Stanford University is uniquely positioned to help journalists hold democratic institutions accountable and improve the flow of reliable information to the public. Those are core goals of the new Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative.
Stanford University’s Journalism Program, John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, and Brown Institute for Media Innovation have come together to form the Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative (JDI). Its core goals are:
- To help journalists hold democratic institutions and powerful individuals accountable, particularly through better use of data and algorithms.
- To fight against misinformation that is undermining trust in journalism.
- To collaborate with other Stanford programs and academic departments to work on journalism challenges involving reporting, storytelling, and the distribution and consumption of news.
Stanford Journalism Program – Journalists and researchers are leading projects to lower the costs of accountability reporting through better use of data and algorithms. The first major initiative is “Big Local News,” led by computational journalist Cheryl Phillips. Big Local News collects, processes and shares governmental data that are hard to obtain and difficult to analyze; partners with local and national newsrooms on investigative projects across a range of topics; and makes it easy to teach best practices for finding stories within the data. Currently the team of Stanford faculty, students and researchers is working to inform the public about disparities in criminal justice, environmental and economic impacts of forest fires, local government accountability through audits, the integrity of elections at the state level, and root causes of out-of-reach home prices in local markets. A Big Local News course for graduate and undergraduate students at Stanford was taught for the first time in 2018 and will be offered again in 2019. In addition, Phillips and her team have held events for reporters and editors to foster newsroom collaborations; trained dozens of journalists in the use of data that Big Local News collected and archived; and begun development of a data-sharing platform.
John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships – The JSK Impact Partnerships, an initiative of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, leverages JSK’s connections and alumni network to accelerate progress in the journalism industry and improve the quality of news and information reaching the public. It operates in parallel with the JSK Journalism Fellowships, which each year brings up to 20 diverse leaders to Stanford to work on the most urgent problems in journalism. The work of the JSK Impact Partnerships is based on JSK’s four call-to-action themes: challenging misinformation and disinformation; holding the powerful accountable; fighting bias, intolerance and injustice; and strengthening local news. Partners include Big Local News, which JSK supported with funding to train local journalists on how to access and use data about their communities to tell compelling investigative stories; News Foundry, which provides training to journalism entrepreneurs on creating sustainable businesses; and Proyecto Inventario, which provides journalists working in Cuba data about their country that they can’t normally access due to government roadblocks or the lack of robust internet service.
Brown Institute for Media Innovation – Cable TV news networks make editorial choices that influence how information is provided to millions of Americans. The Brown Institute’s director at Stanford, Computer Science Professor Maneesh Agrawala, and a team of researchers are using artificial intelligence-based image, audio and transcript processing techniques to analyze data from nearly a decade of 24/7 broadcasts by CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Their mission is to help explain why some stories get told more than others, who tells these stories, and what perspectives are included or left out. The team has annotated roughly 200,000 hours of cable TV news video spanning 2010 to 2018. With information about gender, appearance attributes such as clothing type and hair color, and audio attributes like a speaker’s volume, these annotations answer questions about visual representations in the news. How often are men onscreen vs. women? (Answer: 2.2-to-1 ratio.) Do female-hosted programs give significantly more screen time to women than male-hosted shows? (Answer: They do not.) Interactive, web-based tools will be created to enable journalists and data scientists to explore the data with ease.
In addition, through a project called JDI Bridges, the initiative will attract computational expertise from across Stanford to work on journalism challenges involving reporting, storytelling, distribution, and consumption, as well as develop related courses spanning the university’s academic departments. “JDI Bridges” will convene workshops, meetings and international conferences that engage faculty and students with journalists focused on specific topics, such as the use of artificial intelligence to generate news stories.
Founders of the Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative would like to thank John and Laura Arnold for their generous gift in support of the Big Local News Project.