relatively homogeneous and uniform news landscapes online.

The authors' previous study with the Tow Center indicated that, on Google News, people of different political leanings and backgrounds were recommended highly similar news diets regarding the 2016 U.S. presidential election, sourced primarily from a small number of mainstream national outlets. This challenged the assumption that algorithms invariably encourage echo chambers while disrupting power structures within media industries. This follow-up project expands these research questions into a broader set of platforms and topics on the news, paying special attention to the role that local news sources are assigned in these environments.

Project leads: Efrat Nechushtai, Seth C. Lewis, Rodrigo Zamith

January 01, 2018

It has been 50 years since the Kerner Commission argued that the legacy media presented a world through “white eyes” and with a “white perspective,” yet countless studies have demonstrated that communities of color continue to be misrepresented on a daily basis.  This study will attempt to find answers to this problem via conversations with journalists of color and sources of color within the Pittsburgh area, a location often represented in the media as one of the most “livable cities in the nation.” Specifically, this study will attempt to answer this question as it pertains to the Steel City through a series of interviews and focus groups with stakeholders of color within the Pittsburgh region. One group, journalists of color who have worked in Pittsburgh-area newsrooms, will be asked to discuss their perceptions regarding news coverage in the city. They will also be asked to discuss the level of agency they believe journalists of color are given to impact change within newsrooms. Additionally, as a means of understanding how sources of color are treated within the news media, interviews and focus groups will also be conducted with various community leaders of color heavily involved within the subaltern public sphere of Pittsburgh. Additionally, all sources will also be asked to give their perspectives on how they fare on an everyday life basis as individuals of color within Pittsburgh.  This will be done to determine if the marginalization communities of color may face within the media is actually a representation of the mistreatment of communities of color within the city on a global, everyday basis. It is the hope that this work will move to present a holistic understanding of the place communities of color have within the Pittsburgh media ecosystem.

Project lead: Letrell Crittenden

January 01, 2018

This report lays out a framework for thinking about reader revenue strategy in nonprofit news organizations.

Project lead: Elizabeth Hansen

Team member: Emily Goligoski

January 01, 2018

The distance between “the media” and communities has been a critical facilitator of public distrust of journalism. Recent Tow Center research has highlighted the voices of community members who have felt misrepresented by structures of parachute journalism that fail to capture the nuance and complexity of place—whether that place be in rural Kentucky, the South Side of Chicago, or Philadelphia. This, of course, is situated within the context of shrinking local journalism resources, where consolidation, changing distribution platforms, and market failure have led to areas that are, or are at risk of becoming, media deserts—and communities who perceive themselves as only receiving stigmatized coverage, if any. Responding to these realities, researchers have also recommended that funders and organizations supporting journalism turn their attention to local news outlets and, when possible, go beyond the usual suspects.

This project examines several foundation-supported models attempting to strengthen the capacity of local news to report on and in communities that have largely been under-resourced and/or under-represented in local, regional, or national media. This includes national projects that support reporters working in local newsrooms, as well as locally-driven projects that use a variety of strategies to encourage storytelling that is more inclusive and representative of diverse communities. For projects expected to be in Charleston (WV), Chicago (IL), Philadelphia (PA), Pikeville (KY), and South Bend (IN), this study examines local journalism needs and community engagement/trust over the course of the projects. Research methods will include: focus groups with panels of community members at project start and end, interviews with community organization representatives and participating journalists, observations at newsrooms, periodic monitoring of project content, and check-ins with project participants.

Project leads: Sam Ford, Andrea Wenzel

January 01, 2018

Increasingly, outlets and analysts argue that news business models will be poorly served by relying heavily on traditional advertising. These challenges are especially prevalent in hyperlocal rural news, where the total potential audience for an outlet is often relatively small and the number of interested advertisers (and their budgets) equally so. At the same time, local outlets serve a purpose that can’t be tackled on a broad scale: there remains community interest in staying connected to what’s happening at the most local level, in a way that regional coverage cannot provide. How do local outlets in rural places capitalize on the strength of their embeddedness and their connection to the community in a way that is sustainable?

Even as we see indications that events and community engagement efforts have a correlation with people who are willing to pay to support the news, few have had opportunities to test whether and what kinds of engagement efforts have an influence on the success of subscriber-based local news. A few niche media studies have suggested that engagement initiatives do have the potential to increase subscription. But what would that look like for hyperlocals serving small towns and rural communities—often the outlets that face the most precarious financial futures?

This project takes a deep dive into how various strategies influence the subscription business model, using one rural hyperlocal as a case study. Over the course of 3 months, this project will work with Ohio County Monitor—a locally-owned hyperlocal digital publication in Ohio County, Kentucky, that has just converted to a subscription model and has participated in our ongoing “Polarization to Public Sphere” project—to conduct a series of engagement and outreach activities and monitor the corresponding subscription rates and subscriber opinions over the course of this process.

Project leads: Sam Ford

Team member: Andrea Wenzel

January 01, 2018

This project—the first in a suite of tools for consumers of news on social media—will build an open database of popular news sources on Facebook, illustrating their reach across platforms, surfacing data about the owners, advertising networks, authors, and affiliations. This will take the form of a user-friendly public website, as well as an API so other developers can build tools that use this database to illuminate the murky world of partisan news on social media. This project aims to empower the public to be more responsible about the news they share with their networks, as well as increase media literacy around online news sources.

Project lead: John Keegan

January 01, 2018

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are influencing both the news industry and individual news consumption behaviors. The ability to convert structured data into a captivating story, indistinguishable from human-authored content, has large implications on the genesis and dynamics of audience segmentation. This project argues that audience fragmentation—accelerated by artificial intelligence—will be qualitatively different from that driven by either the multiplication of channels or on-demand personalized news consumption.

