Focus areas: Media, development, innovation, media in Africa and the extractive sector

Anya Schiffrin is the director of the Technology, Media, and Communications at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a lecturer who teaches on global media, innovation and human rights.  She writes on journalism and development, investigative reporting in the global south and has published extensively over the last decade on the media in Africa. More recently she has become focused on solutions to the problem of online disinformation, earning her PHD on the topic from the University of Navarra.  She is the editor of Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Reporting from Around the World (New Press, 2014) and African Muckraking: 75 years of Investigative journalism from Africa (Jakana 2017).  She is the editor of Media Capture: How Money, Digital Platforms and Governments Control the News (Columbia University Press 2021)

Research & Publications

November 2020|Forum on Information and Democracy|Anya Schiffrin, Maria Ressa, Marietje Schaake, Sinan Aral, Julia Cagé, Ronald Deibert, Camille François, Roukaya Kasenally, David Kaye, Edison Lanza, Roger McNamee, Jun Murai, Peter Pomerantsev, Julie Posetti, Vivian Schiller, Wolfgang Schulz, Christopher Wylie

Launched in 2019 by 11 non-governmental organizations and research centres, the Forum on Information and Democracy created a working group on infodemics in June to devise a “regulatory framework” to respond to the information chaos on online platforms and social media. After five months of work, this group published a detailed report with 250 recommendations for governments and digital platforms which identifies four structural challenges and proposes concrete solutions for each of them.

September 2020|Roosevelt Institute|Anya Schiffrin

This report surveys the impact of online political ads on election outcomes, examines the current regulatory landscape in the US and in Europe around mis/disinformation online, and proposes a set of policy solutions to curb the spread of false information, enhance disclosure requirements for paid political communications, strengthen privacy regulations, and restore transparency to political messaging in the US.

July 2020|Universidad de Navarra|Anya Schiffrin

The premise of this dissertation is that 2016 was the year that societies began to understand the dangers of online/mis disinformation and decided to fund and implement solutions even though they had not been fully researched or tested. Many of the fixes were, in fact, based on the financial interests or belief systems of the people doing them. We provide a taxonomy of the variety of initiatives aimed at solving the problem, with the objective of enhancing our understanding of the strengths and limitations of each. The “solutions” we compare and contrast in this research include fact-checking initiatives and projects by journalists to promote community engagement, media literacy programs, technical fixes such as using natural language processing/AI to block false and/or inflammatory content and finally government regulation. Drawing on dozens of interviews with funders, journalists and regulators as well as archival material and including an exhaustive bibliography, this dissertation looks at the universe of solutions in an organized, structured way and concludes with policy proposals to help promote democracy.

September 2019|Social Science Computer Review|Anya Schiffrin, Karolina Koc-Michalska, Anamaria Lopez, Shelley Boulianne, Bruce Bimber

The gender dynamics of political discussion are important. These dynamics shape who shares their political views and how they share their views and reactions to these views. Using representative survey data from the United States and the UK, we investigate how social media platforms shape the gender dynamics of political posting. We also examine the concept of “mansplaining”—a term used to describe a patronizing form of communication directed at women by men.We argue that the possibility of being mansplained affects who is willing to post their opinions online, and as such, caution should be exercised when using digital trace data to represent public opinion.

September 2019|German Marshall Fund of the United States|Anya Schiffrin, Ellen Goodman

On both sides of the Atlantic, governments, foundations, and companies are looking at how to solve the problem of online dis/misinformation. Some emphasize the demand side of the problem, believing it important to focus on consumer behavior and the use of media literacy and fact-checking. Some focus on legal remedies such as platform-liability and hate-speech laws as well as privacy protections. Meanwhile, others try to raise the quality of journalism and support local news in the hope that creating more reliable content will be a counterweight to the dis/misinformation found online.

In short, there are myriad solutions aimed at addressing the problem of online dis/misinformation. This study looks at one kind of fix: the small companies in the information ecosystem that use natural language processing as well as human intelligence to identify and, in some cases, block false or inflammatory content online. This paper examines thirteen such companies, most of which are building solutions to identify false information online through a combination of people and natural language processing. Nascent and not yet widespread, these businesses are seeking to find new commercial applications for their products and, in some cases, hoping to entice the social media platforms to buy them out.

May 2019|Oxford University Press|Anya Schiffrin

Questions of media trust and credibility have been discussed—and researched—since the period between World Wars I and II and the subject is often returned to as new forms of technology and news consumption are developed. However, trust levels, and what people trust, differ in different countries. Part of the reason that trust in the media has received such extensive attention is the widespread view shared by communications scholars and media development practitioners that a well-functioning media is essential to democracy. But the solutions discussion is further complicated because the academic research on media trust—before and since the advent of online media—is fragmented, contradictory, and inconclusive. Further, it is not clear to what extent digital technology –and the loss of traditional signals of credibility—has confused audiences and damaged trust in media and to what extent trust in media is related to worries about globalization, job losses, and economic inequality. Nor is it clear whether trust in one journalist or outlet can be generalized. This makes it difficult to know how to rebuild trust in the media, and although there are many efforts to do so, it is not clear which will work—or whether any will.

