Tow Center Releases Phase 1 of User-Generated Content Tow Report


User-generated content (UGC) was on-air and online every day.  It was used when journalists couldn’t get there, or there was just nothing else.  Yet, very little of it is credited to its original source. These were some of the main findings of the first phase of our research into user-generated content on 24-hour news channels published by the Tow Center today.

“Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content in TV News and Online Output” is the work of Tow Fellows Claire Wardle and Sam Dubberley, along with research assistant Pete Brown. The research focused on output from eight channels: Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English, BBC World, CNN International, euronews, France 24, NHK World and TeleSUR. In total the researchers analyzed 1,100 hours of TV output and 2,254 pages from the respective online websites.

READ Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content in TV News and Online Output

The data collection was conducted over a three-week period at the end of 2013 and covered stories such as the on-going Syrian conflict, the death of Nelson Mandela, protests in Ukraine and Thailand and a helicopter crashing into the roof of a Scottish pub. Three main questions are asked in the report:

  1. How much UGC does the 24-hour news industry use online and on-air?
  2. In which types of stories is the 24-hour news industry most likely to use UGC?
  3. How does the 24-hour news industry use UGC?

i) Are photographs or videos more likely to be used?
ii) Is the content described as UGC?
iii) Is the uploader of the content credited?

These questions allow two main conclusions to be drawn at this phase of the research. First, UGC is used by news organizations daily, but only when other content is not available to tell the story. Second, news organizations are poor and inconsistent in labeling content as UGC and crediting the individual who captured the content.

Interesting results could also be drawn from a comparison between television and Web output – with more similarities than differences across the two. However, the best use of UGC was online, mostly because the Web provides opportunities for integrating UGC into news output like live blogs and topic pages.

The complete report – which will incorporate the results of in-depth interviews with over 60 global news managers and editors – is to be launched at the Tow Center’s Quantifying Journalism: Data, Metrics, and Computation on May 30, 2014.

Claire Wardle and Sam Dubberley are Tow Fellows working on the Tow Center’s AMATEUR FOOTAGE: A Global Study of User Generated Content in TV News Output at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  The Single-Subject News Network is a project made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The goal of AMATEUR FOOTAGE: A Global Study of User Generated Content in TV News Output is a global study into the integration of User Generated Content (UGC) in news output in television broadcasts and online. Follow Claire Wardle on Twitter @cward1e and follow Sam Dubberley on Twitter @samdubberley. To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen:


Submit Your Applications for the Innovation Showcase 2014


The Innovation Showcase is a public open house event where publications and the public are invited to the school to see and experience the original and innovative reporting, publishing and presentation work being done at the school, and we want *your* work to be a part of it.

The application is minimal: ~200 words describing your piece and how it is innovative, a link to the work, and a faculty contact, if applicable. The deadline for submission is April 18. Please submit your application to

The showcase will be held on May 12 and 13, and master’s projects, class projects, and pieces developed at school-related events are all welcome. We are looking for a range of media: video, audio, text, photo and visualization. We want to have a little bit of everything, so don’t worry that your piece isn’t “innovative” enough: we’re ready to be convinced! Group and individual work is eligible, and students may submit as many pieces as they like.

For more examples, take a look at projects from last year. Many of them were later published by major publications.

Selected works will be installed in the lobby, Stabile Center, and World room between 9am and 5pm on May 12, with reception and viewing from 6pm – 9pm on both May 12 & May 13. Applicants must be available to install and attend their work during these times.


Tow Center Releases Report on Video Now



The Tow Center for Digital Journalism has released a multimedia report on the state of video in journalism, “Video Now: The Form, Cost, and Effect of Video Journalism.” The report will be formally launched at a panel discussion at 6:30pm on Monday, April 14, 2014 at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. RSVP here or watch LIVE at and send your #towtalk questions via Twitter @TowCenter.


From October 2013 until February 2014, Tow Fellow Duy Linh Tu and the Video Now film crew visited newsrooms across the United States to interview and observe reporters and editors producing video journalism. Video is an important editorial tool and a potentially large revenue source for newsrooms, but there seemed to be no consensus on how to produce or profit from it. With that in mind, Video Now, set out to answer three main questions: 1) How do news organizations define video 2) How do they produce video? 3) What is their return on investment?

For this report, Video Now called and emailed more than 125 news organizations to gather information about their editorial strategies, revenue models, and measures of success. We avoided established broadcast and cable news networks. Instead, we focused on newsrooms without a long history of video production.  We wanted to explore the opportunities and challenges facing newspapers, digital-first organizations, and long-form video producers as they compete for online traffic.

