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The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, based at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, provides journalists with the skills and knowledge to lead the future of digital journalism. The Center produces timely, high-quality, and accessible research with some of the world’s leading thinkers in journalism innovation, across practice and academia. The Tow Center, with generous funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is pleased to announce the Spring 2020 call for proposals for rigorous research into emerging technology and trends impacting the news industry. We invite students, researchers, faculty, and practitioners in the fields of computer science and journalism to propose potential research projects that fall within our four areas of inquiry:

  1. Computation, Algorithms, and Automated Journalism;
  2. Data, Metrics, and Impact;
  3. Audiences and Engagement;
  4. Experimental Journalism, Models, and Practice.


We are particularly interested in funding research to study the following topics:

  • COVID-19 and the news industry; the 2020 election and journalism (particularly at the local level); closed-messaging; 'fake' news sites at the national and/or local level; new and emerging platforms; and alternative strategies for newsrooms.

You can read some of the previous research supported by the Knight Foundation here. We outline the proposal process for research projects in further detail below, and encourage you to adhere closely to the outline noted.

 Eligibility, Scope, Format and Process

See FAQ section

Project Proposal Scope
Research projects range from small to large in scope; a small project might comprise a few months of local field research and writing to produce a white paper on a specific topic at the forefront of the study and practice of digital journalism; a large project might comprise the design and implementation of a technology or process to then be tested and evaluated in an applied journalism context.

Project Proposal Format
The Tow Center is only accepting project proposals on the Submittable platform, and each application must include a proposal and budget. Project proposals should be uploaded as an MS Word Document, three (3) pages or fewer, 12-point font (Times New Roman or Arial), and 1-inch margins.

The proposal must include:

  • An overview of the topic.
  • The research question(s) to be addressed.
  • An outline of the research design containing a well-justified description of the proposed methodology.
  • Project deliverables, posts to the Center's CJR vertical, papers, events and programming, or applications
  • Project personnel, including short biographies and links to personnel websites, CVs or resumes for all proposed team members, indicating why they are capable of delivering the work.

  • Project timeline, clearly indicating a proposed timeline for work, project phases, and expected time commitments from team members.

 Project budget: please view the Tow Center's research budget template here and submit with the anticipated full project cost. Incomplete proposals will not be considered.

**UPDATE: Research, Travel & COVID-19**

As a result of COVID-19, we ask that all proposals that include plans for in-person interviews, focus groups, and travel include alternative plans and/or budgets in the event that in-person interviews, focus groups and travel is prohibited. Although subject to change, current University policy states that no meetings or travel can be conducted or funded at this time.  

Project Proposal Review Process
May 31, 2020: Deadline for Research Project Proposals
June 15, 2020: Date by which we will have contacted Project Proposal applicants

About Tow Center Research

 Research Audiences
The Tow Center’s different research projects engage particular communities in different ways—both in terms of who produces the work and who consumes it. Researchers and project proposers should let the target audiences inform their plans for research content, activities, and dissemination. The practicing digital journalism community forms the Tow Center’s biggest constituency; largely, these are working reporters and newsroom managers. For news executives the Tow Center aims to provide awareness of significant new ideas, access to our fellows for their expertise, workshop space to focus on “the next thing,” and avenues of engagement for their teams to become involved. We welcome collaboration with faculty, researchers, and students at other academic institutions. For the academic research community, the Tow Center also aims to provide opportunities to publish quality, relevant work on fast timelines.

Research Type: Tone, Language, and Output Rhythm
The Tow Center’s mission is to help individual journalists, students, faculty, news organizations, and policymakers to develop and expand their thinking around and practice in digital journalism. Tow Center research projects need to serve busy people who consume a lot of information: The tone and language must therefore efficiently convey that the content is insightful, stimulating, backed by quality research that would otherwise be unavailable, and relevant to the audiences’ professional lives.


