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Columbia Journalism Review Fall 2019

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) encourages and stimulates excellence in journalism in the service of a free society. Published by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, CJR examines press performance as well as the forces that affect it. The bimonthly magazine offers a deliberative mix of reporting, analysis, criticism, and commentary.

United States
Columbia University in City of New York
4 Issues

in this issue

2 min

Emily Bell is Founding Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. She serves on the board of the Scott Trust and CJR’s Board of Overseers. Colin Dickey is the author of three books of nonfiction, most recently Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016). His next book, The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained, will be published in the summer of 2020 by Viking Books. Errin Haines is an award-winning journalist who is the National Writer for Race and Ethnicity at the Associated Press. She is based in Philadelphia. Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. Amitava Kumar is the author, most recently, of Immigrant,…

8 min
beyond fact

I was standing in the cold on the sidewalk along Forty-Second Street one morning last October when I realized that journalism was losing the war against disinformation. I was there as part of an experiment to test the power of fake news—that is, truly fake news, not as Donald Trump defines it but the kind that misreports and misinforms. Would people respond differently to falsehoods if they were taken off the internet and put in front of them, in print, on a newsstand in Manhattan? Would passersby notice, or even care? That morning, a few of us from the Columbia Journalism Review, along with advertising partners from TBWA\Chiat\ Day, had taken over a newsstand. We had left the sodas and the snacks and the lottery tickets untouched, but replaced all the…

6 min
the junk cycle

AT 1:15PM EASTERN ON Wednesday, May 22, a Trump supporter named Shawn Brooks posted a video on Facebook called “Is Nancy Pelosi drunk?” It suggested that Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, was slurring her words. Later that day, another video featuring Pelosi, slowed so she sounded drunk or incapacitated, appeared on two pro-Trump Facebook pages; later, it moved to Twitter and YouTube. In its first few hours online, the doctored video was viewed about three hundred times on Twitter. On Facebook, it was shared 18,881 times—which put it on the same scale as a recent video of a mysterious sea creature someone caught in Alaska. The American far right, fixated on the notion of strength, often attacks its enemies with the idea that they are weak or sick, and the…

6 min
rumor has it

IN 2004, LINDSAY LOHAN released her debut single, “Rumors.” The song’s music video opens in a parking garage where the paparazzi are surrounding Fake Lindsay’s car, while the Real Lindsay, on the other side of a concrete divide, gets into a different car. Smirking, Real Lindsay vanishes into the night, only to reappear alone in an elevator, lip-syncing sultrily at the CCTV. “I’m tired of rumors starting,” she sings in the chorus, “I’m sick of being followed / I’m tired of people lying / Sayin’ what they want about me…” In a series of shifting, sliding cuts, we follow Real Lindsay as she dances through a club, cameras pointing at her from all angles. Here she is, taking pictures of the paparazzi with a tiny camera she wields throughout the…

7 min
top secret

IN EARLY 2017, THE United States government released findings from an investigation showing that Russian president Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative, had ordered an unprecedented “influence campaign” involving disinformation and sophisticated computer hacking—the goal being to disrupt the previous fall’s American presidential election, tipping it in favor of Donald Trump. Not long after, Loch Johnson’s phone rang. Johnson is a political science professor at the University of Georgia and, according to the New York Times, the “dean of American Intelligence Scholars.” He has written and edited more than thirty books on national security and served in senior staff positions on congressional intelligence and foreign relations committees. During the seventies, he played a key role investigating misdoings at the Central Intelligence Agency. Russian voices greeted him on the phone—TV producers, reporters, radio…

5 min
how fiction can defeat fake news

A SPECTER IS HAUNTING THE writing of fiction—the specter of fake news. I fear that my abilities as a novelist are being challenged by those who manufacture lies on social media. There is fiction and then there is fiction—falsities that lead to lynchings and riots. Both rely on storytelling, but that’s like saying soil is used both in gardens and in graves. The way language is used in each case is entirely different, if not opposed. WhatsApp, the instant-messaging service owned by Facebook, transmits sixty-five billion messages a day, all over the world. Users in India send a good portion of these messages, many of which consist of fake news. Last year, in an especially harrowing case, rumors that kidnappers were abducting children and harvesting their organs led to the lynching…