Columbia Journalism School's 2019 Year in Review

December 19, 2019

The past twelve months have been an exciting time here at Pulitzer Hall. The J-School hosted monumental events on reporting in the age of climate change and disinformation, saw work by alumni Carlos Lozada, '05 M.S., Michael Rothfeld, '98 M.S., and David Fleshler, '90 M.S., awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and announced the launch of the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism and Ethics. The school's Tow Center published three research projects and the Columbia Journalism Review published three successful issues, while the Brown Institute awarded $1 million in grants to fund new media projects. The accomplishments highlighted here represent only a few of the many examples of dedicated journalism, thought leadership and research that marked the year.

Groundbreaking Investigations in the Public Interest

In 2019, Columbia Journalism Investigation’s postgraduate fellows fellows dove deep into topics highly relevant to the public interest.

In February, The New York Times published a story by Bridget Hickey, '18 M.S., and Times investigative reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe based on the trio’s investigation into a secretive hedge fund run by the McKinsey consulting group that highlighted the potential for undisclosed conflicts of interest between the fund and the group’s clients.

Read: As McKinsey Sells Advice, Its Hedge Fund May Have a Stake in the Outcome and our interview with Hickey about the investigation

In a story published in October, David Mora, '18 M.S. Stabile, found that, contrary to his promise to “drain the swamp,” President Trump has appointed more political lobbyists than the last two administrations combined.

Read: We Found a “Staggering” 281 Lobbyists Who’ve Worked in the Trump Administration

For centuries, the people of the Marshall Islands have told their history through song. Ali Raj's L.A. Times investigation examined how thyroid disorders related to nuclear testing have affected these musicians.

Earlier this month, current Columbia Journalism fellows Keith Cousins, '18 M.A., Elizabeth Naismith Picciani, '19 M.S., and Hillary Flynn, '18 M.S., looked into how online dating conglomerate Match Group fails to screen for sex offenders on the vast majority of its platforms. 

Read: Tinder Lets Known Sex Offenders Use the App. It’s Not the Only One. and our Q&A with the fellows.

Columbia Journalism Review: Confronting the Field’s Most Pressing Challenges

In addition to launching the ambitious Covering Climate Now initiative with The Nation, Columbia Journalism Review spent 2019 succinctly targeting the most pressing issues in journalism. The magazine began the year by taking a hard look at itself from the outside, examining the public’s trust — and understanding — of journalists in its Winter 2019 Perception issue.

Read: Getting Over Ourselves by Kyle Pope

The Review's summer issue examined the global nature of the modern newsroom and the rapid-fire spread of information.

In the Summer 2019 "Borderless" issue of CJR, Amanda Darrach traced the reach of Donald Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric across the globe.

For its next issue in the fall, CJR tackled disinformation, examining topics from the use of disinformation against the Black electorate to considering a new model of social media in the service of self interest.

Read: The Toxins We Carry by Whitney Phillips

Research and Innovation from the Tow and Brown Centers

2019 also marked an exciting year for research projects at Columbia Journalism School. Notably, a recent report from The Tow Center for Digital Journalism found that 2019 marked a “seismic” shift in the platform-publisher relationship. Interviews from its most recent report in an ongoing project on the relationship, Platforms and Publishers: The End of an Era, found diminishing optimism that partnering with platforms could help sustain the business of journalism alongside a refocusing on loyal readers and an urgency to control earnings and audience experience rather than doggedly pursue the latest hot platform. A second report from Tow focused on the entrance of artificial intelligence into journalism, the gaps it can sometimes exacerbate and the role of data journalists and editors in mediating them. A final report  from the Center shares lessons learned from one public radio station’s efforts to change journalistic practices that reinforce whiteness. 

At The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Magic Grants, year-long funding awards of up to $150,000, helped to fund a diverse set of projects including a a new tool that securely transforms a smartphone into a socially-minded diagnostic device offering insights into digital behavior and a digital "contrast agent" to help inauthentic activity on platforms like Facebook and YouTube come into focus.