Who can apply for this fellowship?
The Tow Center engages both academics and practitioners in pursuing research around innovations in digital journalism.
Does the Tow Center fund research that falls outside of its stated research priority areas?
We welcome proposals from both academics as well as practitioners to surface and tackle the most pressing research questions from the current news environment. We will review all proposals but prioritize based on relevance to the Center's research priority areas.
Can I apply if I am not affiliated with Columbia University?
Yes! This is a non-residential fellowship open to both Columbia and non-Columbia affiliates. Our fellows work primarily off-site; the research can be completed anywhere (not limited to within the United States). We do not expect our fellows to take sabbaticals for the duration of their projects.
Can one individual submit multiple proposals?
Yes, though we typically do not fund more than one proposal per person. Please submit the proposal most relevant to the Tow Center’s stated research interests.
Can two individuals from more than one university submit a proposal together?
I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I apply for this fellowship? Am I eligible to receive a research stipend?
Yes, you can apply for this fellowship. Please see Columbia University’s chart for details on payment authorizations allowed by visa type: https://finance.columbia.edu/visa-type-payment-salary-eligibility. For example, if you are on an H1-B visa, we cannot offer a stipend for your research; we can only cover production costs, i.e., data gathering expenses, field work, software/web services, and travel costs.
Can I apply for this fellowship on behalf of a research team?
In the past, the Tow Center has funded support staff such as research assistants, web developers, etc. However, the Tow Center is beholden to the financial, procurement, and contracting policies at Columbia University, which may change before or during the fellowship period.

What is the Tow Center's fellowship funding cycle?
The Tow Center puts out a new a call for proposals every spring and welcomes the new cohort in the summer of the same year.
How much does the Tow Center allocate per project, and is there a budget limit?
The amount of funding award depends widely on the scope, duration, and complexity of the research project—there is no standard amount. We encourage you to submit a narrative and budget for the full vision of the project. The Tow Center will contact applicants to give feedback on the budget during the proposal review period if necessary. We will not answer individual funding questions during the application period.
What can I use the funding for?
We can cover essential research production and dissemination costs, i.e., data gathering expenses, research assistants, field work, software/web services, and travel costs. Stipends for research are awarded on a case-by-case basis and must abide by https://finance.columbia.edu/visa-type-payment-salary-eligibility. We do not award salary or wages for research conducted.  
Does the fellowship cover administrative fees or indirect institutional cost at my university?
No, we do not grant subawards and will not consider indirect institutional costs as a project expense.

Do I need to disclose if I have solicited funding from other organizations or have received partial funding from other organizations for the project described in this proposal? 

Yes. We ask that you disclose if you have sought additional funding sources and/or are receiving or expect to receive funding from organizations other than the Tow Center. 

What is the duration and time commitment of this fellowship?
The fellowship will begin in the summer of 2020, and the research is expected to be completed by 2021. Time commitment varies depending on the scope of the project and resources available to the principal investigator.
What are the travel expectations for this fellowship?
The Tow Center may support domestic travel costs only for the fellow to present their research at relevant conferences or launch events following the completion of the research project. However, all travel and conference requests must be approved by the Tow Center before travel plans are made.  Additionally, the Tow Center hosts frequent gatherings for fellows, attended primarily by those in the Tri-state area. Due to COVID-19, all travel is currently suspended. Travel restrictions should be taken into account when crafting your research proposal. These restrictions are subject to change at a later date.
Will Tow provide industry partners to support my research? Will Tow provide an academic research partner if I am a practitioner?
The Tow Center will leverage our network to help find appropriate partners to advance the fellows’ research but cannot make guarantees. Please include in your proposal any confirmed and potential research collaborator(s) for your project.
Can I publish my research in a peer-reviewed journal after my fellowship?
Yes. All Tow fellows produce a report upon completion of the project. You have the option to then go on to submit or build upon the research for journal publications.

If you have any questions about your eligibility or this application process, please contact towcenter@columbia.edu. We regret that we are unable to answer individual questions regarding funding and budgeting during the open application period. 

We use Submittable to accept and review our submissions.