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April 12, 2018, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Former ProPublica journalists are launching a newsroom to cover the impact of technology on society

“I’ve long wanted to build a newsroom around this concept of pairing technical experts with journalists. So that is what this newsroom will be about.”

ProPublica investigative journalist Julia Angwin and data scientist Jeff Larson are leaving the company to start a newsroom built around investigating technology and algorithms, the two announced this week.

As Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress this week about Facebook’s failure to protect user data, the timing of this new venture seems particularly good — but, Angwin told me, it’s been a long time coming. She was at The Wall Street Journal for 13 years, and in 2010 she built an investigative team there that paired programmers and journalists and produced a three-year series called “What They Know,” looking at the rise of the surveillance economy. Her book Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance was published in 2014.

In 2014, she joined ProPublica and built a similar team pairing programmers and journalists. That team produced a series called “Machine Bias,” which explores algorithmic injustice.

“I’ve long wanted to build a newsroom around this concept of pairing technical experts with journalists,” Angwin told me in an email. “So that is what this newsroom will be about.” Her cofounder, Jeff Larson, has been at ProPublica for over 10 years as a web developer and data scientist and has been on the programming side of much of the work Angwin’s done there.

The new venture, which will be a nonprofit funded by donations and philanthropy, will be based in New York City, with a presence in the Bay Area. “We will cover the impact of technology on society,” Angwin told me. “That includes covering the big platform companies, but also the tech that is used in other aspects of life — hopefully through investigations like the ones we did of the racial bias in software used in criminal justice and the algorithms that generate unjustifiably higher car insurance prices in minority neighborhoods. We also plan to build tools, similar to the Facebook Political Ad Collector that we built at ProPublica, that allow the public to understand technological issues.”

Angwin and Larson hope to start hiring in the fall, with a launch in early 2019.”We hope to build a substantial newsroom that aims to publish daily,” Angwin said.

Visualization of a Toledo 65 algorithm by Juan Manuel de J. used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 12, 2018, 9:30 a.m.
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