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Upcoming Events


Mapping Issues with the Web: An Introduction to Digital Methods

How can digital traces be used to understand issues and map controversies? Presenters: Liliana Bounegru and Jonathan Gray

Tuesday, September 23, 5-6:30

RSVP Required Via Eventbrite

Liliana Bounegru and Jonathan Gray

Liliana Bounegru and Jonathan Gray

On the occasion of Bruno Latour’s visit to Columbia University, this presentation will show participants how to operationalize his seminal Actor-Network Theory using digital data and methods in the service of social and cultural research.

Participants will be introduced to some of the digital methods and tools developed at the University of Amsterdam and Sciences Po over the past decade and how they have been used to generate insights around a wide variety of topics, from human rights to extremism, global health to climate change.

Professor Bruno Latour will provide a short response to this presentation and join the subsequent discussion.

Liliana Bounegru and Jonathan Gray collaborated to produce the popular, prescient ‘Data Journalism Handbook‘, published in 2012. They are currently working on a new project exploring how journalists can use new digital tools and methods developed by social science researchers to transform coverage of complex issues and events – using the Paris 2015 climate negotiations as a case study.

Please RSVP via Eventbrite

Announcements, announcements-home

Behind ProPublica’s “Losing Ground”


Behind ProPublica’s “Losing Ground”

Today, almost nine years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, ProPublica is launching “Losing Ground,” a mixed media piece that shows the erosion of the Louisiana coastline using maps, photographs, text, a timeline, and audio interviews of residents.

The piece relies heavily on satellite imagery and is the product of a unique collaboration between ProPublica, a New York based newsroom and The Lens, a public interest newsroom based in New Orleans. The project also represents a first for the Tow Center, which helped to train journalists at ProPublica in remote sensing techniques as part of its extensive Sensor Newsroom research program, which was a Tow-Knight research project.  It is the first time the Tow Center has collaborated directly with a newsroom as part of its field research.

Tow’s Sensor Newsroom research, led by Fergus Pitt, has been multi-fold. This past February, the Tow Center taught the ProPublica team the fundamental physics of remote sensing, key concepts of temporal and spatial resolution, and did some practical exercises to analyze ground moisture levels. This was followed by the release of the report “Sensors and Journalism,” which covers everything from the legal dimensions of using sensors to case studies of newsrooms across the country.  This summer, Columbia was the first J-School in the country to offer a course, the Sensor Newsroom, to teach students how to use sensor technology to enrich their reporting and storytelling abilities.

Accompanying “Drowning Louisiana” is a case study Propublica, Satellites, and the Shrinking Louisiana Coast,” by Pitt detailing the technical process behind the production of the piece.




Since Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans and the bayous of Louisiana have become part of the American cultural imagination. The HBO series Treme depicts the lives of characters in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The film the Beasts of the Southern Wild is about a young girl in a fictional bayou community (affectionately called “the bathtub”) that is almost wiped out by a storm and subsequent salt-water erosion.  The novel Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward chronicles one family’s struggle during the ten days preceding Hurricane Katrina.

There is one constant in the lives of these characters: the persistent fear of flooding, of erasure.

In the closing chapter of Salvage the Bones, the protagonist reflects, “She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”

Yet, nothing captures the reality of this fear as well as “Drowning Louisiana.” As you hover over maps showing the land loss between 1930 and 2010, the affect is chilling. This is no longer a potentiality, but rather inevitability. In audio clips, residents describe hometowns that have already been swallowed up by the Gulf of Mexico.

“ProPublica’s remote sensing work is a great example of how reporters have all these powerful new tools at their disposal. The Sensors + Journalism report we just released shows how they’re used by other top newsrooms and gives readers an overview of how to think about them,” says Pitt.

Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center says, “Through the Tow Knight research projects we have been building a type of research methodology into digital journalism which investigates emerging practices and technologies and encourages collaboration with newsrooms.  Ultimately we want to be a place where academics, practitioners and students can learn together through actual application of new techniques and and then share the findings with the broader journalism community.”

An upcoming research project by Tow will introduce virtual reality technology to newsrooms in New York in order to create vivid experiences of current affairs.

Read more about the editorial decisions and satellite imagery in “Losing Ground” in a Q&A with Scott Klein and Al Shaw of ProPublica. 