The purpose of the project is threefold: (1) segment today’s news audiences based on their current awareness, understanding and attitudes toward revolutionary changes that are being made in news production and distribution driven by artificial intelligence; (2) examine the audiences’ engagement with news and content powered by AI and automated journalism based on their current uses and gratifications; (3) identify the potentials and limits of AI-powered news and content to provide recommendations for ethically and efficiently incorporating AI technologies and requirements into the news ecosystem in a manner that best serves journalism and its audiences.

With these goals in mind, the current research examines how news audiences are segmented based on the beliefs held, the behaviors enacted, and the constraints faced concerning changes that are being made in news production and distribution powered by artificial intelligence and/or automated journalism.

This project will conduct two rounds of an online survey with adults in the United States. To segment news audiences, the survey data will be analyzed using latent cluster analysis (LCA), a statistical method for identifying unobserved subgroups within populations based on observed indicators. Unlike typical audience segmentation that is ad hoc and crude, the social scientific approach seeks to identify predictable groups based on the empirical observations that appear to be similar across a number of variables and subsequently develop an understanding of the underlying structure in terms of characteristics.

Project lead: Joon Soo Lim

January 01, 2018

A partnership between faculty and students in the Departments of History, Statistics and Computer Science at Columbia University, this project examined official secrecy by applying natural language processing software to archives of declassified documents to examine whether it is possible to predict the contents of redacted text, attribute authorship to anonymous documents, and model the geographic and temporal patterns of diplomatic communications.

Project leads: Nicholas Diakopoulos, Alexander Howard, Jonathan Stray

January 01, 2018

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will go into effect in May 2018 in the European Union, yet most companies—including media companies—still know very little about its implications for their business models. The business models in the media ecosystem have rapidly evolved in the last couple of decades, and traditional players have been threatened by new entrants. This project will not only explore the many ways that this imminent legislation will affect media companies, as well as the technology platforms upon which they increasingly depend, but also look at how the media could seize this regulation as an opportunity to leapfrog over the digital transformation.

Project lead: Hugo Zylberberg

January 01, 2018

This project uses a novel sensor technology to tell the story of several weeks in New York City from the perspective of rats.

Project leads: Jason Fields, Marguerite Holloway, Brian House

January 01, 2018

Read on CJR

U.S. journalists and news outlets are well aware that political polarization is leading to increasing levels of mistrust in news media. Conservative news media have been developing their own media networks for decades, and they have significant influence, shaping a wide swath of conservative Americans’ understanding of political life. Conservative media outlets present their audiences with distinct understandings of particular issues. Furthermore, historical research, such as Nicole Hemmer’s Messengers of the Right, suggests that conservative journalism introduces ways of knowing and assumptions about truth and legitimacy that can differ markedly from dominant professional journalistic norms.

This study will conduct interviews with journalists, editors, and other workers at conservative news outlets. As part of the study, newsroom visits or opportunities to shadow reports may also be arranged. The goal of the study will be to understand some of the basic news values, news routines, and audience engagement strategies animating different conservative news outlets. The research questions being investigated include:

• How do conservative news outlets make decisions about prioritizing news stories? How do they define what makes a “good story”?

• Which aspects of professional journalistic norms do these outlets accept and which do they reject? What claims do they make about sources of journalistic truth?  How do they implement routines for story selection, fact-checking, editorial review, and making corrections when errors are identified?

• What sense do reporters and editors have of their users/audiences? How do audience metrics or other user feedback mechanisms inform the selection and presentation of news?

This study recognizes there is a great variety of approaches among conservative news outlets. While it will not be able to cover the entire range, it will focus on differences and similarities between three types of online conservative outlets: born-digital, commercial outlets; non-profit news sites; and the online reporting of well-established legacy sources.

Project leads: A.J. Bauer, Anthony Nadler

January 01, 2018

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Over the past few years, a growing number of journalism stakeholders and researchers have argued that newsrooms should make “audience engagement” one of their chief pursuits. The term is increasingly portrayed as a cure-all for the news industry’s ails – audience engagement will increase audience loyalty, build audience trust, and make journalists’ work more relevant. Those who hope to make audience engagement both normative and measurable face enormous barriers to success. They need to convince news industry stakeholders, each with their own interests and opinions, to rally around a novel interpretation of journalistic practice. They also need to settle an internal debate surrounding how audience engagement itself should be defined and evaluated. Because the term currently lacks an agreed upon meaning—let alone metric—it has become an object of contestation. The efforts to make audience engagement central to news production therefore present an opportunity to learn how journalism is changing, and who within the field has the power to change it.

This project will investigate these efforts by drawing on interviews with and observations of news publishers, foundations, and audience analytics firms that are currently playing key roles in the ongoing conversation surrounding audience engagement. The pursuit of a shared definition of audience engagement is a question of agency: how much power do its advocates have to change what news production looks like? And how powerful are the structures obstructing their efforts? This project will attempt to answer these questions. In doing so, it will reveal how and why news industry stakeholders are attempting to change what form journalism takes, how its produced, and where the audience fits into that process.

Project lead: Jacob L. Nelson

January 01, 2018

This project centers on a prototype "build system" for data projects, or a beginner-friendly tool that enables incremental development of complex data projects and makes an entire data project reproducible from the source code alone.

Project leads: Mark Hansen, George King

Team members: Leopold Mebazaa, Gabe Stein

February 28, 2018

An investigation of the unexplored territory of analytics, impact, and engagement in the 3D journalism space, using virtual and augmented reality technology to empirically prove their alleged merits.

