Paper – “If Communication is a Bridge, Cryptography is a Drawbridge: A Stage-Based Model of Communication Processes” (ICA 2022)

Charles Berret

This paper presents a model of communication based on the conditions of its success and failure. Building on Peters’ metaphor of communication as both a bridge and a chasm, the model depicts cryptography as a drawbridge to selectively choose the audience of a message. The model forms a set of islands linked by a series of drawbridges, each representing a source of communication’s success or failure, and each of which must be passed in sequence. The first drawbridge is recognition, in which the most basic source of failed communication is to be unaware that a message is even present. The next is access, in which some form of barrier or lack of authorization keeps one from accessing a message. Next is legibility, the ability to recognize individual symbols, followed by intelligibility, the recognition of coherent patterns, words, and syntax in those symbols. The final two stages of this model concern different stages of meaning. The public meaning of a message is the literal, surface sense intended to be understood without insinuation or ambiguity. The private meaning of a message is either selectively encoded for a specific audience, or else fully interior to our own minds. The descriptive and explanatory power of this model is illustrated through various examples in which communication is secret, secure, and otherwise selective of its audience.

Paper – Iceberg Sensemaking: A Process Model for Critical Data Analysis and Visualization” (arXiv 2022)

Charles Berret and Tamara Munzner

We offer a new model of the sensemaking process for data science and visual analytics. Whereas past sensemaking models have been built on theoretical foundations in cognitivism and positivism, this model adopts interpretivist foundations in order to reframe data sensemaking in humanistic terms. We identify five key principles centered on the concept of schemas: Tacit and Explicit Schemas, Schemas First and Always, Data as a Schematic Artifact, Schematic Multiplicity, and Sensemaking Over Time. Our model uses the analogy of an iceberg, where data is the visible tip of the schema underneath it. The analysis process iteratively refines both the data and its schema in tandem. We compare the roles of schemas in past sensemaking models and draw conceptual distinctions based on a historical review of schemas in different philosophical traditions. We validate the descriptive, predictive, and explanatory power of our model through four analysis scenarios: uncovering data injustice, investigating official data, teaching data wrangling, and producing data mashups.

Workshop – “Critical Visualization for Humanities Research” (Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Study 2021)

March 4th, 2020

Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Study
University of British Columbia

Catherine D’Ignazio (MIT Media Lab)
Ben Shneiderman (Peter Wall Institute)
Charles Berret (UBC Journalism)
Tara Zepel (UBC Chemistry)
Sheelagh Carpendale (SFU), and more.

Organizers: Charles Berret and Tara Zepel.

Visualization is a powerful tool for communicating and gaining insight into complex subjects. Maps, graphs, and diagrams can help us see patterns and connections that might otherwise remain hidden in data. Once uncovered, the visual means of presenting these insights can easily seem neutral and objective. And yet, every visualization promotes a certain perspective of the world, often concealing its own assumptions, gaps, and biases. The choices made in creating a visualization, who or what is represented, and the context in which it is perceived — all influence what we see and do not see. The emerging field of data feminism navigates between these two poles, both acknowledging the power of visualization techniques and also urging critical attention to the forms of power that these techniques implicitly support.

Paper: “Table Scraps: An Actionable Framework for Multi-Table Data Wrangling From An Artifact Study of Computational Journalism” (IEEE TVCG Proc. InfoVis 2020)

Steve Kasica, Charles Berret, and Tamara Munzner

For the many journalists who use data and computation to report the news, data wrangling is an integral part of their work. Despite an abundance of literature on data wrangling in the context of enterprise data analysis, little is known about the specific operations, processes, and pain points journalists encounter while performing this tedious, time-consuming task. To better understand the needs of this user group, we conduct a technical observation study of 50 public repositories of data and analysis code authored by 33 professional journalists at 26 news organizations. We develop two detailed and cross-cutting taxonomies of data wrangling in computational journalism, for actions and for processes. We observe the extensive use of multiple tables, a notable gap in previous wrangling analyses. We develop a concise, actionable framework for general multi-table data wrangling that includes wrangling operations documented in our taxonomy that are without clear parallels in other work. This framework, the first to incorporate tables as first-class objects, will support future interactive wrangling tools for both computational journalism and general-purpose use. We assess the generative and descriptive power of our framework through discussion of its relationship to our set of taxonomies.

