Sarah Cohen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning data editor of the New York Times and former Duke University professor, is joining the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as the Knight Chair in Data Journalism.
Cohen, who joined the New York Times in 2012, leads a five-person team specializing in analyzing data and documents for investigative projects. She came to the New York Times from Duke University, where she served as the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy, focusing on computational journalism. From 1999 to 2009, Cohen was a prize-winning data reporter and editor at the Washington Post.
“Sarah Cohen is a tremendous journalist, an inspiring teacher and the premier data journalist of our time,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan, who taught Cohen when she was a master’s student at the University of Maryland in the early 1990s. “Cronkite students will benefit enormously from her many talents and dedication to journalism and higher education, and the public will continue to be well served by the in-depth journalism she and her ASU students will produce.”
Cohen, who will join ASU in October, will teach graduate and undergraduate data journalism classes and help lead investigative projects at Cronkite News, the student-staffed, faculty-led daily news organization that serves as the news division of Arizona PBS, and Carnegie-Knight News21, the multi-university investigative reporting initiative based at Cronkite.
“It’s an honor to get an opportunity to work with these award-winning student journalists at the most exciting journalism program in the country,” Cohen said. “Working again with former colleagues and with the Knight family of professors makes it even more welcoming.”
The Knight Chair at ASU was created in 1996 through a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the nation’s leading philanthropic supporter of journalism education. Knight is a major supporter of Cronkite School programs in digital innovation and the school’s “teaching hospital” model of journalism education.
Cohen shared in the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for a Washington Post series that exposed the deaths of 229 children in the District of Columbia who had come to the attention of its child protective system. The series, “The District’s Lost Children,” also won the grand prize in the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.
Cohen also was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2007 for the Post’s investigation of waste and abuse in U.S. farm subsidies, which led to congressional reform. Cohen also served on two other teams that were Pulitzer finalists and assisted in three other series that won or placed in the Pulitzers.
She has won virtually every other major prize in journalism, including the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Selden Ring Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal and the Gerald Loeb Award.
Cohen joins a growing cadre of Pulitzer Prize-winning professors at the Cronkite School.
Steve Doig, who will be stepping down from the Knight Chair after 21 years but is staying on the faculty part time, and Jacquee Petchel, executive editor of Carnegie-Knight News21, were key members of a Miami Herald team that won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for an investigation into property damage in south Florida caused by Hurricane Andrew.
Walter V. Robinson, the Donald W. Reynolds Visiting Professor who teaches investigative reporting at Cronkite, led the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team to the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its sweeping investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The Globe investigation was made into the Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight.”
Leonard Downie Jr., the school’s Weil Family Professor of Journalism and former executive editor of the Washington Post, led the newspaper to more Pulitzer Prizes than any editor in history — 25 Pulitzers during his 17 years as the top editor. Downie hired Cohen at the Post and worked with her for a decade.
“Sarah is a high-impact, innovative data journalist dedicated to accountability reporting, digital transformation of the news media, freedom of information and the continuing development of current and future investigative journalists,” Downie said. “She is a strong leader and a creative collaborator. The Knight Chair at the Cronkite School will enable her to have an even greater influence on the future of accountability journalism at a critical time.”
In addition to her newsroom work, Cohen has substantial experiences in the classroom. She has served as a part-time instructor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism since 2013 and taught at the University of Maryland in addition to her three years as the Knight Professor at Duke.
Cohen started her professional life as an economist. After earning an bachelor's degree in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1979, she joined the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, serving as an economist there for more than a decade. In 1991, she enrolled in the master’s program at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
After earning her journalism degree, she became a reporter at the Tampa Tribune and later the competing St. Petersburg Times before joining Investigative Reporters and Editors, a national nonprofit journalism organization, as training director.
Cohen is the immediate past president of IRE and founder and director of the Duke Project for the Advancement of Public Affairs Reporting. She also serves on the board of advisers of the Fund for Investigative Journalism and has judged numerous journalism competitions, including the Scripps Howard Award in Investigative Reporting, the IRE awards and the Goldsmith Prize.
She has testified before U.S. Senate and House committees on freedom of information and government transparency issues. She also speaks around the globe at conferences about journalism and public access.
Cohen is the author of “Numbers in the Newsroom: Using Math and Statistics in the News” and is completing a new work, “A Guide to Data Science in Investigative Reporting.”