Tow Center Announces Research Director and 2017 Fellows

Jonathan Albright Joins Tow Center for Digital Journalism as Research Director

The Tow Center is pleased to announce Dr. Jonathan Albright as its new Research Director. Jonathan’s research around networks of propaganda and misinformation has recently captured attention across the world. His research into the use of platforms such as YouTube to proliferate high volumes of automated misinformation has been featured across a broad range of publications including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Fortune.

His work lies at the intersection of communication, culture, and technology, focusing on the analysis of online and socially mediated news events and activism, data-driven journalistic methods, and visual storytelling. Jonathan joins the Tow Center from Elon University, where he is an assistant professor of media analytics in the school of communication. In his role as Research Director, Jonathan will lead the Center’s fellows and research projects, working closely with Tow Center Director Emily Bell.

We are extremely excited that Jonathan is coming to work at the Tow Center, bringing with him his cutting-edge research into the new ecologies of journalism and misinformation. There is no more pressing issue in the field right now and Dr. Albright’s work will add to the Tow Center’s reputation for examining emerging trends in technology and how they apply to the field of journalism. Jonathan’s understanding of how technologies are being deployed and networked through social platforms to create an ecosystem of targeted misinformation is central to understanding current issues affecting both politics and journalism.


Tow Knight Projects and Senior Fellows Focus Tow Center Agenda On Investigating the News Environment of the Social Web.

This new cohort of Knight News Innovation Fellows at the Tow Center brings a wealth of expertise in examining some of the most timely and important issues facing journalism today. They will pursue a range of research topics, including automated journalism, collaborative journalism, information integrity, local journalism, political polarization, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

These new fellows join over 60 current and former fellows at the Tow Center. The Fellowship projects are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Read more about all Knight News Innovation research projects at the Tow Center here.


2017 Knight News Innovation Fellows Projects:

Fact Trust

Mike Ananny, Assistant Professor of Communication and Journalism, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California

How does a Facebook-led partnership of news organizations and fact-checkers mix algorithmic and editorial judgment to fight “fake news”? Through interviews with key personnel and analyses of documents and infrastructures, this project tells the story of how techno-journalistic platforms make facts. Better understanding such hybrids helps scholars, technologists, journalists, and audiences appreciate how to trust and critique news networks—and how to think about and reconfigure power between publishers and platforms.

Engagement with Robot News: How Automated Journalism Affects Credibility and Engagement

Jan Boehmer, Assistant Professor of Journalism in the College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University

Technological advances and societal transformations have shaken up the journalism industry. One of the most disruptive examples of this change is the emergence of automated journalism. While a growing number of news organizations rely on algorithmic processes converting data into narrative, the effects on the audience are not fully explored. This research investigates how attributing authorship of news items to an algorithm affects readers’ perceptions of credibility and intentions to engage with the content.

Collaborative journalism and the creation of a new commons

Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Director of Digital Innovation at Univision News

The SF Homeless Project, the News Integrity Initiative, and ElectionLand are three major examples of an emerging pattern in journalism: the cooperation of multiple organizations and individuals to address big challenges at a scale that no single organization could by itself. This project will research how the combination of decentralized, networked, and traditional models for news production and distribution are creating new opportunities to support journalism.

Partnering with the Public: How ‘Audience Engagement’ is Reinventing Local Journalism

Jacob L. Nelson, PhD Candidate, Northwestern University

This project explores the way that three news organizations (City Bureau, Hearken, and The Chicago Tribune) conceptualize, implement, and measure audience engagement. At a moment when the news media’s credibility and economic sustainability are in doubt, this project examines what journalists in both traditional and innovative newsrooms believe “success” should look like. In doing so, it attempts to answer the question: Are journalism’s goals changing, or just its methods?

From Polarization to Public Sphere

Andrea Wenzel, incoming Assistant Professor, Temple University with Sam Ford, media executive and consultant

This research study examines what political polarization and urban-rural divisions look like in the daily lives of residents at the local level. The project focuses on a case study of a region of Kentucky, including the “purple” college town of Bowling Green and the more “red” and rural area of Ohio County. Drawing from interviews and media diaries, the study examines the communication ecologies of residents and the potential for community engagement across demographic and ideological lines. The study will also explore challenges and opportunities in the rural media landscape through a workshop with local and regional media and community stakeholders.

Bridging Stories: Countering Misinformation in Chinese Language News Ecosystem

Chi Zhang, Doctoral Candidate, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California

This project investigates and intervenes in the immigrant Chinese news ecosystem, which has seen significant misinformation, to bridge the information silos between Chinese-speaking immigrants and their surrounding community. In collaboration with Alhambra Source, a trilingual civic news site serving the immigrant majority city of Alhambra, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, we monitor ethnic Chinese media and social media outlets, and engage community members to produce and distribute bridging stories.  

The General Data Protection Regulation in a media context: threat or opportunity for media companies?

Hugo Zylberberg, Cyber Fellow, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs with Susan E. McGregor, Assistant Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will go into effect in May 2018 in the EU, yet most companies including media companies still know very little about its implications for their business models. The business models in the media ecosystem have rapidly evolved in the last couple of decades and traditional players have been threatened by new entrants. This project will not only explore the many ways that this imminent legislation will affect media companies, as well as the technology platforms upon which they increasingly depend, but also look at how in return the media could seize this regulation as an opportunity to leapfrog over the digital transformation.

Senior Research Fellow :

Award-winning data journalist Jon Keegan joins the Tow Center in 2017 as a Senior Research Fellow from The Wall Street Journal where he led projects in data journalism and visualization. In the past year Keegan built WSJ’s award-winning “Blue Feed, Red Feed” which visualizes political polarization on Facebook. At the Tow Center, Jon will be leading an initiative to explore partisan sources on social media.

This project—the first in a suite of tools for consumers of news on social media—will build an open database of popular news sources on Facebook, illustrating their reach across platforms, surfacing data about the owners, advertising networks, authors, and affiliations. This will take the form of a user-friendly public website, as well as an API so other developers can build tools that use this database to illuminate the murky world of partisan news on social media. This project aims to empower the public to be more responsible about the news they share with their networks, as well as increase media literacy around online news sources.

Jon joins Senior Research Fellows Pete Brown, Elizabeth Hansen, and Andrea Wenzel.



The Fellowships are part of a $3 million research program funded by the Knight Foundation. Since the program began, the Center has published a number of reports as well as shorter guides on key trends including automated journalism, chat apps, and podcasting. The Tow Center also hosts large-scale conferences and smaller, skills-based workshops to further conversation around the published research.

The Tow Center offers fellowships to academics, journalists and technologists, disseminating research for application in newsrooms as well as classrooms. For more information, please email

About the Tow Center for Digital Journalism

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, established in 2010 through gifts from the Tow Foundation and others, provides journalism students with the skills and knowledge to lead the future of digital journalism and serves as a research and development center for the profession as a whole.

About Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more visit,