Project lead: Dan Archer

March 07, 2018

While concern over a lack of "trust" in journalism is often associated with the current political moment, the concept of mistrust is not new. Examining the experiences of communities where distrust of the "mainstream media" is grounded in historical power dynamics may reveal insights into patterns of how publics adapt to meet their information needs, as well as lessons for journalists trying to understand what it means to be trusted and how they can respond.

This study seeks to understand how neighborhoods in the Philly metro area, with a range of relations to power and place and perceptions of ambiguity/threat, think about "trust" in media. It will draw from a series of focus groups, "story diaries," and interviews with residents of varied areas—expected to include a historically African American neighborhood grappling with issues of gentrification and development and a mostly-white suburb where nearly half of residents voted for Trump.

It will explore how residents decide how to assign trust to various outlets or personalities—and how they adapt and develop alternate verification strategies in situations where trust is in short supply. By seeking to establish an understanding of residents’ communication ecologies, storytelling networks, and attitudes towards media, this study seeks to establish a baseline to inform possible future interventions through applied media projects.

Concurrently, researchers will interview and informally shadow local media outlets potentially interested in following up on study findings. Findings will then be shared with community stakeholders and media in a series of community events which will double as brainstorming sessions to determine potential next steps. These steps may include collaborative, participatory, and/or solutions-oriented projects—depending on interests and priorities expressed by residents and media outlets.

Project lead: Andrea Wenzel

Team members: Marc Lamont Hill, Anthony Nadler, Melissa M. Valle

March 28, 2018

Read Part 1 on CJR

Read Part 2 on CJR

The San Francisco Homeless Project, the News Integrity Initiative, and ElectionLand are three major examples of an emerging pattern in journalism: the cooperation of multiple organizations and individuals to address big challenges at a scale that no single organization could by itself. This project will research how the combination of decentralized, networked, and traditional models for news production and distribution are creating new opportunities to support journalism.

Project lead: Carlos Martinez de la Serna

March 30, 2018

Read on CJR

Local journalism provides civic connective tissue in communities around the United States. It shines light in dark places and bears witness to threats facing democracy in city halls and congressional districts. At its best, local journalism helps towns, cities and communities of interest solve problems. But local journalism is not only under economic pressure: it also faces big challenges as audiences increasingly prefer to engage with news online, using mobile devices and social media.

As the platform revolution renegotiates the relationship between audiences and information, it’s worth pausing and asking a series of fundamental questions of the thousands of local news outlets dotting the United States. How aggressive have local news publishers been about engaging their audiences on social platforms? How many have taken steps to enhance their users’ mobile engagement through features such as responsive web design and faster load times? How widespread is the use of familiar website ad tech, and have local publishers caught the digital video bug? How many publishers keep their content gated behind a paywall, or indeed have little to no digital footprint at all?

A local news digital adaptation index will address these questions, tracking the success of local news publishers as they adapt to an information environment that is increasingly mobile and networked. Through website and platform observations, the project will quantify the ways in which local news publishers are embracing, avoiding and innovating with digital technologies. With an analysis of a sample of print, broadcast, and digital publishers from around the U.S., the findings will speak not only to nationwide trends, but also regional ones. The insights gleaned here will offer a measured view at the bird's-eye level of the digital state of play in local news and will point in the direction things are going.

Project lead: Jesse Holcomb

April 01, 2018

How does a Facebook-led partnership of news organizations and fact-checkers mix algorithmic and editorial judgment to fight “fake news”? Through interviews with key personnel and analyses of documents and infrastructures, this project tells the story of how techno-journalistic platforms make facts. A better understanding of such hybrids helps scholars, technologists, journalists, and audiences appreciate how to trust and critique news networks—and how to think about and reconfigure power between publishers and platforms.

Project lead: Mike Ananny

April 01, 2018

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This project investigates and intervenes in the immigrant Chinese news ecosystem, which has seen significant misinformation, to bridge the information silos between Chinese-speaking immigrants and their surrounding community. In collaboration with Alhambra Source, a trilingual civic news site serving the immigrant majority city of Alhambra, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, this project monitors ethnic Chinese media and social media outlets, and engages community members to produce and distribute bridging stories. 

Project lead: Chi Zhang

April 04, 2018

Read on CJR

Until late 2016, there was very limited awareness that engagement with online misinformation was growing dramatically, due to a lack of visibility about news content consumption online. More recently, there has been extensive work to classify and then map out the misinformation ecosystem but there is yet to be a good way to evaluate if the ecosystem is getting "healthier"—or getting worse. This understanding is crucial for knowing when misinformation is becoming prevalent in order to ensure that there are sufficient resources to address it. It's also important for informing media researchers, policy makers, and technologists who are experimenting with ways to incentivize the production and consumption of accurate news.

To address this need, this project focuses on developing an analysis framework for measuring changes in the news and misinformation ecosystem over time. There are two main challenges with this sort of large scale analysis: automated (and even semi-automated) classification of content is difficult and external parties have limited access to platform or publisher consumption data. This project can use a coarse classification and aggregated data sources to mitigate these challenges enough to provide actionable insights. This work will be structured such that it can be extended as classification approaches improve and as more data becomes available.

Project lead: Aviv Ovadya

April 16, 2018

Read on Tow Center Medium


In total this project produced three book chapters, two conference papers, an academic journal article, and a magazine article. The authors also wrote a total of 16 articles for various forms of news media including blogs as well as outlets like the Washington Post, Slate, and MIT Technology Review. Seven workshops were taught relating to the topics of the subawards including workshops related to investigating algorithms and designing news bots. Twenty-seven public presentations were given as part of the subaward, including keynotes to investigative journalists in Europe and Canada, as well as numerous panels and talks discussing algorithmic accountability and transparency. Five open source repositories were published. 

