New research effort at Columbia University seeks best practices for digital reporting

Press Release

April 30, 2012


Knight and Tow Foundations provide $2 million for news innovation research

New York, NY (April 30, 2012) —  A major research initiative at Columbia University will help fill a growing void in journalism by working with leading newsrooms to provide actionable insights into what works best in digital news.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Tow Foundation are funding the Graduate School of Journalism’s research with a combined $2 million in support.  The research will focus on three areas:

  • Impact: measuring how new practices and tools affect audiences and newsroom resources;

  • Transparency in journalism: focusing on public data – what’s available, what’s not, and what’s useful and relevant to people’s lives;

  • Data visualization: examining which visuals work best in informing and engaging readers.

Emily Bell, who was The Guardian of London’s digital editor before joining Columbia in 2010, will lead the project, working with technologists and newsroom leaders to develop new best practices. Research projects will be short-term, providing timely data and ultimately online tutorials that newsrooms can use to iterate and evolve.

“Vibrant journalism is essential for a healthy democracy, but newsrooms have little margin for error right now as they adapt and experiment with new technologies,” said Michael Maness, vice president for journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation. “This research is aimed to deliver deep data on what’s working and what’s not with their digital audiences, so newsrooms can make the resource choices that produce the biggest impact.”

The projects are being announced at the beginning of Columbia Journalism School’s centennial year, which kicked off on April 20th.  As the school looks ahead to the next century, its role shaping the future of digital journalism is a top priority.  

"The generosity and vision of The Tow Foundation and Knight Foundation have given our school the capability of becoming a leader in the global conversation about bringing journalism forward into the digital future,” said Dean Nicholas Lemann. “We are deeply grateful to them, and to Helen Gurley Brown, for bringing us so far in so little time. I am certain that we will repay their faith in us with significant achievement in this realm.”

“It is exciting to be working with partners who are committed to both innovation and the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the digital environment,” said Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.  “We are actively looking for the best research ideas that have clear application to the newsroom and the classroom.”

“The Tow Foundation is committed to the development of innovative digital media programs in higher education, and we are delighted to continue our partnership with Columbia Journalism School,” said Emily Tow Jackson, Executive Director. “The foundation’s deep belief in leverage and impact, as well as accuracy of information, is something that we share with Knight Foundation, and it is what inspired this gift.”

About the Tow Center for Digital Journalism

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, established in early 2010, provides journalists 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. The Center explores how the development of technology is changing journalism, its practice and its consumption -- particularly as consumers of news seek ways to judge the reliability, standards and credibility of information.

About The Tow Foundation

The Tow Foundation supports innovative projects and collaborative ventures where there is a shortage of both public and private funding and opportunities for breakthroughs, reforms and significant benefits to society. Major investments have been made in areas of groundbreaking medical research, cultural institutions, and higher education, as well as vulnerable families and juvenile justice system reform.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation aims to help sustain democracy by leading journalism to its best possible future in the 21st century. It helps safeguard the rights of journalists worldwide and supports public information campaigns about the value of freedom of information and open government. The foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. More at

About the Graduate School of Journalism

For a century, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has been preparing journalists in a program that stresses academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry, and professional practice. Founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1912, the school offers master of science, master of arts, and doctor of philosophy degrees. For more information, visit

Media Contacts:        

Elizabeth Fishman        [email protected] or 646-734-5919 (cell)

Eric Sharfstein              [email protected] or 212-854-6164

Andrew Sherry             [email protected] or 305-908-2677