Columbia Journalism Review Winter 2020

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

Maya Binyam is a senior editor of Triple Canopy, an editor of the New Inquiry, and a lecturer in the New School’s Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism program. Her writing has appeared in The Nation, the New York Times Magazine, New York, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. Julian Brave NoiseCat is vice president of policy and strategy with Data for Progress; narrative change director of the Natural History Museum; and a fellow of the Type Media Center, NDN Collective, and the Center for Humans and Nature. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and many other publications. Clio Chang is a freelance reporter based in Brooklyn. She writes about politics, culture, media, and more. Amanda Darrach is a contributor to CJR and a visiting scholar at…

8 min
an industry in flux

WHEN THE UNITED STATES entered the Great Recession, newsroom employment started to plummet. During the first half of 2009, more than a hundred papers closed; ten thousand news workers lost their jobs. In the years that followed, even after the economy picked up, outlets continued shedding reporters as digital media cut into the print advertising business and social networks replaced news organizations as aggregators of information. According to the Pew Research Center, since the recession hit, American newspaper jobs have fallen 51 percent. In 2016, Donald Trump offered an uneasy reprieve; the more the press obsessed over him, it seemed, the higher the number of viewers and subscribers. The “Trump bump” brought news, and how it’s made, to the center of public interest. Some of the benefits—felt mainly by the New…

9 min
the first responders

TUCK WOODSTOCK WANTED TO HELP. It was late spring in Portland, Oregon, where Black Lives Matter demonstrations were growing by the night. Woodstock, who is twenty-eight, is a freelance reporter and the host of Gender Reveal (“A podcast about what the heck gender is”). At home, they were scrolling through a nonstop feed of tweets from local journalists who were covering the scene downtown. It seemed intense. “I was worried about them and wanted them to sleep,” Woodstock said. So they sent a message to a couple of reporters from the Portland Mercury, an alt-weekly: “Can I tweet for you for a night, and you can take the night off?” The Mercury jumped on the offer—the newsroom was short on staff, having temporarily laid off half of its employees at the…

6 min
the influencer commentariat

IN SEPTEMBER 2018, Tiffany Ferguson, a twenty-five-year-old college student and YouTube personality with more than six hundred thousand subscribers, sat down in her bedroom, ready to record. She wore a navy-and-red turtleneck sweater; her blond hair was tied into messy braids. Typically, she used her channel for in-depth “story times” detailing random events from her day. But on this occasion, she told subscribers, her video would be different. “I have a little bit of something to say about the YouTube algorithm and the role of rapidly rising creators,” she said. Ferguson then launched into a thirteen-minute meditation on internet fame, algorithmic bias, and the importance of relatability to an influencer’s success. She reported information gleaned from Social Blade, a social media analytics tracker, and offered her interpretation of the facts.…

7 min
back to the community

THIS SPRING, AS THE coronavirus ravaged the United States, mutual aid groups proliferated. In Chicago, where I live, I watched businesses close and people suddenly lose their jobs. I saw “essential workers,” mostly Black and brown folks from the city’s South and West Sides, taking the bus to fulfill their duties at the peak of the pandemic. I saw our county jail become the nation’s largest known source of COVID-19 infections, even as up to a fourth of those incarcerated were there on low-level offenses, because they couldn’t afford to pay their bond. At the same time, governments and medical institutions became overwhelmed, and I saw neighbors spring into action to meet the needs of their communities. These self-organized networks distributed masks and medical supplies, delivered groceries and packages, provided…

9 min
apocalypse then and now

IN MARCH 2019, HUFFPOST sent me to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota, to cover the work of an affordable-housing program. My editors had a particular story in mind, and so I was dispatched to source the material to write it. The article would be a piece of “solutions journalism,” positive in outlook and neatly framed, part of a philanthropically funded series called “This New World.” My assignment letter included potential headlines: “How The Poorest County In The U.S. Is Solving The Housing Crisis”; “How The Poorest County In The U.S. Is Breaking The Poverty Cycle.” But a week before I arrived in Pine Ridge, a different story began to unfold. The reservation was pummeled by a blizzard. Gusts reached seventy miles per…