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 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competing narratives about the impact of fake news on political participation, entrenchment of political views, the ubiquity of media environments, and anxiety in news and media consumption raise a number of interrelated tensions surrounding how new technologies, news reporting and consumption, and political events interact and are socially processed. Situated within a discussion of how digital technologies have impacted journalism and the nature of news consumption overall, Pushing News Agendas promotes future studies of push notifications by creating an open database, as well as pursues a variety of empirical questions about push notifications, personalization, media anxiety, and deception and manipulation. The empirical project, which employs established computational linguistics and sentiment analysis approaches, explores: 1) how push notifications and online “breaking news” phenomenon differ from traditional news reporting; 2) how partisan views of news outlets affect editorial and distributional decisions around push notifications; 3) to what extent push notifications are personalized and how this personalization may contribute to the echo chamber effect in news consumption; 4) how perceived objectivity in journalism affects reader trust; 5) how topics are structured for push notification distribution; and 6) what this means for participatory politics and its relationship to the Fourth Estate. The project builds upon Sanfilippo and Lev-Aretz’s preliminary paper, “Breaking News,” which introduced and contextualized the research project within legal and media scholarship, as well as illustrated patterns and key insights through a case study comparing reporting on President Nixon firing Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox to President Trump firing FBI Director James Comey.

Project leads: Yafit Lev-Aretz, Madelyn Sanfilippo

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

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

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