Past Events

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.

Past Events

Tow Center Presents ‘State of Video’ on Monday, April 14, 2014



Join Tow Fellow Duy Linh Tu and special guests from FRONTLINE, Detroit Free Press, NowThisNews, The Seattle Times, VICE News, and Washington Post for a panel discussion and video presentation on the state of video journalism Monday, April 14, 2014 from 6:30pm to 9pm at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The presentation is the culmination of Duy Linh Tu’s Tow Center research project Video Now: The Forms, Cost, and Effect of Video Journalism which examined the editorial, production, and business strategies of newsrooms, ranging from The New York Times and Washington Post to startups and non-traditional video operations such as Vice.

Panelists include:

  • Raney Aronson-Rath, Deputy Executive Producer, FRONTLINE
  • Danny Gawlowski, Photo/Video Editor, The Seattle Times
  • Kathy Kieliszewski, Director of Photo and Video, Detroit Free Press
  • Jason Mojica, Editor-in-Chief, VICE News
  • Andy Pergam, former Senior Editor, Washington Post
  • Duy Linh Tu, Tow Fellow, Professor & Director of Digital Media, Columbia Journalism School

RSVP here.

Watch on LiveStream and send your #towtalk questions via Twitter starting at 6:30pm (EST):

About the Panelists:

Raney Aronson-Rath: As deputy executive producer for PBS’ flagship public affairs documentary series FRONTLINE, Raney Aronson-Rath guides the editorial development and execution of the series, from primetime television broadcasts to multiplatform initiatives. With Executive Producer David Fanning, she oversees all phases of production and runs the daily editorial management of the series, as well as FRONTLINE’s new monthly magazine program. Instrumental in spearheading the magazine launch, Aronson-Rath works to re-imagine long-form documentary while maintaining the excellence in journalism and production for which FRONTLINE is known. Since joining FRONTLINE in 2007, Aronson-Rath has expanded the series’ reach and reporting capabilities. Under her leadership, FRONTLINE has significantly grown its broadcast and digital audiences. Aronson-Rath has also developed and managed more than 20 in-depth, cross-platform journalism partnerships with some of the nation’s premiere news outlets, including ProPublica, American Public Media’s Marketplace, PBS NewsHour, CBC Television and Univision. Committed to exploring innovative approaches to long-form storytelling, Aronson-Rath has helmed a number of experimental, multiplatform projects, including the Polk Award-winningLaw & Disorder, a yearlong investigation into questionable police shootings in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; Post Mortem, an exposé on death investigation in America; Big Money 2012, an examination of campaign finance following the Citizens United Supreme Court case; and, most recently, Concussion Watch, an interactive database tracking concussions in the NFL. Before helping to manage the series, Aronson-Rath produced, directed and wrote several award-winning FRONTLINE films, including News WarThe Last Abortion Clinic and The Jesus Factor. Prior to joining FRONTLINE, she worked on award-winning series at ABC News, The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC. Early in her career, while living in Taipei, she was a newspaper reporter for The China Post. Aronson-Rath has a bachelor’s degree in South Asian studies and history from the University of Wisconsin. She received her master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Daniel Gawlowski: Danny Gawlowski is a Photo / Video Editor at The Seattle Times. He studied photojournalism at Ball State University and documentary filmmaking at the Seattle Film Institute. He was a part of the team that was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for coverage of a police slaying and the ensuing manhunt. It was the first time that online coverage was specifically mentioned in a Pulitzer citation. Danny was awarded a 2011 National Edward R. Murrow Award for Video Feature Reporting for work done with photojournalist Erika Schultz documenting homelessness among Seattle-area families and children. The project was also awarded a 2011 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism for Multimedia Reporting. He was awarded the 2012 Gannett Foundation Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism for a data-driven video showing how more than 2,000 people in Washington State fatally overdosed on methadone, a cheap and unpredictable painkiller that the state steered people toward in order to save money. The overall project, led by Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong, was also awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting, the APME Public Service Award, the Global Editors Network Data Journalism Award and the 2012 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting. The project lead to abrupt changes in state policy, ending the practice and ceasing plans for similar policies to be implemented across the country. He was awarded a 2013 National Edward R. Murrow Award for work done with investigative journalist Michael J. Berens showing elephants are slowly dying out in American zoos, with infant-mortality rate almost triple the rate in the wild. He learned most of what he knows working for great picture editors at The Seattle Times, The Bellingham Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The Concord Monitor, The Courier and Press and other great visual newspapers. Danny is a regular faculty member at The Kalish Visual Editing Workshop, the Northwest Video Workshop and the Bellingham Visual Journalism Conference. He is a board member of the Associated Press Photo Managers Association and helped judge the 2011 SND Best of Digital News Design competition. Danny’s photographic work has also appeared in several books. For “The Other Side of Middletown,” Danny produced a body of photographic and multimedia work that documented the African American community of Muncie, Indiana. His photographs illustrate several textbooks, including “Introduction to Anthropology,” “Cultural Anthropology,” and “Amours: Histoires des relations entre les hommes et les femmes.”

