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The Tow Center calls for 2019 research proposals

Come work with us!

The Tow Center, with generous funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is pleased to announce the 2019 call for proposals for rigorous research into emerging technology and trends impacting the news industry. We invite students, researchers, faculty, and practitioners in the fields of computer science and journalism to propose potential research projects that fall within our four areas of inquiry:
  1. Computation, Algorithms, and Automated Journalism;
  2. Data, Metrics, and Impact;
  3. Audiences and Engagement;
  4. Experimental Journalism, Models, and Practice.
We are particularly interested in funding research to study the following topics: Business models within the news industry; advertising and journalism; branded content; bots; artificial intelligence; audio/podcasting; and alternative strategies for journalists.

The application deadline is May 15.

Click here to view the application and apply
Events at the Tow Center
4/18: Tow Tea: Know Your (copy)Rights!

TOMORROW: Getting a "yes" from an editor on the article (or book) that you've pitched to them is always an exciting moment, and the question, "Who owns the copyright?" is probably the last one on our minds.

Yet understanding and managing the copyright(s) around your work is an essential part of protecting (and profiting from!) your reporting and writing efforts. Learning how to smartly assert your copyrights helps ensure that you can grow and build on your own portfolio, and make the most of what you've accomplished throughout your career.

In this session, Columbia University's Director of Copyright Advisory Services, Rina Elster Pantalony, will share essential strategies for securing and protecting your copyrights, especially around digital work. With walkthroughs of real-world examples, she will help attendees learn to create better contracts for their work and how they can negotiate if needed. We hope you'll join us for this important and informative event!

Tickets are free, but an RSVP is required

4/25: Tow Tea: The Ethics of Covering Extremism

An increase in protests and public events organized by extremist groups in the U.S. and around the world poses a particular challenge for journalists, who must judge both the newsworthiness of these events and determine what and how to publish about them. This terrain can be especially tricky for visual journalists, whose imagery may end up containing symbolic messages whose meaning the journalists themselves do not immediately understand.

In this session, we'll hear from Columbia Journalism School professor Nina Berman, VICE journalist Tess Owen and documentary photographer Glenna Gordon, who have substantial experience grappling with these issues as they cover extremist groups. In the process, we'll explore such questions as: What makes an event newsworthy? When should extremist imagery be edited or reproduced? And, How can journalists best educate themselves about the amplification tactics of these groups?

Tickets are free, but an RSVP is required

Engaged Journalism: Bridging Research & Practice

Join Tow Center fellows Andrea Wenzel and Jacob Nelson for their 2019 International Communication Association (ICA) preconference on Friday 24 May, 2019 from 12pm-5pm at Arizona State University Barbara Barrett and Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center, Washington, D.C.

This is an opportunity for academic researchers and journalism practitioners to share ideas on new research, research they’d like to see, and opportunties for collaboration.

Please register by May 3rd at this ICA website. Registration is free and both scholars and practitioners are welcome, regardless of whether you are presenting a paper.

If you have any questions please contact the organizers: Andrea Wenzel ( or Jacob L. Nelson (

On Medium

Memes, Antisemitism, and the Press

Tow Center assistant director Susan McGregor pens a thoughtful essay tracking the development of memes, from Richard Dawkins' invention of the term in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene to Pepe the Frog's proliferation and, later, adoption by the far right as a symbol of hate. McGregor notes the surprising similarities between contemporary image macros and humorous drawings in the 1920's. The format's use as a vector for misinformation, while perhaps not new, is increasingly powerful, McGregor writes. And she tries to address an increasingly pressing question: How can we, as journalists, fight that misinformation when it is transmitted through jokes and cartoons?

Read McGregor's essay here

Comedy! Journalism! Podcast!
For our season two finale, Tow founding director Emily Bell and CUNY Associate Professor of Journalism + Design Heather Chaplin are joined by "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" writer Mike Drucker to talk about all things comedy and journalism. How do the writing staffs at shows like Full Frontal collaborate with researchers to produce investigative segments? How has the rise of social media changed the comedy landscape? Have comedians done a better job of explaining Brexit to Americans than journalists? Plus, The Tow Center's in-house comedian George Civeris presents a list of innovative suggestions for solving journalism's thorniest problems. 

LISTEN Tricky: Is This Thing On?
In The Columbia Journalism Review
In CJR, Tow Center Editor Sam Thielman examines the motley crew of first amendment cases on which journalists rely. He finds that the latest press freedom case, against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, may require reporters concerned about a free press to stand behind the embattled—and now imprisoned—activist, as odious as his conduct has often been.

READ All Our Righteous Scumbags
In the News and At Large
Acclaimed novelist Cory Doctorow examines Sharon Ringel and Angela Woodall's report on the urgency of news archiving at his news site, BoingBoing, in an article called "News organizations have all but abandoned their archives." Calling the report "an excellent, well-researched report and paints an alarming picture of the erosion of the institutional memories of news organizations," Doctorow quotes the report at length and writes that it "sounds an alarm about the ability of our descendants to make sense of our age."
Read Doctorow on Ringel and Woodall

For WIRED, futurist Bruce Sterling drew attention to the report, as well, noting ruefully that "Yeah, the blog here isn’t exactly inscribed in platinum," either.
Research and Analysis of Note
  • An eye-popping report by NBC News covered some 4,000 pages of leaked Facebook documents that demonstrated CEO Mark Zuckerberg's penchant for using the data collected with his billion-user platform to reward advertisers and punish competitors; it also appears to have downranked tech publication Wired in retaliation for an unflattering cover story featuring a cover illustration of Zuckerberg looking like he'd gone three rounds with Mike Tyson. The company, which is notable for its track record of dissembling to the press, blamed a mis-categorized advertisement.

  • Carlos d'Andrea and André Mintz, researchers at Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, propose transcending the language barrier with Google's new Vision API, an interface that allows users to search for instances of an image across the publicly available sites Google crawls. More sophisticated than a simple reverse-image search, the Vision API calls back specific locations, partial images, and altered images, and provides a reasonable guess at the photo's contents based on machine-learning analysis. Using news footage from the World Cup for an article published in USC Annenberg's scholarly International Journal of Communication, the pair observe that their findings "shed light on Google's role as an active mediator" of the content it indexes and provides to users.
  • And, of course, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on interference by Russian intelligence in the 2016 election has been released with redactions by President Trump's attorney general William Barr, who held a truncated press conference preceding the release of the report in which reporters accused him of "spinning" the Special Counsel's findings. Author and academic Thomas Rid graciously ran optical character recognition on the document and posted a link to a searchable version of the Mueller report, which can be found here. Readers interested in coverage of the coverage can visit the Columbia Journalism Review's liveblog; for analysis of the report itself, which deals with several media reports including the Steele Dossier and coverage of the Clinton Campaign and DNC's stolen emails, analyst Marcy Wheeler's blog Emptywheel comes highly recommended.


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