April 2019|Global Forum for Media Development|Anya Schiffrin, Ellen Hume

This report was prepared for a meeting to consider how to establish a Global Fund for Investigative Journalism, either as a free-standing trust fund or foundation, or as a sub fund attached to other international funding organizations.

December 2017|Open Society Foundations|Anya Schiffrin, Beatrice Santa-Wood, Susanna De Martino, Nicole Pope, Ellen Hume

Journalists in many countries are experimenting with how to build trust and engage with audiences, and our report examines their efforts. In our study, Bridging the Gap: Rebuilding Citizen Trust in the Media, commissioned by the Open Society Foundation’s Program on Independent Journalism, we profile organizations that are working to build bridges with their readers, viewers and listeners and deliver relevant news to local audiences.

We surveyed 17 organizations and conducted interviews with representatives of 15 organizations, one of which chose to remain anonymous. Among others we spoke to Chequeado in Argentina, GroundUp in South Africa, Raseef 22 in the Middle East, 263 Chat in Zimbabwe, Krautreporter and Correct!v in Germany, as well as Bristol Cable in the UK. The report also includes an annotated bibliography of academic studies on media trust and media literacy and a list of ongoing initiatives as well as sidebars on past efforts to boost media credibility.

November 2017|Jacana Press|Anya Schiffrin, George Lugalambi

African Muckraking is the first collection of investigative and campaigning journalism written by Africans about Africa. The editors delved into the history of modern Africa to find the most important and compelling pieces of journalism on the most important stories of their day. This collection of 41 pieces includes passionate writing on labor abuses, police brutality, women’s rights, the struggle for democracy and independence on the continent and other subjects.

Each piece of writing features an introduction by a noted scholar or journalist that provides context around a story’s writing and an account of the story’s impact. Some highlights include feminist writing from Tunisia into the 1930s, exposés of the secret tactics planned by the South African government during apartheid, Richard Mgamba’s searing description of the albino brothers in Tanzania who fear for their lives and the reporting by Liberian journalist Mae Azango on genital cutting, which forced her to go into hiding. Many of the African Muckrakers featured in the book have been imprisoned and even killed for their work. African Muckraking is a must-read for anyone who cares about journalism and Africa.

February 2017|Anya Schiffrin

The threats to independent journalism no longer come only from direct forms of state control. Where advocates of a vibrant public sphere once mobilized against the suppression and censorship of news, they now must also contend with the more complex challenge of media capture, the topic of a new book published by the Center for International Media Assistance and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

In this volume of essays edited by Anya Schiffrin, media capture is shown to be a growing phenomenon linked both to the resurgence of authoritarian governments as well as to the structural weaknesses presently afflicting media markets. In this environment, political figures and economic elites collude to undermine the independence of privately-owned media, and efforts to stop this collusion by activists, regulators, and the international community have proven to be ineffective.

August 2015|Sociology Compass|Anya Schiffrin

In recent years, a growing amount of scholarly interest has focused on the nature of the business/financial press and how it covers key economic events. Some of the literature examines the failings of the business press and its focus on narrow, short-term events instead of analytical writing that educates the public about macroeconomics, including long-term trends. Other studies have looked at how these tendencies affected press coverage before and during the 2008 financial crisis. Initially, the scholarship examined whether the media should have seen the crisis coming and questioned why journalists hadn’t done a better job covering it. Other scholars, however, looked at the nature of the coverage itself vis-à-vis a larger discussion of how economic issues are framed. Much of the debate mirrored points made in previous analyses on the shortcomings of the business and financial press. They argue that more – or more accurate – information necessarily changes outcomes and tend to make normative judgements about the quality of journalism coverage studied.

September 2014|New Press|Anya Schiffrin

This groundbreaking book presents the most important examples of world-changing journalism, spanning one hundred years and every continent. Global Muckraking is a sweeping introduction to international journalism that has galvanized the world’s attention. In an era when human rights are in the spotlight and the fate of newspapers hangs in the balance, here is both a riveting read and a sweeping argument for why the world needs long-form investigative reporting.

