Columbia’s Tow Center Announces 2018 Research Fellows in Digital Journalism

The Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism welcomes the 2018 Knight News Innovation Fellows, a program funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The group will focus on ten research projects that examine a wide range of topics including AI & machine learning, digital security, mobile push alerts, voice assistant news, newsroom diversity, conservative news values and local news capacity and trust.

The fellows join over 80 current and former fellows at the Tow Center.

2018 Fellows Projects

Project name: The Age of AI: Audience Segmentation and Predictive Audience Engagement

Fellows: Joon Soo Lim, Assistant Professor, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications,

Syracuse University (lead); Regina Luttrell, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Relations, Syracuse University; Dennis F. Kinsey, Director of Public Diplomacy, Director of Newhouse School Doctoral Program, Professor of Public Relations, Syracuse University; Stephen Masiclat, Professor and Director of New Media Management, Syracuse University

Project description: This research examines how news audiences are segmented based on beliefs held, the behaviors enacted, and the constraints faced concerning changes that are being made in news production and distribution powered by artificial intelligence and/or automated journalism. The project includes two surveys with adults in the United States. To segment news audiences, the survey data will be analyzed using latent cluster analysis, a statistical method for identifying unobserved subgroups within populations based on observed indicators.

Project name: Breaking Through the Ambivalence: The Future of Security Cultures in the Newsroom

Fellow: Jennifer Henrichsen, Ph.D. student, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Project description: This project considers how concerns about surveillance are changing journalists’ digital newsgathering practices, including interactions with their sources, and how security cultures are being established and maintained in leading news organizations in the United States. The study will clarify how information security practices by journalists and newsrooms may be changing journalistic cultures and norms of professionalism at a time of increased labor precarity, loss of trust in the media, and pervasive surveillance.

Project name: Can smart speakers make us smarter news consumers?

Fellows: Kate Seabury, Director of original content, Audible (co-lead); Kaizar Campwala, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Al Jazeera (co-lead); Abhay Aneja, PhD candidate, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

Project description: As the ownership of voice assistants grows, so does its use as a place to go for news and information. This research project looks at smart speaker consumer behavior and how it impacts confirmation bias, partisanship, understanding of current events, and trust in media brands. This project will also be looking to better understand how device manufacturers and publishers think about the future of this space.

Project name: Curating Social News: How news organizations decide which stories to promote on social media

Fellow: Efrat Nechushtai, PhD Candidate, Columbia University

Project description: News stories promoted on news organizations’ social feeds are guaranteed enhanced visibility, accessibility and public resonance compared to those published only on proprietary news sites. Editorial decisions to distribute certain stories on social media are thus a matter of public relevance. This project compares the total body of content that leading news organizations publish on their sites with the content they promote on social media, examining similarities and differences between these two digital news landscapes.

Project name: Linguistic Indicators of Trust in Written News

Fellows: Julia Hirschberg, Percy K. and Vida L. W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University (co-lead); Sarah Ita Levitan, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Computer Science, Columbia University (co-lead)

Project description:

While the detection of “fake news” is becoming increasingly popular, another complementary issue has been little studied: the question of what makes a news article “trusted” or “mistrusted” by its readers. This project aims to classify trusted versus mistrusted news in the media automatically, using crowdsourcing as well as machine learning and natural language processing techniques. The project will consider the characteristics of these two types of articles to that stories can be reliably assigned to one of these two categories and investigate how these categories vary across different groups of media consumers.

Project name: Pushing News Agendas

Fellows: Madelyn Rose Sanfilippo, Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Information Law Institute, NYU (co-lead); Yafit Lev-Aretz, Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Information Law Institute, NYU (co-lead)

Project description: This project explores how push notifications impact the electorate and perceptions of the fourth estate. The project employs statistical, social media analytic, and experimental research approaches, in order to: (1) generate a repository of push notifications to support further study of this increasingly popular facet of digital journalism; and (2) examine diverse research questions including how business models and politics impact content, the impact of media polarization and personalization, and deceptive information.

Project name: Race, Media and Everyday Life In Pittsburgh

Fellow: Letrell Crittenden, Program Director and Assistant Professor of Communication, Thomas Jefferson University

Project description: It has been 50 years since the Kerner Commission argued that the legacy media presented a world through a “white perspective,” yet issues of representation continue to persist, notably within areas like PIttsburgh, Pennsylvania. Through a series of interviews and focus group discussions with journalists of color, and sources of color, this study will attempt to understand why this seems to be the case within the larger Pittsburgh media network.

Project name: Report Local: Local news capacity building models and community trust

Fellows: Andrea Wenzel, Assistant Professor, Temple University (co-lead); Sam Ford, independent consultant (co-lead); Letrell Crittenden, Assistant Professor and Program Director, Thomas Jefferson University

Project description:

This series of case studies examines several models attempting to strengthen the capacity of local news to report on and in communities that have largely been under-resourced and/or marginalized. This includes national projects that support reporters working in local newsrooms, as well as locally-driven projects that use a variety of strategies to encourage storytelling that is more inclusive and representative of diverse communities.

Project name: Understanding Conservative News Values and Audience Engagement

Fellows: Anthony Nadler, Assistant Professor of Media and Communication Studies, Ursinus College (lead); A.J. Bauer, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University; Magda Konieczna, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism, Klein College, Temple University

Project description: Conservative news outlets play a pivotal role in U.S. political discourse. Yet, scholars and journalists working outside the conservative news domain have little knowledge of the news values and audience engagement strategies animating conservative newsrooms. Through interviews with conservative news producers, this project will enhance understanding of how conservative news is made in key online sectors–born-digital, commercial outlets; nonprofit news sites; and the online reporting of legacy news outlets.

Project name: Illuminating 2018: Helping Journalists Cover Social Media in the Presidential Campaign

Fellow: Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Professor in the School of Information Studies and Director for the Center for Computational and Data Sciences, Syracuse (lead); Jeff Hemsley, Assistant Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University

Project description: Illuminating 2018 is a computational journalism project that helps journalists and the public to look at the major trends in political campaign communication on social media. The research team will collect and categorize all Facebook and Twitter messages by the general election candidates running for governor and for federal House and Senate elections. The project also includes an interactive website for users to examine data from 2018, as well as from the archive of 2016 and 2014 collections.

Visit the Tow Center to learn more about past Knight News Innovation research projects.