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

Anya Schiffrin is the director of the Technology, Media, and Communications specialization at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She teaches courses on media and development and innovation as well as the course Media, Human Rights and Social Change. Among other topics, she writes on journalism and development as well as the media in Africa and the extractive sector. Schiffrin spent 10 years working overseas as a journalist in Europe and Asia and was a Knight-Bagehot Fellow at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1999–2000. Schiffrin is on the Global Board of the Open Society Foundations and the advistory board of the Natural Resource Governance Institute and the American Assembly. Her most recent books are African Muckraking: 75 Years of African Investigative Journalism (Jacana 2017) and Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Reporting from Around the World (New Press, 2014).

Research & Publications

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.