Paper – “Knowing Together: An Experiment in Collaborative Photogrammetry” (Leonardo 2019)

Rosalie Yu and Charles Berret

Knowing Together is a collection of sculptures designed to explore collaborative techniques for capturing three-dimensional images. Thirty-five participants collectively created these images by forming circles and passing a camera around. These images were stitched together to form 3D models whose distortions are preserved as artifacts attesting to their creation process, suggesting novel approaches to photogrammetry that do not treat photorealism as its ideal quality.

Paper – “Walter Benjamin and the Question of Print in Media History” (Journal of Communication Inquiry 2017)

Charles Berret

Although Walter Benjamin’s ‘‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’’ is a seminal essay in the study of media history, the work itself gives a surprisingly brief account of one of field’s core subjects: the printing press. Books and literature present only a special case of mechanical reproduction, accord- ing to Benjamin, but the implications of this point remain largely unexplored by scholars. The purpose of this essay is to ask why Benjamin would have considered print to be different or less historically consequential compared to photography and cinema when the revolutionary potential he ascribes to these more recent technol- ogies is also prefigured in his other writings on books and literature. Answering this question helps to create a sharper picture of what matters to Benjamin about new media and also points to figures like Georg Luka ́cs who influenced Benjamin’s account of technology and art. Ultimately, this line of questioning also raises con- cerns about the place of the ‘‘Work of Art’’ essay in the study of media history, a field in which the signal error is to treat new media as unprecedented developments.

Berret, Charles. 2017. “Walter Benjamin and the Question of Print in Media History.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 41 (4): 349–67.

Event – “Sneakercon: A Forum to Reexamine Offline Networks” (Brown Institute for Media Innovation 2017)

August 25-26, 2017

Charles Berret (organizer)

The Internet has grown so omnipresent today that it’s easy to overlook the continuing role of “offline networks,” systems for exchanging digital information that bypass the Internet. “Sneakernets” (by which we mean any kind of offline networking, a slight abuse of the terminology) take many forms, whether it’s a thumb drive passed between friends or a semi-trailer truck full of hard drives delivered to a server farm, or games played over a private network. Sneakernets form countless links in our digital infrastructure, but nevertheless tend to pass unnoticed in favor of a totalized, global Internet. The purpose of Sneakercon is to reexamine the offline side of the digital age by foregrounding the prevalence, variety, and uses of offline networks during two days of talks, discussion panels, and workshops.

Nathan Freitas, The Guardian Project
Hans-Christoph Steiner, The Guardian Project
Eileen Guo, Journalist
Charles Berret, Columbia Journalism School
Pablo Arcuri, Internews
Gal Beckerman, New York Times Book Review
Greta Byrum & Raul Enriquez, New America Foundation
Felix Candelario, Amazon
Juanita Ceballos, Jika Gonzalez & Dave Mayers, VICE
Jason Griffey, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
Harlo Holmes, Freedom of the Press Foundation
Ellie Irons, Artist & Educator
Simin Kargar & Mehdi Yahyanejad, NetFreedom Pioneers
Dia Kayyali, WITNESS
Josh King, Commotion Wireless
Zach Mandeville & Dominic Tarr, Scuttlebutt
Susan McGregor, Columbia Journalism School
Deji Olukotun, Access Now
Dan Phiffer, Mapzen
Edwin Reed-Sanchez, SayCel
Soudeh Rad, Spectrum
Afsaneh Rigot, Article 19
Eleanor Saitta,
James Warnock, Human Rights Foundation
Carrie Winfrey, Okthanks

Journalism – “Newsrooms are making leaking easier and more secure than ever” (CJR 2017)

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.