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Research Assistant
Christopher Ali of the University of Virginia and Hilde Van den Bulck of Drexel University are looking for a graduate research assistant for their project on PBS and trust, funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. They are looking for someone with experience gathering and analyzing cross sectional survey data. This includes survey design in Qualtrics, data-cleaning and data analysis. This position will work best for someone who is comfortable working independently and remotely.

Learn more and view the full job description here.

Community-Centered Journalism: Book Launch Panel
As we grapple with the crisis facing local journalism, this discussion will explore what kind of local news we need to build to increase public trust in journalism. We’ll get a preview of a new book by Tow fellow, Andrea Wenzel, that makes the case for community-centered journalism using case studies from around the U.S. And we’ll learn about three efforts doing work that seek to center and share power with communities—collaborating with newsrooms, as community organizers, or providing service journalism that directly addresses the needs of residents.

Find more information about the book here.

Moderator: Andrea Wenzel


Sarah Alvarez, Founder and Executive Editor of Outlier Media,

Alicia Bell, Free Press’ News Voices Organizing Manager

jesikah maria ross, Senior Community Engagement Strategist at Capital Public Radio.

Find more information and register here.
Help us understand life at small market local newspapers
Tow Fellow Damian Radcliffe has launched an online survey
 focused on the experience of local newspapers in the United States. The survey builds on Damian’s earlier research for the Tow Center in 2016-17, enabling us to see what’s changed—and what hasn’t—during the past 3-4 years. 

If you work in a small market newspaper (print circulation of 50,000 or less), or you know people that do, then please do encourage them to participate.The survey is an opportunity for us to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on local newsrooms, as well as other changes which are shaping what local newspapers do and how they do it. It takes 8-12 minutes to complete, and we will share the findings from the study later this year.

COVID-19 newsroom cutbacks tracker

The Tow Center is conducting a project to track newsroom lay-offs and cutbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have been affected or know of a newsroom that has, please add to our form. We are extremely grateful for any contributions.

Analyzing the Ages of Signatories to the Harper's Letter and The Objective's Counter-letter: A Case Study in OSINT Techniques

By Ishaan Jhaveri and Sara Sheridan

In early July, Harper’s Magazine published “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” a statement signed by 152 prominent authors decrying a “stifling” intellectual atmosphere and advocating for “the free exchange of information and ideas.” While the Harper’s letter did not mention any examples of the type of speech suppression it condemned, it came after a series of media industry controversies, most notably the resignation of a top New York Times editor over an op-ed advocating for military force on protesters. Predictable waves of support and backlash followed the publication of the piece, with voices from across journalism, academia, and Twitter opining about “the letter.” 

Days later, and to less media fanfare, a counter-letter was published in The Objective, a Substack-based newsletter focusing on “how journalism has interacted with historically-ignored communities.” The counter-letter contextualized the concerns of the original letter within the current political climate, accusing its signers of confusing “discomfort in the face of valid criticism” with an attack on the free exchange of ideas.

While much has been written about the content of the two letters, we were curious about the signatories themselves. Age in particular has been a flashpoint in recent debates about free speech and changing editorial standards, so we thought that would be a good place to start. (Age also has the advantage of being an objective and quantifiable metric, unlike more complex demographic markers like race, gender, and class.) 

We set out to find out the age of each person who signed the two letters using an open-source intelligence (OSINT) approach. OSINT, the practice of collecting data from publicly available sources, is a technique made popular recently by Bellingcat, a worldwide research collective that investigates anything from war crimes to disinformation campaigns by using information from publicly available sources and social media. 

We crystallized our findings into a basic statistical analysis and comparative visual representation of the ages of each letter’s signatories:

Harper’s Letter published on July 7th, 2020. Ages accurate as of July 10, 2020.

Harper’s Letter Statistics:
Total Signatories: 152
Named Signatories: 152
Signatories Represented Above: 136 (89.5% of Total)
Mean Age: 59
Median Age: 60
Min Age: 24
Max Age: 91
Mode Age: 70 (8)
(note sample size ≠ population size, so min, max and mode might not be correct)

The Objective’s Counter Letter published on July 10th, 2020. Ages accurate as of July 14, 2020.

The Objective’s Letter Statistics:
Total Signatories: 164
Named Signatories: 139
Signatories Represented Above: 111 (79.9% of Named Population, 67.7% of Total)
Mean Age: 33
Median Age: 31
Min Age: 19
Max Age: 56
Mode Age: 27 & 30 (8)
(note sample size ≠ population size, so min, max and mode might not be correct)

A description of our methodology and results, as well as a necessary discussion of the legal and privacy implications of such research, can be found on Medium. 

  • I don’t think it was any more complicated than that Trump was good for ratings,” one former CNN executive told Digiday regarding the potential end of the “Trump Bump.” While conventional wisdom says Trump has “juiced ratings for cable news outlets and traffic for online publishers,” the last four years have also seen major structural changes in media companies “as the Facebook-infused traffic era and ‘pivot to video’ came to a close.” 

  • In an interview about their book Design Justice, MIT Associate Professor of Civic Media Sasha Costanza-Chock, “builds the case for designers and researchers to make the communities they impact co-equal partners in the products, services, and organizations they create.”

  • Last Thursday, Facebook removed a video posted by President Trump that contained misinformation about children’s immunity to the coronavirus, signaling a potential move towards a more hands-on approach to censoring the President. Meanwhile, internal documents show that Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for other conservative pages in an effort to address political bias accusations from the right.
Copyright © 2020 Tow Center for Digital Journalism, All rights reserved.

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