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Category: Writing

Article on Whistleblowing Tools in CJR

As a break from dissertation writing, I accepted an invitation from the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review to write an article revisiting last year’s Tow Center report on the use of SecureDrop in newsrooms. Here in the early months of the Trump presidency, all indications point to an incredible surge in the use of secure whistleblowing tools among Washington insiders hoping to contact journalists anonymously. A handful of my sources not only confirmed that this is the case, but also offered some sense of how they’ve coordinated this growing stream of information. Find the article here.

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Interview on the “It’s All Journalism” Podcast

Posting this a bit late, but I was invited to speak on the podcast “It’s All Journalism” back in June. They were curious about my research on SecureDrop and I think we covered the subject pretty well in just under thirty minutes.

You can tune in here:

And my report on SecureDrop is available here:

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Old and New Technologies

The text below the fold is an excerpt from “Teaching Data and Computational Journalism”. I wrote this part hoping to broaden the scope of ‘emerging’ technologies to include not just today’s newest inventions, but also the broad range of creative practices that promote ‘emergence’ itself.

Old and New Technologies

The history of technology often appears to move in regular cycles of emergence and obsolescence, but in fact old technologies are rarely eclipsed entirely. We must be cautious with the concept of ‘emerging’ technologies because we risk missing the continued utility of old ones.

For example, microcontrollers like the Arduino have minimal computing power by contemporary standards, but they are powerful enough to process a set of programmed instructions for projects like gathering sensor data. These devices have proved especially useful because of their simplicity, not in spite of it. Similarly, as we promote spaces for journalism schools to explore technologies so new that their uses are not yet apparent, it will be worthwhile to maintain a perspective broad enough to consider the utility of seemingly obsolete technologies.

We should also bear in mind the long histories of platforms like virtual reality and holograms as part of our cultural imagination, if not yet as successful mass products. In past conceptions of the future, we may rediscover promising avenues for innovation.

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Released: “Teaching Data and Computational Journalism”

teaching_data_cover copy

Cheryl Phillips and I just published a report called “Teaching Data and Computational Journalism.” It covers a lot of ground. We surveyed the course offerings of accredited journalism schools in the U.S. to see where and how data and computational skills were being taught. The results were pretty grim: roughly half teach no data skills at all, and half of the schools that do teach data are only teaching at the most basic level. We hope that this snapshot establishes the importance of taking data and computational instruction and research more seriously. To that end, we also offer a set of model curricula and institutional recommendations to help schools move forward.

The report is available online through GitBooks:

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Reverse OCR

This reverse OCR engine is delightful. It draws and morphs random lines until they are recognized by an optical character recognition program. The resulting oddities provide a powerful reminder that the alphabet — like so many symbols — could have taken shape quite differently. And when we force the poor computer to make sense of our arbitrary scribbling, the rules it develops and the inferences it draws will inevitably reflect this alien semiotic divide. Bravo.

This registered as the word “unicorn”:












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The Metawork of Writing


The directors of the undergraduate writing program at Columbia compiled a pithy and quite comprehensive list of the moves that successful essays make. I filed it away as a tool for when my writing seems to be missing some motivating point. A while back, I designed a quick layout to give these valuable instructions a bit of graphic force. Set in Frutiger.

  • Cause & effect
  • Set & subset
  • Argument & counterargument
  • Argument & qualifier
  • Expectation & reality
  • Theory & practice (or vice versa)
  • Concept & application
  • Rule & exception
  • Strength & weakness
  • Argument & exigence (urgency/motive)
  • Idea & implications/significance
  • Pattern & break
  • Idea & complication
  • Problem & resolution/solution/proposal

Someday I’ll have this printed and framed in my office.

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