Kathy Kieliszewski: I made my first piece of “multimedia” with an 8-track player, a cassette tape, a vinyl record and a bunch of still pictures cut out of teen magazines. It was 1986 and I knew then I wanted to tell stories for a living. Fast forward through 27 years of being a journalism student, a photojournalist, a newbie picture editor and now as the Director of Photography and Video at the Detroit Free Press, I’ve told stories that delighted, angered and motivated people – all without an 8-track player.

Jason Mojica has been contributing to Vice since 2007. Before joining the company full time in 2011, he worked for Al Jazeera English as a producer on the network’s weekly media analysis program,The Listening Post, and as a field producer for Josh Rushing’s series, On War. Since joining Vice he has produced documentaries for the web and for the company’s Emmy-nominated HBO series in more than 30 countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, El Salvador, the Philippines, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Jason was recently named Editor-in-Chief of Vice News. Jason holds a B.A. in Political Communication from George Washington University

Andy Pergam was, until recently, Senior Editor at the Washington Post, overseeing video. In addition to setting long-term strategy and product innovation, he led a large team of journalists focused on daily and long-form video storytelling, with an emphasis on emerging distribution platforms for video. During his tenure, The Post received more than 15 Emmy Awards, including top recognition for Overall Station Excellence, and five Edward R. Murrow Awards, including top recognition for Overall Excellence. Andrew is also a co-founder of Spark Camp, a next-generation convener that brings together journalism, media and technology leaders multiple times a year. He is now advising other media companies as they develop video strategies. Andrew earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he remains active as Vice Chair of the Board of Alumni, and graduated from Johns Hopkins University.

Duy Linh Tu: Duy Linh Tu is a Professor and Director of Digital Media. He teaches the Reporting class, video modules, and the Multimedia Storytelling Workshop. His courses focus on producing video for cinema and the Web. Duy is a co-founder and the Creative Director of Resolution Seven, a documentary and commercial production house. He is a cinematographer, photographer, writer and multimedia consultant. Prior to forming Resolution Seven, Duy founded and was the Chief Operations Officer of Missing Pixel, an award-winning interactive production company. Duy has shot and produced for broadcast networks, cable channels, independent production houses, and Web properties. He is the director of photography and producer of the award-winning documentary “deepsouth.” Duy is currently in production on two films, one focusing on children with a rare, life-threatening disease and another on violence against Native American women. He received his M.S. degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Past Events

Zeynep Tufekci Speaks at the Communications Colloquium


Past Events

Columbia Journalism School Now Accepting Applications for The Lede Program: An Introduction to Data Practices


Columbia Journalism School is excited to announce that it is now accepting applications for The Lede Program: An Introduction to Data Practices. This is a new post-bac certification program in partnership with Columbia’s Department of Computer Science. The program will offer hands-on training in data, code, and algorithms tailored specifically for investigative and creative work.


Applications are due April 27, 2014.

Classes start May 27, 2014 and run through August 26, 2014 (for Lede-12), and September 2, 2014 through December 19, 2014 (for Lede-24).

You can find more information here.

There will be two information sessions next week at Columbia Journalism School (lunch will be provided):

  • Monday, March 31, from 1-2pm, in the Stabile Center
  • Thursday, April 3, from 1-2pm, in the Stabile Center

All are welcome, so please invite your friends and spread the word. Please RSVP for the info session to:

Past Events

Tow Fellows Travel To Myanmar for UGC Research


The majority of journalism research, particularly high profile frequently cited research, focuses on practices within the UK and US news industries. In our current project – a study into the ways in which photographs and videos filmed by eyewitnesses are used by newsrooms – we wanted to ensure we didn’t fall into the trap of assuming that patterns at the large English speaking newsrooms represent global practices.