Interested in participating in or proposing research relating to emerging technology, newsrooms, or new media? Send an e-mail to

Announcements, announcements-home, Events

Upcoming Events


All-Class Lecture: The New Global Journalism

Tuesday, Sep. 30, 2014, 6:00pm

(Lecture Hall)

Based on a new report from the Tow Center, a panel discussion on how digital technology and social media have changed the work of journalists covering international events. #CJSACL

Panelists include report co-authors: 

Ahmed Al OmranSaudi Arabia correspondent at The Wall Street Journal

Burcu BaykurtPh.D. candidate in Communications at Columbia Journalism School

Jessie GrahamSenior Multimedia Producer at Human Rights Watch

Kelly Golnoush NiknejadEditor-in-Chief at Tehran Bureau

Program will be moderated by Dean of Academic Affairs, Sheila Coronel

Event begins at 6 PM

RSVP is requested at

Announcements, announcements-home, Events

Upcoming Tow Event: Just Between You and Me?


Just between you and me?

(Pulitzer Hall – 3rd Floor Lecture Hall)

In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, digital privacy has become more than just a hot topic, especially for journalists. Join us for a conversation about surveillance, security and the ways in which “protecting your source” means something different today than it did just a few years ago. And, if you want to learn some practical, hands-on digital security skills—including tools and techniques relevant to all journalists, not just investigative reporters on the national security beat—stick around to find out what the Tow Center research fellows have in store for the semester.

The event will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, August 25th in the 3rd Floor Lecture Hall of Pulitzer Hall. We welcome and encourage all interested students, faculty and staff to attend.

Announcements, Events, Past Events, Research

Digital Security and Source Protection For Journalists: Research by Susan McGregor



The law and technologies that govern the functioning of today’s digital communication systems have dramatically affected journalists’ ability to protect their sources.  This paper offers an overview of how these legal and technical systems developed, and how their intersection exposes all digital communications – not just those of journalists and their sources – to scrutiny. Strategies for reducing this exposure are explored, along with recommendations for individuals and organizations about how to address this pervasive issue.







Order a (bound) printed copy.

Comments, questions & contributions are welcome on the version-controlled text, available as a GitBook here:



Digital Security for Journalists A 21st Century Imperative

The Law: Security and Privacy in Context

The Technology: Understanding the Infrastructure of Digital Communications

The Strategies: Understanding the Infrastructure of Digital Communications

Looking Ahead



Announcements, Events, Past Events, Research, The Tow Center

Tow Center Program Defends Journalism From the Threat of Mass Surveillance


Knight Foundation supports Journalism After Snowden to ensure access to information and promote journalistic excellence. Below, Jennifer Henrichsen, a research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, and Taylor Owen, research director, write about the expansion of the program.

We’ve long known that it’s easy to kill the messenger. Journalists are murdered all around the world for speaking truth to power. But, it wasn’t until recently that we realized how mass surveillance is killing source confidentiality, and with it, the very essence of journalism. By taking away the ability to protect sources—the lifeblood of journalism—surveillance can silence journalists without prosecutions or violence. Understanding the implications of state surveillance for the practice of journalism is the focus of our project, Journalism After Snowden.

We’re in an age of mass surveillance and it’s expanding. Metadata can reveal journalists’ sources without requiring officials to obtain a subpoena. Intelligence agencies can tap into undersea cables to capture encrypted traffic. Mobile devices, even when powered off, can be remotely accessed to record conversations. The extent of manipulation and penetration of the technology that journalists rely on to communicate with their sources makes it difficult—if not impossible—for journalists to truly protect them. And without reasonable assurances of protection, sources will invariably dry up, cutting off a supply of information about government wrongdoing which for more than a century has been a critical balance of power in democratic governance. And journalism without sources is not journalism at all; it’s public relations for the powerful.

So what can we do? With generous funding from The Tow Foundation and Knight Foundation, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School seeks to address what we think are three core challenges facing journalism in the age of state surveillance.

First, more journalists and news organizations need to take source protection seriously. They need to conduct risk assessments and embrace digital security tools and techniques. They need to arm themselves with knowledge of their legal rights—or lack thereof—and conduct a thorough audit of how the technology platforms they use retain and release data. And more news organizations should consider implementing technologies likeSecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system, which enables media organizations to more securely accept documents from anonymous sources.