The authors built and launched, which is a database of leads, as well as a community resource for journalists interested in beginning to investigate algorithms. The site attracts almost 1000 visitors per month (with high site engagement as people are looking through the database), and has attracted a handful of dedicated volunteers who are helping to expand the coverage of the database. The authors published a research paper at the Computation + Journalism Symposium in 2017 detailing how they built the database and laying out their plans for scaling up the efforts. 

Diakopoulos' work relating to the ethics of algorithms was influential in crafting the Association for Computing Machinery's ethics guide relating to algorithmic transparency and accountability, which has since been adopted in Europe as well. 

Project lead: Nicholas Diakopoulos

January 01, 2017

This project explores a new artificial intelligence tool—expert systems—that has the potential to aid journalists to quickly and efficiently discover public affairs stories in large public datasets. The logistics of performing data journalism have proved formidable for many news organizations. The project’s Creating a Story Discovery Engine would allow the local press to use it to write stories without having to fund its development or hire and manage a software staff.

Project lead: Meredith Broussard

January 01, 2017

This report explores the industry of Internet measurement and its impact on news organizations working online. It investigates this landscape through a combination of documentary research and interviews with measurement companies, trade groups, advertising agencies, media scholars, and journalists from national newspapers, regional papers, and online-only news ventures.

Project leads: Lucas Graves, John Kelly

Team member: Marissa Gluck

January 01, 2017

Platforms and Publishers, which began in 2016, is a multi-year project researching the relationship between journalism and technology companies in order to promote mutual understanding of the impact of emerging technologies on the practice and business of journalism.

When new tools like social media or artificial intelligence (AI) are introduced, the rush to capture audiences and establish new commercial businesses can often overshadow the impact on the citizen rather than consumer. Non-commercial functions of the free press, such as defending free speech, protecting vulnerable sources, resisting government pressure for censorship, and practicing commercial transparency often clash with technology companies’ business interests.

This project provides news publishers and journalists with a more granular understanding of how journalism and independent publishing has been – and continues to be – affected by integration with social media and AI, as well as how tech companies approach their relationships with publishers. It engages software development, social platforms, and AI companies in understanding best practices for supporting ethical journalism in a rapidly evolving information ecosystem.

To learn more about the project, check out the reports below and explore our interactive timeline, which tracks key developments on tech platforms used by journalism publishers.

If you are interested in learning more or working with us, email Klaudia Jaźwińska, research lead on the Platforms and Publishers project.

Project lead: Emily Bell

Team members: Pete Brown, Klaudia Jaźwińska, Jueni Duyen Tran

Read on CJR

This computational journalism project was developed to help political journalists by providing a useable yet comprehensive summary of the content and sentiment that flows through social media during presidential campaigns. Over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, the Illuminating team collected all of the Facebook and Twitter messages by the 17 Republican and five Democratic candidates. The research team also developed a system to categorize each post by message type: calls to action, image, advocacy, issue, and attack messages. This system could be applied to any campaign, and is easily searchable by journalists to find trends in and compare politicians’ communications.

Project lead: Jenny Stromer-Galley

April 13, 2017

A report on the response of small U.S. market newspapers to the shift to digital technology in everything from editorial content to distribution to advertising.

Project leads: Christopher Ali, Damian Radcliffe

May 10, 2017

This study examines the case of a local public radio initiative attempting to engage historically underrepresented audiences through a year-long outreach experiment. Curious City, a series produced by WBEZ Chicago Public Media, uses the Hearken digital engagement platform to invite listeners to ask and vote on questions, and then participate in the reporting process. Drawing from interviews and observations, the study examines best practices to combine digital and offline strategies, and the importance of pre- and post-broadcast engagement. The study also reflects on journalistic norms and approaches to participatory media, local news “storytelling networks,” and relations between public media and marginalized publics. The final report was published in spring 2017.

Project lead: Andrea Wenzel

May 25, 2017

Read on CJR

This study examined how journalistic organizations manage for impact and the challenges and opportunities that arise when newsrooms apply impact thinking to journalistic practice. This project presents a history of impact theory, and features a study of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)’s approach to story choice, production, and distribution. While measuring the impact of individual organizations or projects can be incredibly difficult, the study found that reporters can keep the spotlight on the issues of the journalism by sticking with their stories long after the initial publication. The final report was published in spring 2017.

Project leads: Lindsay Green-Barber, Fergus Pitt

June 07, 2017

This project aims to study the creation and consumption of automated news for forecasts of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Project lead: Andreas Graefe

July 05, 2017

Read on CJR

In partnership with the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab, this project looks at mobile news delivery and consumption habits through a content analysis of publishers’ use of mobile notifications over two three-week periods—the first period around the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and the second period in spring 2017. This analysis will then be contextualized with interviews with news organization representatives involved in mobile notification strategy and delivery, as well as user focus groups.