So as well as including in our sample of eight 24 hour news channels, non-English speaking newsrooms based outside London and New York, we have actively sought interviews with journalists from a range of countries. While Skype has been invaluable, we also knew we had to find ways to reach those parts of the world where an unprompted impersonal email is unlikely to end in success. So we decided to attend the East-West Center International Media Conference in Yangon, Myanmar last week.

We suspected there would be quite a range of attendees, and we were right. We were able to speak to a wide variety of editors from across the region.  We interviewed the Waziristan bureau chief of Dawn TV in Pakistan who recognises the use of UGC to help him cover stories on his conflict-torn region.  For his channel, there are clear guidelines to use UGC because of the difficulty of verification – and the need to get it right.  Their system of verification focussed very much on working as a team across their bureaux to fact-check.  He was also very aware of the need for trauma training.

As for many other channels, the Baghdad correspondent of Radio Free Iraq UGC to help him tell the stories for which no other pictures existed.  He said that, without UGC, there was no way he could tell the story of Syria to his audience. Crediting, however, was not an issue for him, as he guiltily admitted Iraq has no sufficient copyright law to stop him using the content.  Reciprocity of use between organisations was crucial to ensure continued use.

We also talked to Maria Ressa from Rappler, an incredible example of a newsroom where collaboration with the audience is at the core of their news-gathering and storytelling. They actively train people across the Philippines in journalism practices, and they draw frequently on their output. They also scour social networks looking for original stories and eyewitness accounts. The importance placed on training was impressive to say the least, particularly how to use audience content ethically.

We also interviewed Byron Perry, the founder of Coconuts Media, a network of local city websites in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Singapore. They rely heavily on UGC, but as many news organisations find, often straggle to encourage people to send content straight to them, finding that people are more likely to upload to their favourite social network. Like many of our interviewees he was honest about the mistakes that can occur when it comes to seeking permission and crediting under pressure, and the training new staff receive about handling UGC.

The title of this conference was the Challenges of a Free Press – fascinating for a country that, in the past two years, has emerged from half a century of military dictatorship, a military dictatorship in which all dissent or public opinion was repressed.  With this opening up to the wider world (we didn’t even have to apply for visas ahead of travelling to Yangon, purchasing them simply at the border) has come immense challenges.  One of the conferences keynote speakers was Ethan Zuckerman, the Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, who noted that Myanmar has had to understand the internet in two years, as opposed to the 20 the rest of the world has had.

This trip was therefore a real chance to discover and listen to the challenges Myanmar is facing in this accelerated development while, at the same time, trying to assist and give advice where possible.  To this end, Sam appeared on a panel at the conference with Alan Soon of Yahoo! Asia, Maria Ressa and Asha Phillips of the social media news agency Storyful, to discuss the challenges of using UGC.

This gave us an opportunity to present the findings of the first, quantitative phase of our research – as well as discuss some of the requirements of verification and the responsibilities journalists have when integrating UGC into their output. The first report will be published very soon, but there was huge surprise and interest in the crediting aspect of UGC.

The first phase of our research demonstrated that UGC is used by most broadcasters on a daily basis – both on air and online. The data also showed that broadcasters are poor in telling their audiences that the content is UGC and who it came from. In our sample of eight news channels analysed over three weeks, 81% of the UGC content used by the broadcasters did not credit the person who had filmed the footage or taken the photograph.

Now that we are in the qualitative phase it will be interesting for us to discuss these finding with news managers and editors of the channels we analysed. In the interviews we have conducted so far (although it’s important to note that only one of the interviewees was from one of the 8 channels we analysed), many of the managers were adamant that their organisation verifies and credits all UGC it uses, that they have guidelines and that, on many occasions, senior editors have to sign off before journalists use uncertain content. These claims were certainly not supported by the quantitative research.

After Myanmar and our now wider understanding of how UGC is used in a wide variety of different newsrooms, we are progressing with our interviews. Editors of the channels we analysed are next on our list, as well as the news agencies as we realise just how much UGC is distributed by them and the different challenges that creates in the processing and use of eyewitness footage.


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 @samdubberleyTo learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor Owen:

Past Events

Tow Tea Takeaway: On Collaborative Projects in Technology and Journalism


On Mar. 13, Larry Birnbaum of Northwestern University and Narrative science discussed student projects in technology, media, and journalism developed at Northwestern over the past few years in a Tow tea held at the Columbia Journalism School.

Birnbaum spoke to a group of 20 people about all aspects of producing a collaborative project: from investigation, content creation to distribution and finally audience interaction.