October 2012|The New Press|Anya Schiffrin, Eamon Kircher-Allen

Protesters in the Middle East made history in 2011 when they toppled dictators who had been entrenched for decades. As the world economy worsened and austerity measures hit, the wave of demonstrations spread to Europe and the United States. From Tunisiato Egypt, from Athens to Madrid, from Zuccotti Park to London's financial district, protesters came out en masse, calling for an end to inequality and for government leaders to be held accountable. Specific demands varied, but one thing was universal: a new conviction that real change could be achieved through the peaceful action of the masses

October 2012|Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism|Anya Schiffrin, Ryan Fagan

It is widely believed that the media has an important role to play in promoting development and in shaping economic policy. This is done partly by the media’s framing of the issues for public debate and by educating consumers of news. Increasingly, economists have shown that the media has played a constructive role in promoting informed civil engagement on economic policy and even in promoting corporate governance. At the same time, the business press has been referred to as the weak link or ‘step child’ in an increasingly professional and knowledgeable news room. Among other critiques, business journalists are faulted for being ideologically captured, and so generally presenting a pro-business/market point of view. They are often accused of being not only biased, but too ill-informed to write in an analytical or critical way about economics. This article examines the US press coverage of the stimulus package over several months in 2009 to ascertain the validity of these hypotheses. We found that although there was robust discussion of the stimulus, it was mostly focused on the political process rather than the economic issues, there was little agenda setting and government and business sources – including many with a ‘vested interest’ – were overwhelmingly cited the most.

October 2012|Ecquid Novi|Anya Schiffrin, Michael Behrman, James Canonge, Matthew Purcell

The media are viewed as playing an important role in promoting economic development by educating the public, framing the agenda for discussion, serving as a watchdog and promoting corporate governance. This article examines some characteristics of the print coverage in Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda of oil, gas and mining, to see whether it lives up to these lofty goals. A content analysis was done of 788 articles that appeared in Nigerian, Ghanaian and Ugandan newspapers from 2007–2009 to determine how informative their coverage of the extractive sector was. Measurements included the use of jargon; the explanation of context and background; the number, type and range of sources. The conclusion was that much of the reporting was news-focused and did not include substantial discussion about the effects of oil and gas extraction or the policy implications. Nor did the articles provide a balance of sources who could articulate a range of perspectives. Differences were more pronounced between periodicals than countries. Delineated are some ways in which press coverage could be improved.

May 2012|Journalism Practice, Volume 4:3|Anya Schiffrin

Not Really Enough: Foreign Donors and Journalism Training in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda

October 2011|Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Volume 66:340|Anya Schiffrin, Bob Franklin , Donica Mensing
October 2010|The New Press|Anya Schiffrin

The role of the business press in the current financial crisis strikes at the heart of the heated debate about the media’s role as guardians of our democratic society. With contributions from leading journalists and academics at the forefront of this issue, Bad News is the first attempt to navigate through a controversy that will be studied for decades to come.

October 2009|Journal of International Affairs|Anya Schiffrin
October 2007|Fudan University Press|Anya Schiffrin, Graham Watts

The first journalism textbook for reporters who cover finance and economics in developing and transitional countries, Covering Globalization is an essential guide to the pressing topics of our times. Written by economists from the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as journalists who have worked for Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Fortune, and Reuters—and with an introduction by Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz—this invaluable resource helps reporters write about subjects such as banking and banking crises, pension reform, privatization, trade agreements, central banks, the World Bank, sovereign debt restructuring, commodity markets, corporate governance, poverty-eradication programs, and the "resource curse."

Each chapter explains the basic economic principles and current thinking on a given topic and provides

  • tips on what to look for when covering specific subjects;
  • a way to structure business and economics stories;
  • a way to use the Internet for reporting with links to more information online;
  • extensive glossaries and much more.
October 2007|Initiative for Policy Dialogue|Anya Schiffrin, Liza Featherstone
October 2006|Where the Truth Lies|Anya Schiffrin, Julia Hobsbawm

This is a fascinating and wide - ranging collection of essays about truth and the media, and specifically the relationship between public relations and journalism.

October 2005|International Center for Journalists|Anya Schiffrin
October 2005|Open Society Institute |Anya Schiffrin, Svetlana Tsalik

In most resource-rich countries, natural wealth does not translate into prosperity for the majority of inhabitants, but instead leads to environmental and economic devastation, and hampers democratic reform.

Only an informed public can hold leaders to account. Yet local reporting often overlooks the legal, economic, and environmental implications of resource extraction. Covering Oil: A Reporter's Guide to Energy and Development, a collaborative work of the Open Society Foundation's Revenue Watch program and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, aims to encourage rigorous reporting on these issues by providing practical information about the petroleum industry and the impact of resource wealth on a producing country.

The guidebook comes out of a series of workshops for journalists in the oil-exporting countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria, during which participants expressed a need for more information to help them understand the issues surrounding resource exploitation. In response to these consultations, Covering Oil outlines the fundamentals of petroleum contracts, provides a glossary of relevant economic theory, and presents case studies of major public policy issues.

October 2004|Columbia University Press|Anya Schiffrin, Amer Bisat

The first journalism textbook for reporters who cover finance and economics in developing and transitional countries, Covering Globalization is an essential guide to the pressing topics of our times. Written by economists from the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as journalists who have worked for Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Fortune, and Reuters -- and with an introduction by Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz -- this invaluable resource helps reporters write about subjects such as banking and banking crises, pension reform, privatization, trade agreements, central banks, the World Bank, sovereign debt restructuring, commodity markets, corporate governance, poverty-eradication programs, and the "resource curse."