News from the Tow Center
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New research, new events, and new publications from the Tow Center
The Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Knight First Amendment Institute hosted an evening devoted to data journalism and the law on Tuesday, Jan. 29th. Tow Fellow Victoria Baranetsky, general counsel at The Center for Investigative Reporting and author of the Tow Center's recent report Data Journalism and the Law, interviewed Buzzfeed's Jason Leopold about cases involving the Freedom of Information Act and moderated a discussion on how laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act affect data journalists' ability to pursue stories in the public interest. 
On Friday, February 1st, the Tow Center and the Committee to Protect Journalists hosted a half-day symposium to discuss the best research and guides related to digital media and press freedom in China in the era of big tech. Tow Center Researchers Mia Shuang Li and Emilie Xie presented preliminary research results on the WeChat-based “self media” phenomenon and the black box news personalization algorithms of China’s leading news aggregators, respectively. Li, Xie, and Tow founding director Emily Bell moderated panel discussions between authorities on Chinese press freedom and the opportunities and perils of contemporary technology in a Chinese context.
New Research from the Tow Center
A new Tow report on blockchain in journalism summarizes the possible journalistic applications for cryptocurrency and blockchain, from creating verifiable records to serving as an aid for editorial and sales teams. Tow Fellow Bernat Ivancsics addresses the overlapping definitions of blockchain—whether it functions as a decentralized record of cryptocurrency transactions, a network of computers, or an add-on-only database—to demystify the technology and identify possible use cases for media organizations. 
New Episode of Tricky with Emily Bell and Heather Chaplin
Catch up on Tricky, a podcast about the future of journalism co-hosted by Tow's founding director Emily Bell and the New School's Heather Chaplin. On the latest episode: How do we measure the reach and impact of journalism? Does audience data belong in the newsroom? Chris Moran, The Guardian’s strategic projects editor, talks to Emily about building analytics tools for journalists, navigating misleading numbers, and working in a newsroom that is “data-driven, but not data-led.”
In the News and At Large
Since 2004, about 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States—approximately 1,800—have gone out of business or merged and hundreds more have drastically cut back local coverage. Emily Bell and Tow Center fellow Sam Ford were featured in a webinar produced by Media Impact Funders on what funders can do to keep local news alive. 

Sam Ford and Joe Karaganis found evidence that political polarization doesn't have to be a self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecy. Their work—which drew on data from the "purple" college town of Bowling Green, Kentucky—appeared in Slate

Nieman Lab covered Jacob Nelson's work on researchers struggling to characterize Fox News.

Susan McGregor, assistant director of the Tow Center, spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations' inaugural Local Journalism Workshop. Her session focused on trends in disinformation and practical ways journalists can build trust with news consumers.
In The Columbia Journalism Review
What is Fox News? Researchers want to know
by Jacob Nelson
Is Fox News partisan news—or outright propaganda? Nelson asks his fellow researchers this question, and others about the criteria they use to study today's complicated media landscape, for CJR.

Facebook should treat the cause, not the symptoms, of journalism’s plight
by Emily Bell

Bell argues that the hundreds of millions of dollars Facebook is devoting to reporting and business model development will be wasted unless the major tech companies commit to providing a better information environment.
Research and Analysis of Note
  • Thursday was, unfortunately, Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Day for Facebook, which announced not one but two influence campaigns detected and—hopefully—deleted by the tech platform's team. One, believed to be the work of the Saracen Group in Indonesia, was allegedly coordinating hate speech and fake news ahead of that country's presidential election on April 9. The other, apparently directed from Iran and focused across the Middle East, disseminated propaganda and tens of thousands of dollars in advertising, according to Facebook's blog post. Some of the content was anti-semitic in nature.
  • On Tuesday TechCrunch reported that Facebook had paid users as young as 13 to install a VPN that sent detailed information about every aspect of their phone usage to the company. Rather than use Apple's App store, which would have involved an approvals process, Facebook "side-loaded" the program on to the users' iPhones with the enterprise software certificate Apple had granted the company to develop its apps for iOS. Shortly after the TechCrunch report hit, Apple revoked Facebook's enterprise certificate; its consumer apps available through the Apple store still work, but the tech platform's developers couldn't use internal versions of the company's products at all any more. On Thursday, Apple restored the certificate. Apple punished Google in an identical way for the same infractions.

    "It’s nowhere in his job description, but Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has recently taken a moonlight gig as Facebook’s privacy watchdog," wrote the New York Times's Kevin Roose.
  • Reuters revealed last week that former NSA contractors had been recruited by the United Arab Emirates to "[hack] into the iPhones of hundreds of activists, political leaders and suspected terrorists" including American citizens and Guardian journalist Rori Donaghy, whose piece critical of the UAE in the newspaper in 2012 attracted the attention of the clandestine group. An operative posing as a human rights activist "convinced Donaghy to download software he claimed would make messages 'difficult to trace'"—malware that the UAE team used to monitor him.

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