Sensor Journalism Workshop at The Tow Center

On the 1st and 2nd of June, Columbia University hosted a community of journalists, hackers, makers, academics and researchers to explore sensor journalism.

There were two goals for the workshop: We wanted participants to come away with more knowledge and a bigger network, and we asked people to produce or table ideas for sensor journalism projects that the Tow Center can collaborate on, and fund over the next twelve months.

Agenda, Talks And Panels | Participants | Background Reading | Social Media | Location

The Talks & Panels

Keynote: Landscape of Historical Practice
Mark Hansen – The Brown Institute for Media Innovation

Keynote:  Near Field Possibilities
John Keefe – WNYC & Matt Waite – Drone Journalism Lab

Keynote: The Far Future of Sensors
Julie Steele – The O’Reilly Data Sensing Lab & Strata Rx

Lightning Talks

Blake Morrison
Investigative Projects Editor – Thomson Reuters

Albert Chao
Air Quality Egg

Liz Barry
Balloon Mapping & DIY Spectrometer – The Public Lab

Pierce Crosby & Rachael Johnson
Motion Sensing The Ballet – Columbia Journalism School

Ákos Lédeczi
Gunshot Localization with Smartphones – Vanderbilt University

William Shubert
InfoAmazonia – Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

Aaron Huslage
Mapping The Mangroves – iilab

Arlene Ducao & Illias Koen
OpenIR – The DuKode Studio

Bryan Nunez
Informacam –

Javaun Moradi
Wading In – NPR

Ethics, Law and Politics Panel – Led By Emily Bell, Director, Tow Center

Where do we need to be cautious, and how do we navigate the challenges?

Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz
Director, National Center for Remote Sensing, Air, and Space Law – The University of Mississippi School of Law

Robert “r0ml” Lefkowitz
CTO at Sharewave & Author at O’Reilly Media

Kord Davis
Co-author of Ethics of Big Data & Co-founder of Design+Strategy Forum.


We hosted investigative and data journalists, makers, technologists, researchers, academics and plenty of people from adjacent fields.

Full list of confirmed RSVPs (Google Spreadsheet)

Background Reading

In a field as new as this, there isn’t a lot of literature to read up on, but smart people have produced some interesting background material in adjacent subjects.

Drone Journalism Thesis by Alexandra Gibb – 2013 (pdf)
A comprehensive exploration of drone journalism: its technological evolution, its potential domestic and international applications, and the foreseeable ethical challenges it presents to journalists and audiences.

WNYC’s Cicada Tracker – 2013
WNYC’s RadioLab is asking listeners to help them predict, with the help of DIY sensors, when the cicadas will arrive.

Participatory sensing – 2006
This paper introduces the concept of participatory sensing, employing everyday mobile devices, such as cellular phones, to form interactive, participatory sensor networks. It outlines examples in four areas: urban planning, public health, cultural identity and creative expression, and natural resource management.

Urban sensing: out of the woods – 2008 (Updated with a link to a free PDF)
“Embedded networked sensing, having successfully shifted from the lab to the environment, is primed for a more contentious move to the city to where citizens will likely be the target of data collection. This transition will warrant careful study and touch on issues that go far beyond the scientific realm.” – 2008 seems like so long ago, but this paper, written during the rise of Web 2.0 predicted many movements that are just beginning to emerge.

Social Media

Twitter: The Tow Center Feed. The hashtag will be #TowSense
YouTube: We’ll be publishing videos of the key sessions after the weekend.


Pulitzer Hall – The Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

116th & Broadway
Manhattan, NYC, 10027

Subway: 1 Train, 116th St Stop