“Narrative science too was born out of one of our class-rooms,” he added.

Birnbaum said joint projects from students and faculty from both engineering and journalism is what has led to projects being successful. Birnbaum himself is unique in this aspect, and teaches Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Journalism.

The student work he discussed on Thursday came out of the Knight Lab, an interdisciplinary center for innovation in news and media technology at Northwestern. He is also the founder of the lab.

“We give them 10 weeks and we don’t let students pick projects because they either choose something too easy of something too hard,” he said, and acknowledged quickly that 10 weeks were not enough to complete a project.

Most of the projects are completed and refined by an in-house developer, possible through the generous funding by the Knight Foundation, he said.

He discussed projects such as TwXplorer, a project that allows journalists to explore Twitter’s search results in depth; Hamtracker, that allows users to see where their tax money is going; and MusicRx, an application that makes music recommendations based on Twitter activity.

Other projects are available at the Knight Lab’s website.

Birnbaum later spoke at the Computational Journalism Lecture Series on Computational Storytelling. The panel on Computational Storytelling was live- streamed, and is available online.

Shiwani Neupane is a Digital Media Associate at the Tow Center. 


Past Events

Demystifying Data: A Takeaway from NICAR 2014


As a first-time participant at the annual National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference held in Baltimore this year, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. A glance at the schedule indicated that data would play a central role, which was both exciting and intimidating considering I was only seven weeks into my first and only data class. I had an idea of how data might be used in stories to achieve deeper insights, but no real concept of how this worked in news organizations.

Attending NICAR changed that.

The ten sessions I participated in taught me quite a few things, such as where to begin when covering disasters, how to use the Tor network and Tails operating system for anonymous browsing and communication and how to find people. Though many of the data visualization sessions assumed prior knowledge of programming, it was interesting to see what mapping services and techniques were trending in newsrooms and how they were used to contextualize data-driven stories. While I cannot replicate most of the projects presented at NICAR, I was nevertheless able to explore a wide range of data-centric approaches in journalism — and that’s sort of the point.

But more than that, it was the people I met that made the conference special. I met a journalist who used public records to visualize the amount of ammonium nitrate, the chemical that caused the West Fertilizer Company explosion last year, in chemical processing plants around Texas. I met a South Korean journalist who exposed the misuse of governmental resources to fund a political campaign by analyzing thousands of tweets on Twitter. In addition to investigative journalists, I met students, teachers, researchers, computer scientists and developers, and they all had interesting things to say about journalism, data and everything in between.

It was in the diversity of the attendees that I realized how data could be useful for just about any profession—and so if I had to name one takeaway from NICAR, it would be that data isn’t all that intimidating. Instead of considering data analysis as something that requires years of study, I’ve come to think of it as a skill set that can be tailored to anyone’s needs, which fits quite nicely with the often mentioned “jack of all trades, master of none” idiom that defines our profession.

Karim Lahlou is a student at the Columbia Journalism School. 

Past Events

Here Comes Everybody Looking for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370


This afternoon, apparently with about two million other people, I tried to help find traces of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. I didn’t – and at time of writing, neither have my collaborators, but the move by private satellite company Digital Globe hints at how crowds might report news in the future.

Digital Globe has a crowdsourced analysis platform called Tomnod, which presents users with a photo taken from one of their two satellites currently deployed over the potential site. In this particular project, users have the option to mark possible wreckage, oil slicks, life rafts, another object, or move on to the next tile. Multiple users check each tile, which makes it much harder for bad actors to raise false alarms.

Digital Globe’s concept is similar to crowd-sourced projects by ProPublica and The Guardian, but this is the first time I’ve seen remote sensing and crowdsourcing combined while a news event is still in progress.

On Wednesday afternoon, international media outlets were reporting that Chinese satellites may have found the wreckage, beating the Digital Globe crowd to the scoop (if it is Flight 370) although Vietnams subsequent air-searches of that site failed to see debris. Next time there’s a large-scale search underway, Tonmod might be why you hear about the find, first.

Past Events

Online Publishers As Timekeepers


If it’s true that, as Upworthy put it in a recent blog post, “you are what you measure,” then it seems a growing number of online publishers have decided that they don’t want to be just clicks anymore. While the long-anticipated death of the pageview has not yet arrived, there is a noteworthy move in the world of online content towards metrics that focus not on clicks or even unique visitors, but on time spent reading, watching, or otherwise “engaging” with content. Medium calls total time spent reading its “metric that matters.” In the aforementioned post, Upworthy announced that it had developed a metric called Attention Minutes, which looks at factors like mouse movements and whether a video player is active to determine how engaging a piece of content is.* The analytics company Chartbeat has been using a similar metric, called Engaged Time, for some years now. And YouTube has tweaked its recommendation system to give more weight to Watch Time than Views.