Project lead: Emily Bell

Team members: Pete Brown, Andrea Wenzel 

July 31, 2017

This project examines what political polarization and urban-rural divisions look like in the daily lives of residents at the local level—and what role local media may play in creating spaces for dialogue across parties and demographics.The project is rooted in a case study of a predominantly Republican-leaning region of Kentucky. This includes the more “purple” college town of Bowling Green, home of the infamous “Bowling Green Massacre,” as well as the more rural area of Ohio County, which is more solidly “red.” Using a communication infrastructure theory framework, this project examine residents’ communication storytelling networks. Through a series of focus groups, “story diaries,” and interviews, it explores residents’ access to communication resources, interactions they do or do not have with “others” in their community, and their attitudes towards local and national media. This study also looks at the needs of local and rural journalists—and how they may contribute to a region that is more connected and engaged. Following the study—and a related workshop for local and regional media, community stakeholders, and actors working in engagement journalism, solutions journalism, and rural/local journalism—the project is designing possible projects that respond to local needs and seek to create opportunities for dialogue and engagement.

Project lead: Andrea Wenzel

Team member: Sam Ford

August 14, 2017

For "You Are Here," the team built, tested, and refined a completely open-source system for distributing audio stories and other journalistic content to local audiences via a small, independent wifi router. In addition to providing a uniquely local audio portrait of two iconic New York City locations—Tompkins Square Park and the High Line—"You Are Here" is a template for distributing journalistic stories in a way that is affordable and resilient, requiring only a power supply and a user's smartphone. Such a system has the potential to keep information accessible, even when the Internet is not. The final report was published in spring 2017.

Project lead: Sarah Grant

Team members: Amelia Marzec, Susan McGregor, Dan Phiffer, Benjamen Walker

August 25, 2017

Read on CJR


This report evaluates the role of automated journalism, currently used to produce routine news stories for repetitive topics for which clean, accurate and structured data are available. Evidence available to date shows that while people rate automated news as slightly more credible than human-written news, they do not enjoy reading it since the writing is perceived as boring. While algorithms can describe what is happening, they cannot provide interpretations of why things are happening. Journalists are best advised to focus on tasks that algorithms cannot perform, such as in-depth analyses, interviews with key people, and investigative reporting.

Project lead: Andreas Graefe

January 01, 2016

Read Andreas Graefe's research report, Guide to Automated Journalism, at the Columbia Journalism Review

Edward Snowden's release of classified NSA documents exposed the widespread government practice of mass surveillance in a democratic society. The publication of these documents, facilitated by three journalists, as well as efforts to criminalize the act of being a whistleblower or source, signaled a new era in the coverage of national security reporting. The contributors to Journalism After Snowden analyzed the implications of the Snowden affair for journalism and the future role of the profession as a watchdog for the public good. The book integrates discussions of media, law, surveillance, technology, and national security, and offers a timely and much-needed assessment of the promises and perils for journalism in the digital age.

Project lead: Emily Bell

January 01, 2016

Read Emily Bell's research report, Journalism after Snowden: A new age of cyberwarfare, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This report brings together many fields to explore where data comes from, how to analyze it, and how to communicate results. Some of these ideas are thousands of years old, and some were developed only a decade ago—all of them have come together to create the 21st century practice of data journalism. This report serves as an introductory guidebook for journalists on the process of quantification, analysis, and communication using data.

Project lead: Jonathan Stray

March 24, 2016

Read Jonathan Stray's research report, The Curious Journalist's Guide to Data, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This report illustrates responses to systemic social problems in underrepresented and stigmatized communities at the local level. The research shows that residents often use alternative digital sources to cross-check stories and seek other information to help navigate and critically interpret mainstream local coverage. Participants said they would be more likely to seek out news and share stories if solutions journalism were more common. In communities with a long history of overwhelmingly negative coverage, stories featuring community perspectives that take a critical look at responses to social problems offer an opportunity to strengthen connections between residents, media, and community organizations.

Project leads: Daniela Gerson, Evelyn Moreno, Andrea Wenzel

April 26, 2016

Read Daniela Gerson, Evelyn Moreno, and Andrea Wenzel's report, Engaging Communities Through Solutions Journalism, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This report examines the digital security tools that American journalists are currently using following the Snowden affair, from secure email and chat protocols to fully anonymized whistleblowing platforms. These encryption practices help ensure the conditions of source protection that are necessary for a healthy press.

Project lead: Charles Berrett

May 12, 2016

Read Charles Berrett's research report, Guide to Secure Drop, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This research focuses on the intersection of citizen journalism and digital activism, producing a comprehensive database of international incidents of civic activism and non-violent conflict in which digital media had some role in the evolution of events. The project developed original data and the visualization and query tools to make all the data accessible to journalists and the public through Creative Commons licensing.

Project lead: Philip Howard

May 31, 2016

This research paper identified key benefits of design philosophy in creating new possibilities for journalism, including the ability to rapidly prototype and modify new products before major resources have been committed; to improve journalism by deeply understanding its role in the real lives of those who consume it; and to work directly with the communities in which news organizations are embedded to generate coverage and tell stories of direct relevance. This report also cautions against making editorial decisions solely in favor of stories and products that bring the most success in financial terms.

Project lead: Heather Chaplin

July 13, 2016

Read Heather Chapin's research report, Guide to Journalism and Design, at the Columbia Journalism Review

Over the summer of 2016, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism partnered with the Democracy Fund Voice to develop a series of white papers that looked at the effect the election cycle had on amplifying false fears about terrorist attacks and Muslims in America. The Tow Center delivered three thought-provoking papers and a series of events ahead of the U.S. presidential election cycle.

September 26, 2016

Fear and the Ballot Box

Fear and the Ballot Box by Burhan Wazir examines how actions taken by politicians and members of the media have shaped recent elections in the wake of acts of terrorism and how the growth of social media platforms and web-based news has become part of the picture. Findings show elections conducted against a backdrop of both terrorism and the fear of terrorism frequently drive voters to elect leaders who are seen to be tough on security; allegations of political and media collusion in the aftermath of a terrorist attack lead to long-lasting and institutional failures; and the increasingly pivotal role the media and social platforms play in shaping how the public reacts to terrorism.