We visited FRONTLINE, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, The Detroit Free Press, Mashable, NowThis News, Vice News, NPR, MediaStorm, and the Chicago Sun-Times.  We acquired data when possible – page views, plays, viewer drop-off.  In all, we interviewed, on-camera, over 40 producers, editors, and reporters involved in video production.  Each interview ranged from 30 to 90 minutes.  We spent one to two full days in each newsroom and were given complete access to shoot the day-to-day activities of these organizations..

Newsrooms were surprisingly candid on the question of revenue and return on investment.  None of the newspapers we visited are making any profit on their videos, and most describe themselves as in a state of investment and development.  These newsrooms do earn some revenue on pre-roll advertising, but they are operating at a deficit when compared to the total cost of video production.  However, at this stage, newsrooms are more focused on building their under-resourced production teams with the intention of increasing content production.  The Seattle Times only has two video editors; the Chicago Sun-Times has four multimedia producers and will be hiring four more this spring; and Mashable, a successful and influential social-focused site, only had three full-time producers when we visited them.

Video Now is divided into five sections: Purpose & Methodology, Newspapers, Digital, Long Form, and Recommendations. One caveat: video news departments iterate constantly (sometimes monthly), so the information and analysis presented here will age quickly. But, as of Spring 2014, this is an accurate look at the video strategies of leading newspapers, digital organizations, and long form video news producers.

Duy Linh Tu is a Tow Fellow working on the Tow Center’s Video Now Project at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  The Video Now Project is a project made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The goal of the Video Now Project is to examine the forms, costs, and effects of video journalism today. Follow Duy Linh Tu on Twitter @duylinhtu. To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen:


Join Us for Newsroom Spaces & Places Thursday, April 10, 2014



Tow Fellow Nikki Usher presents a panel discussion on her Tow Center Tow/Knight Project Newsroom Places and Spaces on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at noon. Her project journeys to newsrooms that show a prominent sign of an adaptation to a post-industrial world: newsrooms that have left their buildings for smaller spaces, often entirely designed around the idea of a digital-first model, or that have repurposed their space to make way for non-journalists, hoping for synergy and a way to fill empty space.

Panelists include:

  • Rick Hirsch, Managing Editor of The Miami Herald | @rickhirsch
  • Randy Brubaker, Senior News Director, Investigative Reporting, Des Moines Register | @RandyBrubaker
  • Aurora Wallace, Clinical Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University
  • Moderated by: Tow Fellow Nikki Usher | @nikkiusher

Lunch will be served. Space is limited. RSVP here.

About the Panelists:

Randy Brubaker is Senior News Director of Investigative Reporting at the Des Moines Register

Rick Hirsch is the Managing Editor of The Miami Herald.

Nikki Usher is an assistant professor at the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. Her work focuses on the intersection of news and digital change, and she uses field research to look at what news production practices can tell us about the state of the news industry both in the U.S. and internationally. Her first book, Making News at The New York Times, will be out from University of Michigan Press in Spring 2014. She was a journalist at The Philadelphia Inquirer, continues to blog for Nieman Journalism Lab, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication in 2011.

Aurora Wallace is the author of Media Capital: Architecture and Communication in New York City (University of Illinois Press, 2012), Newspapers and the Making of Modern America (2005), as well as articles in Journalism HistoryPhilosophy and GeographySpace and CultureEnvironmental Values, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Crime, Media, Culture. She received her PhD from McGill University and was a Fulbright Scholar from 1998-2000. She is a professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.


Join the Tow Center for Tea on Thurs., March 27


Join the Tow Center for tea at 4pm on Thursday, March 27 at Columbia Journalism School.

Learn about the Tow Center’s Summer Sensor Newsroom, a new seminar exploring how to use sensor data in journalism and then participate in a quick skills session on Google Fusion Tables with the Tow Center’s Susan McGregor. Please bring your laptop.

Space is limited. Refreshments will be served. RSVP here.


WATCH LIVE: An Evening with Simon Rogers



How can you use Twitter data to tell stories? As part of the Tow Center Computational Data Lecture Series, Simon Rogers talks about his data journalism career, his role at Twitter, the tools he uses to create visualizations and data stories — and how you can do it yourself. Simon Rogers comes to the Tow Center on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 6:30pm at the Stabile Student Center.

Light refreshments will be served. RSVP here.

