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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 Native Advertising
By Ava Sirrah, Ph.D. candidate, Columbia University Journalism School
Sirrah, formerly of the New York Times's native advertising unit, T Brand Studio, writes a thorough guide piercing the jargon and questioning the long-term effects of the monstrously popular trend toward native in the teetering world of digital journalism. In her work, she interviews more than 30 current and former advertising professionals, many of whom go on the record to discuss the practice of crafting native advertising and their own concerns that such work may ultimately erode the confidence of the public in newsrooms writ large.
New Projects, Forthcoming from the Tow Center
The Tow Center has commissioned three new projects, focusing on the intersection of journalism and technology in a changing digital and economic landscape, from three teams of preeminent researchers.
  • Sarah Stonbely, Jesse Holcomb, and Matthew S. Weber will work to map the local news ecosystems for the state of New Jersey (N=650), culminating in 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. Crucially, the project will map these ecosystems using organic local journalism boundaries, rather than state lines or municipal borders.
  • Andrea Wenzel and Letrell Crittenden will explores whether increased inclusivity of local news has potential to contribute to greater sustainability. Cases will include a majority Black and Brown suburban area of Chicago, a majority Republican Pennsylvania town where 30% of residents are of color, and a Black-owned radio station in Philadelphia which has received support from Facebook’s Community Network program. The study will assess local information needs and convene workshops where stakeholders can brainstorm follow-up interventions.
  • Irene McKisson, Becky Pallack, and Jeannine Relly will test and evaluate membership as a new audience-first revenue stream for their digital brand #ThisIsTucson — adding this to our existing audience-first revenue streams including live events, sponsored content, and merchandise. They hope to demonstrate a new, sustainable business model for our local-level news organization, the Arizona Daily Star.
In the Columbia Journalism Review
Is Facebook really concerned about privacy?
by Himanshu Gupta
Why would Facebook, which earns almost all of its revenue from advertising, choose to adopt an apparently anti-advertising technology like end-to-end encryption? Gupta, formerly of Tencent's wildly popular messaging app WeChat, examines the potential business strategy behind the shift to closed networks

Apple News is excluding local newsrooms from its coveted traffic bump
by Nicholas Diakopoulos
The Apple News algorithm is privileging news content from national outlets over the outlets that break the story, even if the national outlet is aggregating the work of the smaller newsroom. Diakopoulos found that 20 percent of Apple News's sources made up 76 percent of the app's Top Stories and 84 percent of its Trending Stories.

Facebook’s proposal to license news signifies a change
By Emily Bell
A recent announcement from Facebook—that it plans to syndicate news stories on its app—has set off a train of “What does it mean for journalism?” questions. But the most pertinent question is what this move signals for Facebook: That the firm continues to take part in the slow, forced integration of news into large tech companies.
In the News and At Large
Tow Center Digital Forensics Initiative director Jonathan Albright told Axios that officials and press should be alert to the likelihood of increased disinformation on Instagram as the 2020 presidential campaigns kick into high gear. The news came as part of an investigation into a false account of a shooting in Odessa, TX. The lie appears to have been constructed with close attention paid to the content controls on Twitter and Instagram, Albright explained to Axios.

Across the pond, Tow Center director Emily Bell examines Facebook's UK-centric journalism endeavor, Project Neon, in the "Silicon Fen" of Cambridge, and finds that it is remarkably similar to the US's Project Compass. "It is heartening to see that there is a great deal of policy energy and both corporate and civic concern for what comes next in news. It is also important to keep an eye on the jousting between the privately-funded initiatives, such as Project Neon, and the public policy developments such as Ofcom’s forthcoming report on public service broadcasting," Bell writes. "Call me a cynic but the two might just be related."
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