Second, we need to strengthen collaboration between journalists and technologists. Bridging this professional divide is critical to ensuring journalists can reach out to trusted technologists for expertise and technologists can better understand the challenges that journalists face and create more user-friendly tools that address their needs. Journalists also need to be more skeptical when problems with their devices arise. Rather than immediately running to the Apple store to wipe their devices (which can actually hide the problem), journalists should enlist technologists to help determine if there is a more sinister cause than simple equipment malfunction. Researchers and technologists also need to join together to develop a system to collect and anonymize data showing digital attacks against journalists so researchers can analyze these attacks, ascertain potential trends and identify possible solutions.

Third, journalist educators and journalism schools need to discuss how to integrate digital security curricula into their classrooms. Currently, most journalism professors provide ad hoc digital security education—if they do at all. Digital security education needs to become more mainstream in journalism classrooms to ensure emerging journalists are cognizant of the real risks they and their sources face in this changing environment, and to foster the confidence they need to better protect both.

The Journalism After Snowden Project seeks to contribute high-quality conversations and research to strengthen the national debate around state surveillance and freedom of expression. The initiative will feature a yearlong series of events, research projects and articles that we will publish in coordination with Columbia Journalism Review, and it will forge new partnerships with the individuals and organizations that are already doing great work in this space. These will include: a workshop bringing together technologists and journalists in San Francisco, a public lecture by Glenn Greenwald; a lecture series in partnership with the Yale Information Society Project; an edited volume likely to be published by Columbia University Press; a poll on the digital security practices of investigative journalists to be published with Pew Research Center; several research reports on digital security teaching and training for journalists; and a conference on national security reporting in Washington, D.C.

By tackling these challenges together, we’ll help to prevent the death of journalism at the hands of mass surveillance and ensure journalism after Snowden is stronger, not weaker.


Summer Sensor Newsroom Opens at the Tow Center


The Tow Center has launched the Tow Center Sensor Newsroom, a new seminar exploring how to use sensor data in journalism. Led by Tow Fellow Fergus Pitt, the intensive, 9am to 5pm, four-week lab is co-taught by industry professionals. The following are this year’s participants:

  • Seth Berkman
  • Matt Collette
  • Olivia Feld
  • Julien Alexandre Gathelier
  • Robert Helmut Hackett
  • Salma Magdy Amer
  • Elizaveta Malykhina
  • Nicholas Smith

Specialist topics are being taught by:

  • Mike Dewar (The New York Times R&D Lab)
  • John Keefe (WNYC Data News)
  • Ben Lesser (Daniel Pearl Award winner, New York Daily News, True Politics)
  • Lela Prashad ( & NASA Satellite Sensing)
  • Kio Stark (WNYC Data News, OpenNews Source)
  • Julie Steele & Kipp Bradford (Data Sensing Lab)

Participants will report stories using a variety of sensor reporting methods, including custom prototypes, satellites, and official sources. The course will combine practice, theory and collaboration, drawing on techniques and ideas from recent stories run by innovative digital news rooms. We’ll also cover the legal and ethical issues triggered by sensor reporting; from the intellectual property and uncertainty questions to the privacy and surveillance considerations.

As data journalism rapidly becomes mainstream, more of our world is covered in sensors and the technical ability to use sensors permeates news rooms. Sensor-reported stories have already won grant funding and Pulitzer Prizes. But it’s a small, specialist world at the moment and people thinking about this area now will be set to make breakthroughs in the coming years.

At the end of the lab, participants will have produced innovative work. They will gain experience across the current landscape of sensors and understand the various kinds of stories that journalists have produced using sensors. We will be providing updates throughout the summer. Follow the class on Twitter #TowSense.



Tow Center and Brown Institute Award Anne Ponton Waldman the Brown/Tow Award for Excellence in Computational Journalism


The Tow Center and Brown Institute for Media Innovation have awarded Columbia Journalism School student Anne Ponton Waldman their first-ever Brown/Tow Award for Excellence in Computational Journalism at Journalism Day, May 20, 2014.