Project lead: Burhan Wazir

Fanning the Flames

In Fanning the Flames, Charlie Beckett identifies trends, problems, and best practices for more constructive journalism about terror. Journalism can be created in ways that reduce the propaganda effect for either the terrorist or the panicked politician. The technology companies that provide platforms for the public and journalists to discuss and debate terrorism must do much more to improve how they filter and distribute information, which means there must be a more productive dialogue between the platforms and the news media about how their relationship can work better for the public good.

Project lead: Charlie Beckett

Hate & Incriminate

In Hate & Incriminate, Rafia Zakaria unpacks the demonization of Muslim Americans in the 2016 U.S. election. The report recommends developing and implementing a better reporting and enforcement system for hate speech and hate crimes against American Muslims. Additionally,  social media platforms must do a better job of implementing their own guidelines that already prohibit the posting of hate material against a particular group.

Project lead: Rafia Zakaria

This project investigates the strategic Twitter engagement of political journalists and the corresponding dynamics of newsroom strategies, individual behavior, and the changing conditions of different news climates and socio-political environments. Findings show journalists’ individual approaches to and skills of tweeting vary and range across a broad spectrum, from submitting to the mandates of organizational social media policies, to feeling competitive pressures and “fear of missing out,” or making substantive investments into Twitter because the platform is viewed as a potential career asset in an unstable labor market.

Project lead: Svenja Ottovordemgentschenfelde

October 01, 2016

This project developed a way to simplify satellite data collection and interpretation, allowing journalists, urbanists, humanitarian agencies, and others to mine valuable information from satellite imagery during urban conflicts or natural disasters. The result is an open-source, interactive, layered map of Aleppo at the neighborhood scale. The layered satellite imagery allows the identification of sites of destruction over the course of the civil war, as well as analysis of changing landmarks and borders, and tracking of refugee populations.

Project lead: Laura Kurgan

Team members: Dare Brawley, Madeeha Merchant

October 01, 2016

The fact that podcasts cannot be easily snipped and shared online is inhibiting the growth of the podcast industry. Working with the public radio show This American Life, a team of developers and designers created a functioning prototype that allows users to easily convert audio clips into snippets, including transcription and .mp4 videos, and share them online.

Project lead: Stephanie Foo

October 01, 2016

This report provides an analysis of the maturation of technology coverage. Some of the most novel critiques about technology and Silicon Valley are coming from women and underrepresented minorities, but their work is seldom recognized in traditional critical venues. Acknowledging the realities of society and culture, this report offers readers the tools and framings for thinking about their relationship to technology and their relationship to power. Besides deconstructing, naming, and interpreting technological phenomena, criticism has the potential to assemble new insights and interpretations around the role of technology in society.

Project lead: Sara Watson

October 04, 2016

Read Sara Watson's research report, Toward a Constructive Technology Criticism, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This report explores how chat apps alter reportage, allowing journalists to acquire multimedia information, pursue stories, access private networks (particularly in contexts of censorship), and organize news production. Chat apps are becoming a common tool for newsgathering; they allow journalists to sit in on conversations and get in touch with potential sources, particularly in countries such as China where more public social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) are not as commonly used. Today, the most popular chat app, WhatsApp, has more than one billion monthly active users. Young, mobile people have shifted away from public networks to private chat apps because they are easier to use and offer greater privacy under surveillance. The report is a case study of chat apps usage in covering the recent youth protests in Hong Kong.

Project lead: Valerie Belair-Gagnon

Team members: Colin Agur, Nick Frisch

November 04, 2016


This project examined how crowdsourcing transforms newsgathering into more of an iterative process and turns journalism into a conversation instead of a one-way megaphone. Good crowdsourcing efforts are high-touch, labor-intensive efforts, requiring journalists to determine a type of call-out, the communities to target, the method for collecting responses, and the avenues for connecting and giving back to the community of contributors. For digital-first startups, crowdsourcing provides a way to cultivate new audiences from scratch and produce unique journalism.

Project leads: Jeanne Brooks, Mimi Onuoha, Jan Schaffer

January 01, 2015

Read Jeanne Brooks, Mimi Onuoha, and Jan Schaffer's research report, Guide to Crowdsourcing, at the Columbia Journalism Review

Today, journalists require a baseline level of expertise in digital security fundamentals, such as robust password practices, anti-virus software, and regular data backups. Journalists must also have some expertise in select intermediate information-security skills, such as an awareness of the basic insecurity and risks of various channels of communication. This report identifies best practices for newsrooms and journalism schools to improve the robustness and efficacy of their information-security training programs.

Project leads: Chris Walker, Carol Waters

February 01, 2015

The report analyzes the bad practices used by online media sites which propagate hoaxes, questionable claims, and rumors sourced on social media to achieve widespread circulation or refrain from debunking and correcting falsehoods. One of the most important debunking strategies is to provide a counternarrative with new facts. Craig Silverman’s extraordinary success in spotlighting fake news for BuzzFeed flowed directly from his work as a Tow Fellow and this 2015 Tow Center report.

Project lead: Craig Silverman

February 01, 2015

Read Craig Silverman's research report, Lies, Damn Lies, and Viral Content, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This report identifies best practices for incorporating games into newsrooms by examining playful products and practices, disclosing business opportunities from the game industry, and critiquing the assimilation of play into the newsroom. By combining the work of journalists with game designers and developers, games and play can provide new means of disseminating news and engaging audiences. Open source formats could provide journalists with a repository of potential templates and tools, which is especially beneficial for those who do not have the budgets to build such products from scratch.

