Sanford Reporters' Lab Director to Take Position at NYT

Sarah Cohen, founding director of The Reporters’ Lab at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, will leave Duke in July to join the computer assisted reporting team at The New York Times.

Cohen will remain involved in the lab and the school will conduct a search to replace the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy. Cohen joined the faculty in that role in 2009.

Cohen launched The Reporters’ Lab to provide journalists access to software and applications to apply advances in other fields to common document- and data-related problems in investigative reporting. The lab, formally called the Project for the Advancement of Public Affairs Reporting, is part of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy led by Professor James Hamilton. The lab currently employs one software developer and a manager editor for its website, social media and blog.

“I’m proud of what we’ve gotten done in about a year and half,” Cohen said. This includes creating TimeFlow, an application for visually organizing data over long periods of time; launching a website that offers reviews of apps and software reporters may want to use in their work; and developing Video Notebook. Video Notebook is now being tested by about a dozen reporters around the country. It allows a user to take a social media live stream, a transcript, closed captioning or even written notes, and synchronize these sources with video of an event to quickly locate desired content.

"Sarah's outstanding work as a professor reached many audiences,” said Hamilton. “She testified in the House and Senate about transparency issues, helped bring the NICAR conference to Raleigh, encouraged scholars from multiple schools and disciplines to think about how their work could help reporters, and sparked interests in investigative reporting in student journalists. Her mix of teaching, research, and service was highly valued, and will be deeply missed, by both faculty and students at Duke."

 “Sanford is fantastic and I loved working there,” Cohen said, but she looks forward to returning to the newsroom.

Although the lab’s initial goals included developing software tools specifically aimed at reporters, its mission is now focused on getting its ideas into the hands of others -- perhaps for-profit companies who are better equipped to scale up applications and find wider uses for them, Cohen said.

“We never cared who made a piece of software or whether someone made money on it; we only cared whether reporters could afford them.”

Cohen was previously the database editor at The Washington Post and has shared in a number of major journalism awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Selden Ring award and the Investigative Reporters and Editors' Gold Medal.