Sponsored by the  Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Brown Institute for Media Innovation, the annual award honors work that makes exceptional use of computation in the service of journalism or makes an extraordinary contribution to our understanding of how data, code and algorithms change the nature of reporting. Waldman won for her master’s project, Between the Walls, which examined parole. 

Waldman created R code to scrape and clean data from the Parole Board website, and merge it with other data sets from the Department of Corrections.

“With my comprehensive data set, I provided an in-depth look at the parole board that had not been publicly analyzed before, as the New York State Parole Board officially states that they do not track statistics on parole releases related to variables such as age, race, or sentence,” wrote Waldman in her submission to the award committee.

The $2,000 award is awarded to a graduating M.S. or M.A. student at Columbia Journalism School. Waldman is in the M.S. dual-degree program with Columbia Journalism School and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“Working on this project and more generally learning about data journalism at Columbia has not only provided me with some pretty righteous coding skills, it has redefined that way I approach stories. In our quantified world where our digital footprint is producing data with every email, phone call, and movement, I believe it’s irresponsible to not try to open and understand the data that we are creating. In data, we could find some answers and of course uncertainty, but ultimately, in that data, we as journalists will find stories.

Lauren Mack is the Research Associate at the Tow Center. Follow her on Twitter @lmack.


We’re Hiring: Tow Center Seeks Tow Center Administrator


The Tow Center is accepting applications for an Administrator at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

The incumbent will work closely with Tow Center Director Emily Bell and the Associate Research Director on the management of grant funds, research support for Tow projects, and day-to-day administrative tasks related to the grants, the Tow website, and Tow events.

Duties include:

  • Manage grant funds and process. Manage spending and ensures compliance with terms and restrictions for ongoing, proposed and new initiatives. Work closely with PI’s, funders, finance and budget managers to review budget proposals, submissions and revisions. Write and review grant proposals and reports.
  • Conduct research and support the research efforts of the Center. Organize and manage research files.
  • Manage planning and logistics for Tow Center events.
  • Manage website updates and functionality.
  • Perform related administrative duties for the Center.

Read more about the position and apply here.

Columbia University is an equal opportunity employer committed to creating and supporting a community diverse in every way: race, ethnicity, geography, religion, academic and extracurricular interest, family circumstance, sexual orientation, socio-economic background and more.

Minimum qualifications include bachelor’s degree, experience in administration, knowledge of journalism, digital media or emerging technologies, strong organizational skills and desire to engage in the research process. Experience with budget software, spreadsheets and financial management are preferred.


How Do You Measure Impact? Take Our Brief Survey


The NewsLynx research team is looking for journalists and newsrooms to complete a short survey on how you and your newsroom measure impact. The survey results are part of the research sample foe Tow Fellows Brian Abelson, Stijn Debrouwere, and Michael Keller’s Tow Center research project, NewsLynx.

Over the next year, the trio is embarking on a Tow Center research project to investigate what newsrooms see as useful measures of impact and what a helpful “impact measurement platform” might look like. To do this, they are building a platform over the next few months that will help newsrooms measure, record, and report relevant events they consider “impactful.” They’re calling it NewsLynx. Once its ready for launch, the team will give it to interested newsrooms and observe:

1. How they measure impact, e.g. what kinds of taxonomies they tend toward, what events they consider most impactful.
2. How this kind of platform helps newsrooms fulfill their institutional goals.

The platform will be open to anyone (just fill out this survey and select “Yes” to the last question). By filling out the survey you can help the research team better determine what questions to ask in their research and which features to add to their platform (if you would like to use NewsLynx the only thing you have to do is provide contact details in the final section of this survey).

For more details on the project, read the research team’s introductory blog post, email is, or you can sign up for updates at

Brian Abelson, Stijn Debrouwere, and Michael Keller are Tow Fellow working on the Tow Center’s NewsLynx project at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The NewsLynx project is a project made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The NewsLynx project seeks to create an platform for media organizations to document the short and long-term impact of investigative news stories by combining automated metrics with flexible tools for capturing qualitative insights.​ Follow Brian Abelson on Twitter @brianabelson, Stijn Debrouwere on Twitter @stdbrouw, and follow Michael Keller on Twitter @mhkeller To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen:

Lauren Mack is the Tow Center Research Associate. Follow her on Twitter @lmack.