What is the appeal of time-based measurements? Reading these companies’ explanations of why they adopted them, a few themes jump out. First, proponents argue that time-based metrics discourage bad behavior on the part of publishers: unlike page-views, they are hard to “game” with click-bait headlines and other gimmicks that generate a lot of views but fail to actually engage audiences. Second, time-based metrics may help sites build their audiences, as users who spend more time engaged with a piece of content are more likely to click around, and to come back, than users who don’t (“may” is the operative word here, as a selection bias could be at play – that is, people who tend to be engaged by a site’s content also tend to come back a lot). Third, and perhaps most importantly, time-based metrics have developed a reputation for brutal honesty: Upworthy calls Attention Minutes a “fine-grained and unforgiving” metric; Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile says that time “calls bullshit” on inflated page view numbers. Like your great-aunt who bluntly comments that your lipstick shade is unflattering, proponents say that time-based metrics tell it like it is even when you may not want to hear it.

Still, it’s too soon to tell if time-based audience measurements will replace page views and uniques as the primary metrics of the online publishing world. One major obstacle to an industry-wide adoption is that impressions and clicks are still the dominant currency of the online advertising field. As long as ads continue to be sold primarily based on the number of loads, it’s hard to imagine online content producers ceasing to care about page views. (Indeed, it’s telling that neither Medium nor Upworthy runs banner ads on its site.)

There is also the question of what actions should be taken on the basis on time-based measures. Upworthy writes that “pieces with higher Total Attention should be promoted more.” This could, of course, create a feedback loop in which content that is already getting attention is promoted, leading it to draw still more attention and thus be promoted more. This dynamic has been considered worrisome when pageviews are the primary metric, because there is often a mismatch between stories that generate lots of pageviews and stories that matter from a democratic perspective. Should it also worry us for sites that are looking at time and engagement? Or is there sufficient overlap between audience engagement and a story’s civic relevance? In other words, to what extent does engagement = impact? These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking – and investigating – as time-based metrics rise in prominence.

*Full disclosure: I have done occasional freelance writing and editing for Upworthy.

Caitlin Petre is a Tow Fellow working on a project on Metrics:Production and Consumption for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  The Metrics:Production and Consumption project is made possible by generous funding from both The Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  To learn more about the Tow Center Fellowship Program, please contact the Tow Center’s Research Director Taylor

Past Events

Tow Tea Takeaway: The Atlas of Pentecostalism


On Feb. 27, the Tow center hosted a Tow tea on the Atlas of Pentecostalism, a project by Columbia alum Bregtje van der Haak.  The Atlas of Pentecostalism traces the global growth of Pentecostalism, the most successful brand of Christianity today through big data and visual information – such as interactive maps, videos and powerful images.

Ann Cooper, Professor at the Columbia journalism school discussed the growth of Pentecostalism with Dutch journalist Van Der Haak, who works with information designer Richard Vijgen on this project.

Van Der Haak explained how the project was created, how data was gathered.

She started by showing a video of the international headquarters of the Winner’s Chapel, which is based in Lagos. The church, the headquarter of Pentacostalism, seats around 48,000 people and their monthly meeting at Lagos has 500,000 visitors, she said.

There is stupendous growth, she concluded.

“Pentecostalism is growing at the rate of 35,000 people who are being baptized everyday.”

She explained research on this project wasn’t easy. After scouring through self-help books, buildings, and looking at bibles – old and new, Van Der Haak and Vijgen faced another problem.

They were confounded by how to chart faith. They could use maps to show growth, but they could not chart how people felt.

“We realized a lot of this was about feeling, so we stared shooting videos,” she said.

In addition to videos and charts, the project is also available in an eBook or a physical copy ­. But unlike a regular book, this book expands and changes everyday through crowdsourcing.

“The book now has 200 pages, but like Pentecostalism, it may one day be too big to print,” she said.

To journalists in the group, Van Der Haak had one piece of advice.She said the most interesting part of her project was working with a designer and using a network to create this project.

We should probably not try to do it all alone,” she said.

To learn more about this project, visit the website:

Shiwani Neupane is a Digital Media Associate at the Tow center. She can be found on twitter @shiwanineupane