Watch on LiveStream at 6:30pm (EST):

Send your questions via Twitter #towtalk

About Simon Rogers | @smfrogers:

Simon Rogers is a data journalist, writer, speaker. Author of ‘Facts are Sacred,’ published by Faber & Faber and a new range of infographics for children books from Candlewick. Data editor at Twitter, San Francisco.

Simon edited and created, an online data resource which publishes hundreds of raw datasets and encourages its users to visualise and analyse them – and probably the world’s most popular data journalism website.

He has also been a news editor on the Guardian, working with the graphics team to visualise and interpret huge datasets.


APPLY NOW: Tow Center Summer Sensor Newsroom


The Tow Center is now accepting applications for the Tow Center Sensor Newsroom, a new seminar exploring how to use sensor data in journalism. The intensive, 9am to 5pm, four-week lab will be co-taught by industry professionals and is open to recent Columbia Journalism School graduates (classes of 2012, 2013, and 2014) and current Columbia Journalism School students.

Participants will report stories using a variety of sensor reporting methods, including custom prototypes, satellites, and official sources. It 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.

Specialist topics will be 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)

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.

Application: Please complete the online application which includes uploading a resume/C.V. and a one-page cover letter outlining why you would like to participate and your familiarity with data tools and city reporting.

Compensation: $750/week for four weeks; paid on successful completion of the seminar.
No travel or accommodation funding is available; no visa sponsorship is available.

Applications Close: Monday April 7th.

Interviews: April 14-25, 2014

For more information, please contact Tow Fellow Fergus Pitt:

Columbia University and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism are committeed 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.

Fergus Pitt is a Tow Fellow working on the Tow Center’s Sensor Newsroom Project at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  The Sensor Newsroom Project is a project made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The goal of the Sensor Newsroom Project is to explore how recent advances in sensor networks, citizen science, unmanned vehicles and community-based data collection can be used by a new generation of sensor journalist to move from data analysis to data collection. Follow Fergus Pitt on Twitter @Fergle. To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen:


LIVE BLOG: Journalism After Snowden



The Tow Center live blogged Journalism After Snowden, a conversation about digital privacy, state surveillance, and the First Amendment rights of journalists.

Live blogging by Columbia Journalism School student Daniel Alberto Wroclawski (@danwroc)

Emily Bell, Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School

Jill Abramson, Executive Editor, The New York Times
Janine Gibson, Editor-in-Chief, Guardian U.S.
David Schulz, Outside Counsel to The Guardian, Lecturer, Columbia Law School, Partner, Levine, Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP
Cass Sunstein, Member, President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University

Read more:

The Huffington Post | NY Times’ Jill Abramson: Obama Crackdown Has Created ‘Freeze’ on Reporting | Jan. 31, 2014
NY Times Editor Jill Abramson: Obama Crackdown on Leakers Threatens National Security Journalism | Jan. 31, 2014
Capital New York | Abramson: ‘Freeze’ setting in on national security beat | Jan. 31, 2014
Columbia Journalism Review | Reporting in the post-Snowden Era | Jan. 31, 2014
Capital New York | Media Pro: Wall-to-wall football; the rush to Oz | Jan. 31, 2014
Tow Center Live Blog |  Journalism After Snowden | Jan. 30, 2014


8:31 PM ET: And that concludes our panel. Thanks for following along! Goodnight!

8:30 PM ET: Gibson: I want an international agreement for the protection of journalists.

8:29 PM ET: Janine Gibson: Public opinion polls show that people are now concerned about the ramifications of the leaks.

8:26 PM ET: Cass Sunstein: There’s no one on the Review Group who would describe Edward Snowden as a whistleblower. And whatever you think of that particular person, the topic is After Snowden. To leak classified information,  that is a very tough situation for the government to deal with.

8:23 PM ET: Abramson: I don’t think American media has been asleep in regards to leaks.

8:21 PM ET: Jill Abramson: In this case, none of us know whether the Snowden leaks have harmed national security.

8:17 PM ET: Gibson: The UK has been refusing to rule out prosecuting Guardian journalists. Guardian staff as far as we know, are still being investigated.

8:16 PM ET: Gibson: It’s impossible to describe the wall of silence that was the rest of the UK media that was unwilling to chime in on the Snowden leaks.

8:13 PM ET: Janine Gibson: We were holding some of the documents in the UK office. One of the problems with the UK government approach, we spent sometime saying, do you not remember what happened with WikiLeaks?

