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We’re back! After a late summer hiatus to dig deeper into ongoing research projects–and to exhale–the Tow Center for Digital Journalism is excited to return to publishing our weekly newsletter featuring the latest work from our Fellows across the globe, events from the digital media industry, and important storiesshaping our research and readers. As always, if you have any feedback or questions, or would like to learn more about the Tow Center’s resources for journalists, media scholars and data scientists: reach out!

In the meantime, here’s some of the exciting projects and research our Fellows have produced over the summer. Plus, stories you may have missed across the digital media, local journalism, and misinformation landscapes!

  • Tow Fellow Christopher Ali’s forthcoming book, “Farm Fresh Broadband” is now available for pre-order for its release on Sept. 21. The book is “an analysis of the failure of U.S. broadband policy to solve the rural-urban digital divide, with a proposal for a new national rural broadband plan.” Back in 2019, Ali wrote an op-ed in the New York Times outlining the initial arguments for what would become “Farm Fresh Broadband.” In the book, “Ali argues that rural broadband policy is both broken and incomplete: broken because it lacks coordinated federal leadership and incomplete because it fails to recognize the important roles of communities, cooperatives, and local providers in broadband access.” His solution? “Democratizing policy architecture for rural broadband, modeling it after the wiring of rural America for electricity and telephony.” You can pre-order your copy here!

  • New Tow report alert: “Covering COVID-19 with automated news.” In early August, Tow Fellow Samuel Danzon-Chambaud published a report exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic presented newsrooms with “the perfect story to automate.” In many ways though, he found that not all newsrooms embraced the opportunity to engage in computational journalism to tell the story of the virus. After dissecting this research into how newsrooms across the globe attempted to automate their COVID-19 coverage, Danzon-Chambaud points to “the importance for media practitioners to be able to solve problems through applying computing a newsroom setting.”  

  • Susan McGregor, former assistant director of the Tow Center and a current researcher at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, was quoted in a Guardian article breaking down “Chris Cuomo’s ethical troubles at CNN,” and the “rise of info-tainment.” The piece dove into how, over the summer, Chris Cuomo’s entanglements with his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, constituted not only a serious breach of ethical violations, but also served as a bellwether of a broader shift in cable news moving from straight news reporting to anchor-driven commentary. Such a shift, the article argues, is a contributor to the general decline of trust in journalism. As McGregor summarized it: “I don’t think everything at CNN is tainted, but they need to be more transparent. What really claiming the prestige of an ethical standard, while simultaneously subverting it.” 

  • In July, NPR announced a series of updates to its ethics and social media policies to include guidelines on how journalists may (or may not) participate in certain types of political engagement and activism. “It’s OK For Journalists to Demonstrate (Sometimes),” writes Kelly McBride, NPR public editor and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at The Poynter Institute. The post came on the heels of a year in which several journalists were fired from their jobs or otherwise reprimanded by newsroom leadership over opaque and ambiguous social media policies. These policies (or lack thereof), which have led to debates across the industry over best practices for social media usage, personal activism, and online harassment. 

  • In honor of the Internet Archive’s 25th birthday, technology and IT news publication NextGov outlined the importance of archiving the internet (namely through publicly sourced tools such as the Wayback Machine). In the late summer article, writes NextGov, “we strengthen collective memory by preserving materials that document the cultural heritage of society, including on the web.” To bolster this argument, the piece highlighted Tow’s 2019 report, “A Public Record at Risk: The Dire State of News Archiving in the Digital Age.” In the report, Tow researchers conclude that journalists and newsrooms need a “wake up call” to the risks of losing precious records of journalism, data reporting, and other digitally archived information. 

  • A report from NewsGuard, a website and tool that rates the trustworthiness of news, found that, “Top brands are sending $2.6 billion to misinformation websites each year.” The explanation for such explosive spending on news and sites that NewsGuard rates as untrustworthy? “These articles tend to generate significant engagement online—and articles containing false information are often promoted by social media algorithms that are designed to maximize engagement and advertising revenue, not accuracy and consumer safety online.” In short, misinformation is cheap to produce, which makes it a no brainer for automated advertising. With that, NewsGuard suggests that one of the more effective ways to fight misinformation is to make it “less lucrative.” Such low-cost and lo-fi news at the local level has been documented extensively by the Tow Center.  

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