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News from the Tow Center
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New research, new events, and new publications
from the Tow Center
New Research
A Guide to OSINT
By Michael Edison Hadyen, Investigative Reporter, the Southern Poverty Law Center
Hayden, a former Newsweek reporter and open-source intelligence (OSINT) analyst for Storyful, writes an engaging and lay-reporter friendly guide to the art of mining the internet for scoops, working around uninformative search tools on social media, and interacting with hostile communities. Hayden examines networks in wide use and obscure forums and sites frequented by extremists; he provides deep detail and a large dose of common sense, especially in a final section on personal safety and digital security necessary for anyone seeking to plumb the internet's darker depths.

The Audience in the Mind's Eye: How Journalists Imagine Their Readers
By Tow Center Fellow James Robinson, The New York Times
In an engagingly written literature review that covers the history of journalism throughout the twentieth century, Robinson examines our preconceptions about our readers: Who they are, what they want, and how we can serve them. From the New York Daily News's "Tell it to Sweeney!" campaign to the birth of complex, digitally driven audience metrics, Robinson compares what the writers who fill column-inches can know about their readers with what they will know, and finds that the two are very different. Following the literature review, Robinson conducts a fascinating study of education reporters in New York City, asking them pointed questions about the identities of their readers and discovering that the same combination of folk wisdom, institutional identity, and informal polls of friends and family that drove reporters in the middle of the 20th century still inform them today—grand leaps forward in research or no.
Recent Events at the Tow Center
A panel discussion on the Reuters Digital News Report 2019 findings with Marcus Mabry (CNN), LaToya Drake (Google), Kadia Tubman (Yahoo! News), and  Francesco Marconi (WSJ), moderated by Tow's director Emily Bell. Click for video.
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford launched its Digital News Report for 2019—the biggest study of its kind about digital media consumption—at The Tow Center on June 17. Drawing on 75,000 respondents in 38 markets, the Digital News Report 2019 offers up-to-date insights on how people find news and use media. Some of the findings were shocking:
  • Reader revenue, even among people who are happy to pay for access to news media, remains very low. Few people buy more than one subscription, and half of all US news subscriptions go to three news organizastions: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
  • "Private messaging apps and Facebook groups are becoming a more important way to share discuss news," wrote the report's authors. "WhatsApp is being used heavily for news in countries like Brazil (53%) and South Africa (49%), making these countries potentially more vulnerable to the spread of misinformation."
  • Rising populist movements prefer television. "[W]hen it comes to news, those with populist attitudes prefer offline news use – especially TV. Of those with populist attitudes [which the study defines] 46% say that television is their main source of news, compared to 40% of those without. This preference is stronger for commercial television outlets, but weaker for public service broadcasters. Indeed, public service media have been a particular target for negative attacks from populists as their influence has grown in recent years."
Our research methods workshop
The Tow Center and the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds hosted a two-day event on research methods at the Brown Institute in June—a sequel of sorts to last year's successful joint event with Leeds on the same topic. With presentations explaining how to craft a project for the Tow Center, how to conduct a focus group, and how to analyze social networks, the event went beyond even last year's ambitious slate with "IRL" research methods detailed alongside their digital counterparts. Breakout sessions led by researchers from the Tow Center and its roster of past and present fellows gave participants a chance to refine their research projects.
In the Columbia Journalism Review
Social media giants are restricting research vital to journalism
by Jeff Hemsley, fellow
Hemsley, whose work at the Syracuse University iSchool tracks politicians across social media, writes with concern about the increased restrictions on work like that of himself and his colleagues, which have become industry standard in the wake of embarrassing revelations like the Cambridge Analytica scandal. At first far too lenient with a user base of moneyed clients, Facebook and Twitter are now far too locked-down to the general public, especially researchers and the journalists who rely on them to do the difficult work that feeds into stories about misbehavior and clandestine influence in the new public square.

Raphael Satter on brilliant spies, terrible spies, and "medium" spies
by Sam Thielman, editor
In this latest in the Tow Center's series focusing on forensic journalists of note, Raphael Satter describes his work interviewing flamboyant characters working at cross purposes in the shadowy world of security services. "I’d much rather write a story about how a woman was surprised by Russian hackers masquerading as Isis hackers while she was having a bubble bath in her Colorado bathtub than about an unsecured AWS server," the Associated Press reporter says. "That’s why I try to find those stories."
In the News and At Large
In Tow Center founding director Emily Bell's most recent column for The Guardian, Bell makes the case for direct outreach to newsreaders by journalists, citing Robinson's report (summarized and linked above). "Community outreach is a useful way to replicate what was once achieved by much larger networks of reporters, and perhaps an increasingly necessary way to reach the great un-newsed, away from the diluting effects of social platforms," she writes.

Harvard University Press has published Automating the News: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Media by Tow Center fellow and regular columnist Nicholas Diakopoulos.

Fellows Jacob Nelson and Andrea Wenzel will edit a forthcoming issue of Journalism Practice focusing on engaged journalism. The call for papers can be read here; full papers are due September 30th, 2019 through the journal's online submission system. The issue comes in part from the ICIJ pre-conference led by Wenzel and Nelson in June; the pair reported on their series of profitable discussions among stakeholders for Tow's Medium blog.

Nelson has recently published his first article in Journalism, "The next media regime: The pursuit of ‘audience engagement’ in journalism."
We're hiring!
The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, based at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, is seeking a Program Assistant to support the work of the director and the Center. See the complete job listing for more. 
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