Democracy Fund supports ASU's News Co/Lab with grant to increase newsroom transparency

December 7, 2017

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication announced Dec. 7 new support from Democracy Fund for Cronkite’s pioneering News Co/Lab, a collaborative lab working to improve how all of us understand and engage with news and information.

Democracy Fund’s $100,000 grant to the News Co/Lab will strengthen its newsroom project, which helps journalists work with their communities to develop innovations that increase transparency, engagement, mutual understanding and respect. Cronkite School ASU's Cronkite School has received a grant from Democracy Fund to support its pioneering News Co/Lab, a collaborative lab working to improve how all of us understand and engage with news and information. Download Full Image

Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation that works to ensure the American people come first in our democracy.

“Democracy depends on an informed public, empowered by trustworthy information about their lives, their communities and their nation. In an age of viral misinformation and hoaxes, newsrooms have to do much more to help their readers navigate the news landscape,” said Josh Stearns, associate director of the Public Square Program at Democracy Fund. “The News Co/Lab at Arizona State University will help newsrooms experiment with ways to engage with diverse communities across the country and help build, and rebuild, trust in journalism that is vital for a healthy democracy.”

Democracy Fund joins three other current News Co/Lab funders, Facebook, the News Integrity Initiative, and the Rita Allen Foundation. The News Co/Lab, launched in October, is based in the Cronkite School, a national leader in journalism education. The lab’s co-founders are Cronkite Professor of Practice and longtime media literacy author Dan Gillmor and Cronkite Innovation Chief and news literacy pioneer Eric Newton. The two will work together with other lab staff on a variety of projects.

Cronkite News, the student-powered news division of Arizona PBS, will be a test bed for lab experiments.

The lab’s newsroom project is now underway at three McClatchy newsrooms: The Kansas City Star, The Modesto Bee in central  California, and The Telegraph in Macon, Georgia. The three McClatchy newsrooms will create and launch experiments to improve the public's ability to understand how news works, build public trust in reporting, increase transparency in how news is produced, improve community engagement with newsrooms and gather feedback. The Cronkite School will track the success of these steps and share best practices and models that work.

“We’re grateful to Democracy Fund for its support of our work to improve the news ecosystem, where media creators and users have new opportunities and responsibilities,” said Gillmor, director of the News Co/Lab.

The lab is a direct outgrowth of the “News Literacy Working Group” convened last March by Facebook and ASU. That gathering included experts from around the world who seek innovative approaches to fighting misinformation.

Over time, the lab plans to work with a variety of partners, from educators and technologists to community groups and a variety of newsrooms of different types and sizes. Early collaborators include the News Literacy Project, the Trust Project, the Newseum, Knight Science Journalism at MIT, the Poynter Institute, the Trusting News project, the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University and the MIT Center for Civic Media.

The News Co/Lab will promote and accelerate the best work already being done by the partners as well as pursuing its own program of experimentation.

“Democracy Fund’s support will help foster engagement and transparency between journalists and the communities they serve,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “We’re excited to move forward on this important initiative.”

ASU School of Music graduate uses multilingual skills to explore historical music interpretation

December 7, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Alexandra Birch is a violinist. This Dec. 11, she earns her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Arizona State University. She is also a musician who understands the importance of historically informed music performances. Alexandria Birch Alexandra Birch, violinist. Download Full Image

Birch spent the summer of 2017 learning to speak and write Armenian to further her research on music surrounding mass atrocities in the former Soviet Union.

She was awarded a language grant from the U.S. State Department's Program for Research and Training on Eastern Europe and the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union to study less commonly taught languages. The program was offered through ASU, with the primary focus on language acquisition, and included a six-week course in Tempe and five weeks of language immersion in Yerevan, Armenia.

“I think that language acquisition is vital for the (Doctor of Musical Arts) student,” said Birch. “I was fortunate to come into both the masters and doctoral programs at ASU with academic language proficiency in French, German and Russian.”

Her research broadly focused on comparative cultural commemoration of genocide in the former Soviet Union and included study of the Armenian Genocide, Holodomor and the Holocaust in Soviet Territories. She looked at how commemoration affects statehood post-1991 and the types and effect of commemoration.

Birch was particularly interested in the Soviet commemorative response to the Armenian genocide and in the commemorative works — pieces composed in camps and ghettos, music from gulags, music from persecuted people — and reconstruction of narratives using music prior to the genocide.

Birch conducted her research at Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian national genocide museum and archive. She utilized her German, Russian and Armenian language skills to conduct research she incorporated into her doctoral paper on historically informed performances. Birch’s D.M.A. project focused specifically on Soviet composer Sofia Gubaidulina and a specific work for violin, "Dancer on a Tightrope.”

Birch said she hopes to see more interdisciplinary work between humanities and music at ASU. She said that ASU has a fantastic music program and that she felt tremendously supported by her advisor, her committee and faculty in both her musical and academic pursuits.

“I would also love to see even more of an emphasis on the importance of language, in addition to musicology and theory in the performance realm at ASU,” said Birch. “I think that these skills in the humanities only serve to enrich our performances and musical interpretation.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I attended a performance of Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg playing a Shostakovich violin concerto with the Tucson Symphony when I was about 10 years old. I had been studying violin for a while and her playing had always inspired me on recordings, but seeing her perform live was what inspired me to pursue a career in performance. I also was extremely drawn to the piece and have dedicated most of my performance career to Soviet music. To pursue a career in performance, I have been very blessed with a very supportive family, particularly my mother and husband. While at ASU, I also have had fantastic guidance from my professor, Katherine McLin, who has continually inspired me to continue in the career beyond just a childhood dream.

Q. What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A. I would say that Professor Sabine Feisst's classes during my graduate studies have been a major influence on my current career track. Her courses really emphasize different tracks that are possible in performance, both with 20th- and 21st-century music, and also with research. I have been able to add a strong research component to a performance degree, and she has been a wonderful mentor in that regard.

Q. Why did you choose ASU to pursue a bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctorate?

A. I chose ASU for all three of my music degrees because of my outstanding studio, mentorship with Dr. McLin and the ability to continue academic research while studying performance. ASU has a fantastic combination of strong academic, collaborative and performance faculty.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A. My advice to those still in school is to expand your set of skills! Any secondary skill you can add to your academic portfolio will serve you well. This is true for any major and in any job market. I particularly think that foreign language skills are a fantastic way to open new opportunities in the U.S. and abroad, but any strong secondary interest to your major will open new possibilities in your field. 

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music