New journalism professor Alex Gonçalves explores social dynamics through data-driven insights

Alex GoncalvesAlex Gonçalves believes a vibrant press is crucial to the future of democratic societies. He also knows the foundation of a dynamic media ecosystem is created in the classroom. 

For that reason, it’s been his goal to work in journalism education since Gonçalves left the newsroom as a science reporter and began his academic journey more than a decade ago.

“I am motivated by the thought of contributing to the education of the next generation of journalists and communicators,” Gonçalves said.

This fall, he joins the College of Media as a new assistant professor in the Department of Journalism. 

Gonçalves, who received a PhD in communication from Columbia University and a master’s degree in comparative media studies from MIT, will be teaching Journalism 102: Surviving Social Media. 

At both universities, Gonçalves studied the role of social media in the emergence of new cultural paradigms—a subject that continues to be a part of his research to help “inform the policies that shape the role of digital platforms.”

In addition to teaching, Gonçalves is also passionate about his research, which focuses on the intersection of computer science and social communication. 

When he realized the College of Media would offer him the opportunity to teach and to continue research, he knew it was the right place for him, where he “could teach future journalists and communicators while advancing my research agenda in a very stimulating intellectual environment,” he said.

Gonçalves also felt a personal connection to the College of Media as he’d always admired the late James W. Carey, a journalism professor, former director of the Institute of Communications Research, and former dean. Carey, a student of the media’s role in society, was an internationally recognized scholar in communications research. 

“I was exposed to [Carey’s] thought on journalism at MIT. His [book] Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society was part of the recommended reading list for the degree in comparative media studies,” he said. “Later, I joined the PhD program he founded and infused with his vision at Columbia Journalism School.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2002, Gonçalves worked as a software developer in Brazil for eight years. He got a second bachelor’s in social communication and worked at a Brazilian newspaper as a science journalist for four years.

In 2011, Gonçalves received the Visionary Journalist Fellowship, a $55,000 prize toward a master’s degree in communication abroad. The following year, he won a Person of the Year Fellowship, a $10,000 award given by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce to young professionals pursuing graduate studies in the U.S. 

Eventually, Gonçalves began to focus on academia—teaching numerous courses in data science, public speaking, journalism ethics, and science reporting—and research, using computational methods to study digital communication. 

His focus on understanding social dynamics through data-driven insights helped him obtain an $82,500 Brown Institute Magic Grant for the development of a platform to make defense contracting data searchable by journalists and transparency activists. 

Currently, Gonçalves is working on turning his dissertation into a book, with plans to publish in the U.S. and Brazil, which examines the role of social media in the rise of the New Right in Brazil.

Though his roles have varied throughout his career—from software developer and reporter to scholar and educator—the interplay of communication and technology, and a desire to share knowledge with others, have been common threads. 

“I believe education is a privileged space for real communication. I love seeing my students making use, in practical settings, of the knowledge that I shared with them,” Gonçalves said. “Occasionally, I get emails from former students of mine telling me that something I shared with them has become very useful in their professional lives. That makes me very happy.”

—Kelly Youngblood