Project lead: Maxwell Foxman

February 01, 2015

Read Maxwell Foxman's research report, Play the News: Fun and Games in Digital Journalism, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This brief by three PhD candidates at The University of Washington (Michael L. Barthel, Ruth Moon, and William Mari) takes a snapshot of how fifteen political journalists from BuzzFeed, Politico, and The New York Times (representing digital, hybrid, and legacy outlets, respectively) interact. The researchers place those interactions in the context of reporters’ longstanding traditions of gossip, goading, collaboration, and competition.

Project lead: Philip Howard

Team members: Michael Barthel, Ruth Moon, William Mari

March 05, 2015

The Responsive Cities Initiative convened a workshop series examining the following question: What could a university center do to advance policymaking and planning for fiber-optic networks that provide everyone in the United States with high-speed Internet access, (a) improve local governance, and (b) support civic journalism? This report identifies the constraints, barriers, and opportunities in the long-term planning required for universal fiber access.

Project lead: Susan Crawford

April 01, 2015

Read Susan Crawford's research report, The Responsive Cities Initiative, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This project featured an ethnographic study of the role of metrics in contemporary news via three case studies (Chartbeat, Gawker Media, The New York Times) to evaluate the assumptions and values that underlie audience measures, the effects of metrics on journalists, how metrics interact with organizations’ culture, and how metrics are utilized by companies. The report found that traffic-based rankings can drown out other forms of evaluation and can exert a powerful influence over journalists’ emotions and morale. Additionally, the report outlines how news organizations can benefit from big-picture, strategic thinking about analytics and selecting analytics services.

Project lead: Caitlin Petre

May 07, 2015

Read Caitlin Petre's research report, The Traffic Factories: Metrics at Chartbeat, Gawker Media, and The New York Times, at the Columbia Journalism Review

Based on survey research and interviews with newsrooms regarding current impact measurement practices, researchers designed and built a new analytics platform to measure the quantitative and qualitative impact of news stories and to add qualitative information that was previously nonexistent in such tools.

Project leads: Brian Abelson, Michael Keller

June 04, 2015

Read Brian Abelson and Michael Keller's research report, NewsLynx: A Tool for Newsroom Impact Measurement, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This study identifies the patterns of longform readers' story consumption and sharing habits. It found that participants read about half of the stories during the week and half over the weekend. Among the most remarkable findings is that readers finished 94% of the longform pieces they started. This study examines the key contributors to reading completing rates and considers the limitations of analytics in describing reader behavior and engagement.

Project leads: Michelle Levine, Michael Shapiro

September 01, 2015

Messaging apps now have more global users than traditional social networks—which means they play an increasingly important role in the distribution of digital journalism. This guide synthesizes key lessons for organizations using messaging apps for news to engage new or difficult-to-reach demographics—including youth and diaspora communities who currently rely on apps like WeChat and WhatsApp to communicate—and gathers user-generated content. To devise a successful messaging app strategy, publishers must understand regional strongholds, user demographics, and popular features of each app, as well as the ways issues around information, privacy, personal security, and mobile data penetration will manifest differently around the world.

Project leads: Trushar Barot, Eytan Oren

November 09, 2015

Read Trushar Barot and Eytan Oren's research report, Guide to Chat Apps, at the Columbia Journalism Review

After decades of research and development, virtual reality (VR) appears to be on the cusp of mainstream adoption. For journalists, the combination of immersive video capture and dissemination via mobile VR players is particularly exciting. It promises to bring audiences closer to a story than any previous platform. Through a literature review and case studies on early VR documentaries, this report investigates the evolution of VR technology and what it means for journalism—reflecting on its process, technical requirements, feasibility, and impact.

Project leads: Taylor Owen, Fergus Pitt

Team member: James Milward

November 11, 2015

Following the success of Serial and the proliferation of podcasts that ensued, this report describes the current podcasting media landscape and existing business models, and provides recommendations for the future of the industry. As new podcasts and podcast networks are emerging, they are disrupting the radio ecosystem by attracting significant advertisers who recognize the potential of podcasts as mobile-first content that engages with audience members in ways that no other mobile medium has previously.

Project lead: Vanessa Quirk

December 07, 2015

Read Vanessa Quirk's research report, Guide to Podcasting, at the Columbia Journalism Review


This report examines the operating biases of the new power brokers in society—algorithms—and the potential for accountability practices. Given the challenges to effectively employing transparency for algorithms—namely trade secrets, the consequences of manipulation, and the cognitive overhead of complexity—journalists might effectively engage with algorithms through a process of reverse engineering to understand the input-output relationships of an algorithm and develop stories about how that algorithm operates. This report proposes a practical method by which journalists can investigate algorithms, and develops best practices around exposing algorithmic bias and making algorithms transparent.

Project lead: Nicholas Diakopoulos

Team member: Jennifer Stark

January 01, 2014

Read Nicholas Diakopoulos's research report, Algorithmic Accountability: On the Investigation of Black Boxes, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This report examines the current wide-sweeping trend of newsrooms downsizing into smaller spaces and how it will impact the future for post-industrial journalism in the digital age. While they can and do work from home, most journalists still find value in coming to a set, physical place. The creation of news hubs offers some insight into the industry-wide approach to thinking about digital workflow. Drawing upon six newsroom visits and over 120 interviews, the project highlights the value of physical newsrooms and hubs in the support of breaking news production and collaboration among journalists.