8:11 PM ET: Schulz: The technology we have today, you don’t need to subpoena a reporter anymore. We should all be concerned about that. We need whistleblowers. There are important stories that only come from classified information. We can’t adequately rely on Congress and the Courts to perform certain tasks.

8:02 PM ET: Emily Bell: “There’s an inevitable arms race here of technology.”

8:02 PM ET: Gibson: We are now being in this position that is even more chilling, we are now considered to be co-conspirators.

8:01 PM ET: Janine Gibson: The thing that was completely different about this story, this source never thought his identity would not come out.

7:59 PM ET: Jill Abramson: During the Obama administration, there have been seven criminal leak investigations, double the number among all prior administrations combined.

7:58 PM ET: Emily Bell: “I think we can all agree that Edward Snowden has done us all a favor. Can we agree on that?” None of the panelists want to answer.

7:56 PM ET: Sunstein: There’s been a distinction in law between metadata and content. So some poeple have a thought, if the government have access to your phone calls, that is really troubling. If they have access to metadata that is a completely different problem.

7:54 PM ET: Schulz: We need a Privacy Bill of Rights to know what the government can and cannot obtain.

7:51 PM ET: Schulz: One of the points you’re raising is that there has to be a system of confidential communication for reporters. I think the concern, which is evidenced by all the interest in this. The Snowden revelations were kind of a wake-up call.

7:49 PM ET: Sunstein: The phone companies hold that metadata to protect customers. The FCC requires phone companies to hold that data for 18 months.

7:48 pM ET: Sunstein: We believe that the metadata, the government shouldn’t be holding that data. There are undue risks to privacy and civil liberties with the government holding that data.

7:44 PM ET: Sunstein speaking on the four major recommendations created by the Review Group.


7:43 PM ET: Sunstein: “Theres a lot of talk about balancing national security against privacy. We think that’s harmful.”

7:40 PM ET: Cass Sunstein: The first thing we tried to do was learn as much as we could from people in the country and around the world, he said of Obama’s Review Group.

7:39 PM ET: Schulz: “There has never been a prosecution of a journalist.”

7:34 PM ET: David Schulz: “In this country, we don’t have an official secrets act.”

7:34 PM ET: Jill Abramson: “In our case I thought, some of what we brought to the table were our reporters in Silicon Valley.” Times reporters had sources inside the companies that were part of the NSA’s PRISM program.

7:32 PM ET: Janine Gibson: “We almost had a contract about how we were going to search [the documents].”

7:30 PM ET: Emily Bell: “There must have been times when both of you thought, are we actually capable of reporting all of these stories?”

7:26 PM ET: Abramson: “Sometime before the authorities actually came to The Guardian…” the Times obtained some, not all, of the materials leaked by Edward Snowden.

7:25 PM ET: Jill Abramson said the Times was very disappointed that it did not break the story.

7:24 PM ET: Gibson: “We’re incredibly lucky at The Guardian, you only have to ask yourself two questions. Is this story true and is it in the public interest?”

7:22 PM ET: Gibson: You can’t Google secret FISA court orders to see if they look real.

7:20 PM ET: Gibson: “I don’t think anyone knows,” she said of the size of the leak.

7:18 PM ET: Gibson: “You very quickly realize, it’s either an incredibly huge sensitive story, or it’s the Hitler diaries, it’s a hoax.”

7:17 PM ET: Gibson: “We did not know his name,” she said of Greenwald’s source, Edward Snowden.

7:15 PM ET: Janine Gibson: Glenn Greenwald called and said, “I think I have the biggest leak in a generation.”

7:14 PM ET: Emily Bell to Janine Gibson, what is it like to publish such a story as the Snowden leaks?

7:12 PM ET: Emily Bell discloses that she is on the board of trustees for The Guardian. If anyone is worried about the panel being too cozy, she says you would be correct!

Photo 2014-01-30 07.12.05 PM

7:09 PM ET: Dean Coll: Tonight marks the launch of the Tow Center’s After Snowden project, which will analyze the effects of the Snowden leaks on the media industry.

Photo 2014-01-30 07.09.16 PM

7:08 PM ET: President Bollinger now introduces Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll.

7:07 PM ET: President Bollinger tells the audience how the press is immune to government action when publishing leaked materials, but the leaker is not.

7:04 PM ET: President Lee Bollinger welcomes our guests to the panel.

Photo 2014-01-30 07.03.58 PM

7:02 PM ET: We will be starting the panel shortly!

7:00 PM ET: It’s a full house!

Photo 2014-01-30 06.59.50 PM

6:52 PM ET: Almost underway!


