Pioneering Digital Journalist and Professor Emily Bell Named Inaugural Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism | Columbia Journalism School

Pioneering Digital Journalist and Professor Emily Bell Named Inaugural Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism

New Leonard Tow Chair is Established

Emily Bell, Pioneering Digital Journalist and Professor, is Named to Post

Columbia Journalism School and The Tow Foundation today announced Emily Bell as the inaugural holder of a newly endowed chair.  She will be known as the Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism and Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

The Tow Center was established in 2008 by The Tow Foundation, and Emily Bell assumed leadership as its director in 2010.  Under the direction of Professor Bell over the past decade, the Center has become a leader in research, curricular development and professional convenings on subjects at the intersection of technology and journalism. The MacArthur, Newmark and Open Society foundations are among the funders that have joined The Tow Foundation in supporting this work.

Leonard Tow, for whom the chair is named, received his doctorate in economic geography from Columbia University and spent his early working life teaching and pursuing business ventures in Africa, South Asia and Europe. He was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens Utilities Company and Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Century Communications Corporation, a leading cable television company. Dr. Tow was also Founder and Director of Centennial Cellular Corp. He and his late wife Claire established The Tow Foundation, which supports numerous programs at Columbia University. The Foundation focuses on the fields of theater, journalism, criminal and juvenile justice reform, medical research and higher education in New York, Connecticut and nationally.  Dr. Tow chairs the Foundation’s Board of Directors and his daughter Emily Tow, an alumna and former trustee of Barnard College, serves as the Foundation’s President. Dr. Tow was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2019.

"Leonard Tow saw, long before most of us, that technology would re-shape journalism, and that the profession needed a resource to help it meet the challenges that disruption would bring," said Steve Coll, Dean and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism. “Emily Bell has led the Tow Center to fill that role. We are honored to have this new chair she will occupy named for Leonard, a stalwart advocate of free speech and a free press, and a friend to the school and to journalism.”

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism under Professor Bell has conducted more than 75 research projects. It was early in helping establish the field of computational journalism, housing the dual Master’s in Journalism and Computer Science at Columbia University, and in helping to define the field of algorithmic accountability for journalists through its research fellows. The Center has made significant contributions to the field of leveraging computational journalism in investigating disinformation and influence campaigns.

One of the Center’s earliest publications, "Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present" (2012), co-authored by Professor Bell with Clay Shirky and C.W. Anderson, was a seminal paper identifying many of the trends and challenges that journalism would face in the world of rapidly scaling technologies. She has also personally led two major, multi-year initiatives with research, convenings and curricular components that have shaped the Center’s reputation as a leader in original scholarship and innovative thinking on the ways technology is changing journalism.

The first signature project was "Journalism After Snowden," an investigation of the legal, ethical and technological issues that Edward Snowden’s leak of top-secret government documents posed for the Guardian and the impact future large-scale leaks that were certain to follow would have on other news organizations — as indeed they did.

The second defining project, "Platforms and Publishers," is an examination of the relationship between journalism and the social media and search companies that have come to dominate the distribution of news, and, in many ways, the shape of news organizations, their business models, strategies and relationships with their audiences.  These relationships have profound implications for the vitality of the profession and its ability to carry out its role of holding power to account.  The Tow Center was the first research center to create a field of independent study around the influence companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have exercised over reshaping the field of journalism.

Before coming to Columbia in 2010, Emily Bell spent much of her career at Guardian News and Media in London working as an award-winning writer and editor both in print and online. As editor-in-chief across Guardian websites and director of digital content for Guardian News and Media, she led the web team in pioneering live blogging, multimedia formats, data and social media, making the Guardian a recognized pioneer in the field.

Professor Bell is co-editor with Taylor Owen of “Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State” (Columbia University Press, 2017). She is a non-executive director of the Scott Trust, the entity that owns The Guardian, a member of Columbia Journalism Review’s Board of Overseers, and a member of the Advisory Board for Projects in Investigative Journalism at the Open Society Foundation. She also serves on the Commission on Information and Democracy, and has served as chair of the World Economic Forum’s Social Media Council and as a member of the national advisory board of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit education and training center for professional journalists, which owns the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.

Professor Bell delivered the Reuters Memorial Lecture, Oxford University, in 2014, the Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the University of London in 2015, and was the 2016 Humanitas Visiting Professor in Media at the University of Cambridge.


About Columbia Journalism School

For more than a century, the school has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened its doors in 1912 and offers Masters of Science, Masters of Arts, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, and Doctor of Philosophy in Communications. It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, The Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, the Mike Berger Award and the WERT Prize for Women Business Journalists.


About the Tow Foundation

The Tow Foundation, established in 1988 by Leonard and Claire Tow, funds projects that offer transformative experiences to individuals and create collaborative ventures in fields where they see opportunities for breakthroughs, reform, and benefits for underserved populations. Investments focus on the support of innovative programs and system reform in the fields of juvenile and criminal justice, medicine, higher education and culture. For more information, visit or follow @Towfdn on Twitter and Facebook.