Project lead: Nikki Usher

January 01, 2014

Read Nikki Usher's research report, Moving the Newsroom: Post-Industrial News Spaces and Places

This essay is part survey and part manifesto, one that concerns itself with the practice of journalism and the practices of journalists in the United States.

Project leads: Chris Anderson, Emily Bell, Clay Shirky

January 01, 2014

Read Chris Anderson, Emily Bell, and Clay Shirky's research report, Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present, at the Columbia Journalism Review

This analysis of news publishers focused on a single subject and their methods of engagement with niche audiences. The study finds that in order to thrive, news publishers will need a fusion of reporting experience and startup savvy—essentially the skills of small business management. Single-subject news accelerates the trend of “unbundling” the newsroom: Bleacher Report as a spun-off sports desk, as the outsourced function of a political desk, and Education News Network (Chalkbeat) as a specialized bureau on local schools. Journalists can create new content where they see a deficit because the demand for in-depth news coverage by niche audiences is spawning new products for the digital marketplace.

Project leads: Kristin Nolan, Lara Setrakian

January 01, 2014

Following four years of interviews with hundreds of editors, professors, reporters, technologists, government officials, and “hacker journalists,” this project details best practices of using data in journalism and offers solutions to remaining significant cultural, fiscal, and technical barriers to the adoption of data journalism and digital skills. The report suggests professional development along with statistical and scientific instruction for journalists, increased security practices around journalism, and a raised standard for accuracy and corrections. In addition, newsrooms must diversify their staff, and data journalists need to go beyond acquiring and cleaning data to understanding its provenance and source. Journalists must consider when it is appropriate to scrape data, access data, store it, or not—and understand that sensitive data will need to be protected with the same vigor that journalists have protected confidential sources.

Project lead: Alexander Howard

Team member: Jonathan Stray

January 01, 2014

This study looks how video journalism is defined and produced by newsrooms across the U.S., as well as its subsequent return on investments. The report finds that none of the participating newspapers make a profit on their videos and most describe themselves as in a state of investment and development. The newsrooms do earn some revenue on pre-roll advertising, but they are operating at a deficit when compared to the total cost of video production. Along with building their under-resourced production teams with the intention of increasing content production, news organizations are also heavily focused on increasing traffic.

Project lead: Duy Linh Tu

February 01, 2014

This project is the first comprehensive report on the use of user-generated content among broadcast news channels. It finds an increased dependence on user-generated content among international broadcast news channels, often used only when other imagery is not available. The report calls for the necessity of training newsroom staff to discover, verify, and properly credit the rights for user-generated content as well as address its impact on their staff, their audiences, and the people who are creating the content in the first place. 

Project leads: Pete Brown, Sam Dubberley, Claire Wardle

May 01, 2014

This report explores the journalistic uses of data from a variety of sensor systems and ethical standards for doing so. Journalists can serve audiences by researching which public and private sensor systems monitor their communities’ lives, not just because those systems are potential sources, but because it is newsworthy to investigate what sensor systems produce, how they are used, and who stands to benefit (or lose) from their data. Once journalists and the public start to understand more about the sensor systems that monitor our societies, the next step will be to work through the practical, legal, and ethical questions that should inform how much of the produced data can become public. 

Project lead: Fergus Pitt

May 01, 2014

The laws and technologies that govern today’s digital communication systems have dramatically affected journalists’ ability to protect sources. This report offers an overview of how these systems developed, and how their intersection exposes all digital communications to scrutiny. It also explores strategies for reducing this exposure for journalists.

Project lead: Susan McGregor

June 01, 2014

The financial pressures that digital technology have brought to legacy news media have forced many to close their international bureaus. Journalists often report on breaking news events without physically being there by immersing themselves in streams of content, whether live video feeds from cell phones, Twitter feeds, or blog posts. Through practical guidance and descriptions of this changing journalistic ecosystem, this report defines a new, hybrid foreign correspondent model that employs all reporting tools and a wide range of sources to bring audiences a better understanding of the world.

Project leads: Ann Cooper, Taylor Owen

Team members: Ahmed Al Omran, Burcu Baykurt, Jesse Graham, Anup Kaphle, Kelly Golnoush Niknejad

December 01, 2014

Read Ahmed Al Omran, Burcu Baykurt, Jesse Graham, Anup Kaphle, and Kelly Golnoush Niknejad's research report, The New Global Journalism: Foreign Correspondence in Transition, at the Columbia Journalism Review


"The Future of Digital Longform" seeks to define the new format “digital longform,” articulate criteria by which digital longform journalism is judged and valued, and layout and discuss successful models for soliciting, editing, publishing, and disseminating—and, of course, monetizing—longform content in the digital ecosystem.

Project lead: Anna Hiatt

December 01, 2013

Read Anna Hiatt's research report, The Future of Longform, at the Columbia Journalism Review


What kinds of digitally-based journalism in the U.S. is the commercial market likely to support, and how?

This report focuses on news organizations that do original journalism, defined for our purposes as independent fact-finding undertaken for the benefit of communities of citizens. Those communities can be defined in the traditional way, by geography, but can also be brought together by topics or commonalities of interest. We also look into media companies that aggregate content and generate traffic in the process.

This report focuses mostly on for-profit news enterprises. The authors recognize the outstanding work done by such national organizations as ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Reporting, as well as local sites like Voice of San Diego and MinnPost. But for the purposes of this study, the authors felt it was more valuable to spend time examining organizations that rely as much as possible on the commercial market.

Project leads: Lucas Graves, Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave

May 10, 2011

Read Lucas Graves, Bill Grueskin, and Ava Seave's research report, The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism, at the Columbia Journalism Review