Announcing Six New Positions at the Brown Institute

The Brown Institute for Media Innovation at the Columbia Journalism School is  exploring the application of machine learning (ML) and other technologies to support local newsrooms — both advancing their editorial missions as well as creating new business opportunities engaging readers. As is now the hallmark of Brown Institute projects, our approach will be collaborative and interdisciplinary, developing responsible technology in the service of journalism’s public mission.

Why? In the last two decades, journalism, as a profession and as a business, has faced a difficult transition. The subjects of its reporting, the “powerful,” are now as likely to act through the accumulation of data and algorithms as they are through the exercise of traditional political, cultural or social mechanisms. In the same period, journalism’s core means of production and distribution have become digital, with social media and other platforms forcing a reexamination of readers’ relationships with traditional outlets and the ways they can support their businesses.

In short, journalism is becoming an exercise in computation — from the ways we report and tell stories, to how we understand and engage our readers. This shift has placed newsrooms under tremendous economic pressures, and only a handful have the capacity to keep up with the technological changes reshaping the field. It is difficult for all but the largest newsrooms to provide creative direction in the development of substantial new forms of journalism and engagement strategies to support monetizing this content. Small- to medium-sized outlets have very few choices when it comes to this kind of innovation, and often simply do without or are forced to acquire third party solutions at considerable expense.

Journalism needs broad leadership to envision a new future for the profession, one that mobilizes the power of technology directly in the service of news organizations. Achieving this leadership requires both a commitment to journalism’s public mission, while meeting our new responsibility to sustained technical and creative innovation, placing special emphasis on local outlets.

What? Our goal is to foster a culture of interdisciplinary experimentation within journalism, one that produces easily and widely shared strategies for approaching current editorial and business-side challenges. These strategies will be implemented through open source software and readily deployed systems — “news products.” Our approach to innovation will be collaborative, involving multiple newsrooms and our development team will work with newspaper partners from design through engineering and deployment. Our framework for product development is nimble enough that ideas can be quickly tested and developed to respond to the needs of our changing profession in a timely way.

These efforts are designed to produce a stream of new strategies and accompanying open source tools optimized for innovation in an industry that desperately needs to make the most of its contemporary involvement with computation. We believe a university is the natural and ideal point of coordination for these efforts, with its mandate to assess the present and future needs of the industry, and to provide continuing education as the nature of the profession shifts.

How? As the first of a number of anticipated projects incubated by Brown, we are developing an open source “smart” paywall that deploys ML to go beyond one-size-fits-all approaches to audience engagement. It will help fill a resource gap, in which a handful of large news outlets have this development capacity, but the vast majority of daily newspapers — almost 1,300 — do not.

Through the deployment of ML in this way, we aim to provide small-to-medium sized news organizations with tools to help strengthen their subscriber base. We explicitly extend the idea of a paywall to include a variety of actions that a publisher can take to engage their readers and encourage subscription. We focus on the formalism of a paywall as it is the place where business, newsroom and reader needs all meet — it can become a place of creativity and innovation.

Who? In this effort, we are announcing six new roles housed at the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia Journalism School. For some of these roles, there is opportunity to work remotely. Please consult the individual job descriptions for details. Interviewing and hiring will commence immediately.


Senior Engineer

Oversee the daily operation of and overall planning for the project team, consisting of developers, a designer, and graduate students in the computational or data sciences.. Work with the Brown Institute Director, the Advisory Board, and the team’s community manager to specify the functionality of the overall paywall system, and assess the range of IT infrastructures in newsrooms on top of which the product needs to function.

Create the project’s formal specifications, and set technical milestones, together with the full development team. Assign specific tasks to the project’s development team, supervise individual developers, and explicitly track team progress.

Identify collaboration opportunities with possibly existing development efforts in the same paywall “space”  — the goal of this project is to add to an ecosystem, not duplicate effort.

Apply at http://brwn.co/seniorengineer

Senior Developer

Reporting to the project’s senior software engineer and the Director of the Brown Institute, the Senior Developer will participate in design processes to help specify the functionality of the overall paywall system, and assess the range of IT infrastructures in newsrooms on top of which the product needs to function.

In a leadership capacity, responsible for designing and implementing “backend systems” including database configuration and deployment, API design and server implementation. Serves as  the “authority” on the team for these and related subjects.

Apply at http://brwn.co/seniordeveloper

Junior Developer – Machine Learning

Participate in design processes to help specify the functionality of the overall paywall system, and assess the range of IT infrastructures in newsrooms on top of which the product needs to function.

Primarily responsible for the ML components of the system and will serve as the “authority” on the topic among the development team members. The junior developer must have experience implementing applications of ML and various experimentation regimes, and integrating them into larger software systems.

Apply at http://brwn.co/mldeveloper

Junior Developer – UX

Primarily responsible for implementing the UI/UX components of the system and will serve as the “implementation authority” on the topic among the development team members. The junior developer will work closely with the team’s designer to specify the system’s UI/UX. The junior developer must have experience implementing the user interface for complex software systems.

Participate in design processes to help specify the functionality of the overall paywall system, and assess the range of IT infrastructures in newsrooms on top of which the product needs to function.

Apply at http://brwn.co/uxdeveloper

Designer (Part-time)

Primarily responsible for designing the UI/UX components of the system and will serve as the “authority” on the topic among the development team members. The designer must have experience specifying and implementing the user interface for complex software systems.

Participate in design processes to help specify the functionality of the overall paywall system, and assess the range of IT infrastructures in newsrooms on top of which the product needs to function.

Apply at http://brwn.co/designer

Community Manager

The community manager will be responsible for communicating with the advisory board of small- to medium-sized newsrooms, and will recruit others to be part of the project. Much of the community manager’s work will center on design process, helping the larger development team understand the needs of local newsrooms. This person will attend professional meetings to socialize the project and will hold focus groups to make sure the project remains connected with the needs of small, local newsrooms. The community manager will also be responsible for scanning the field for other similar projects, forging collaborations.

Participate in design processes to help specify the functionality of the overall paywall system, and assess the range of IT infrastructures in newsrooms on top of which the product needs to function.

Apply at http://brwn.co/community