6:43 PM ET: Our panel will be under way in just 15 minutes! Don’t miss it!



APPLY NOW: Tow Center Seeks Research Assistant for Single-Subject News Project


The Tow Center has an opening for a paid Research Assistant for the Single-Subject News Project.

Title of Position: Research Assistant

Project: Single-Subject News Project

Timeframe: Jan-Apr with potential extension

Hours Per Week: 3 days/wk (approximately 10 hours), with additional hours required near conclusion of the project in April (with potential extension); Monday and Tuesday availability is preferred. Open to Columbia University graduate students only.

Work Environment: The Tow Research Assistant will work with both Tow Fellow Lara Setrakian (Co-Founder and Executive Editor of News Deeply) and Tow Fellow Kristin Nolan (Development and Educational Programs Director of News Deeply). He/she will report directly to Kristin Nolan and will be expected to work at the Tow Center office for a portion of the hours committed as well as remotely.

Description of the Project: 

The past five years have seen a bloom of single-subject news outlets, from Tehran Bureau to North Korea News to Homicide Watch. As a phenomenon, these single-subject sites have developed out of a need for in-depth coverage of a particular topic; in each case, there was a community or niche audience that felt underserved by the mainstream press, which, by their estimation, had failed to provide consistent and comprehensive coverage of said topic.

Last semester, the research culminated in the selection of 20 study participants whose data was measured and analyzed by the research team, evolving into the Single-Subject News Conference (Nov 8-10) and the simultaneous release of the Tow Brief which identified pain points within this niche part of the journalism field. Over the remainder of the project, the research team will examine these pain points and continue to examine best practices for single-subject websites.

The deliverables for this project include a Final Research Report as well as a manual that targets journalists, journalism students and educators. (Apr 2014)

Description of Duties: 

The Research Assistant will be responsible for assisting in the research process, interviewing subject matter experts, writing, data collection, outreach to other single-subject websites, as well as other administrative tasks associated with the project. This is a paid position.

Please submit a recent writing sample, resume, and brief explanation of why you would like to work on this project by January 10, 2014 to Kristin Nolan: The final candidate will begin work after Jan 13, 2014.


Seats Going Fast for This Weekend’s Single-Subject News Conference


Over the course of the weekend of November 8-10th, Tow Center will host a series of panels and discussions amongst students, industry, and 20 Single-Subject News study participants. The goals of this conference are to illuminate the trend towards single-subject news sites as they fit into mainstream news media, highlighting best practices, funding potentials, and other core items in this field.

Friday, November 8, 2013: 5:00-6:30pm
Lecture Hall, Journalism School   
Kickoff Session “Innovating Mainstream Media: The Role of Single-Subject Websites”  

This kickoff session will involve a discussion among Kevin Delaney (Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Quartz), Jon Williams (Managing Editor for International News at ABC News), and Lara Setrakian (Tow Fellow and Co-Founder/Executive Editor at Syria Deeply). Delaney, Williams, and Setrakian will discuss the dynamics of mainstream media and digital innovation, from changes in the traditional newsroom to the rise of digital models that are taking on news, one topic at a time.

Saturday, November 9, 2013: 8:30am-6:00pm
Lecture Hall, Journalism School
The Single-Subject News Conference

Saturday will feature a full day of panels and discussions focused on highlighting the trends amongst single-subject news website and identifying areas for improvement in their development. The discussion at the conference and study will cover a variety of online archetypes to capture the single-subject trend is in its infancy. In summary, we hope to jumpstart dialogue, create a community of like-minded leaders, and build a roadmap for others wishing to grow their own single-subject websites.

Panels Include:

Defining the Space, Success Stories and Lessons Learned, Business Models in the Making, Case Study: Politics in the US, Mixing News Models & Mainstream Media, Covering the Beat (A Conversation with Jay Rosen), and Creating Community Around a Niche Topic.

For a full listing of participants, panelists, schedule and to register please visit:

Please contact Tow Fellow Kristin Nolan: for further details.

TWITTER @hypertopical #NicheNews
TOW CENTER @towcenter

Lara Setrakian and Kristin Nolan are Tow Fellows working on the Tow Center’s Single-Subject News Network at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  The Single-Subject News Network is a project made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The goal of the Single-Subject News Network is to study, build a network of, and develop best practices for journalist-founders who have designed custom digital outlets focused on one story. Follow Lara Setrakian and Kristin Nolan on Twitter @hypertopical. To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen: