Jan 22. Boots Up! First Brown Institute Base Camp brings two campuses and many paths together


Jan.16-18:  They came, they met, they brainstormed, they prototyped, they presented.

It was the Brown Institute's first West Coast Base Camp, designed to bring together 10 students from Columbia and 10 from Stanford to learn the basics of Design-School skills, think big thoughts, and share ideas, all with the goal of developing ideas and building bi-coastal teams for next year's Magic Grant proposals.

The group got going with a round of lightening talks from Stanford faculty and Brown Institute Fellows, then formed six teams and got down to a weekend of work building prototypes that were presented to a review panel Sunday morning.

Problems targeted information sharing among disenfranchised groups, harnassing the universe of data for use by fashion bloggers, verifying Defense Department data for journalists to keep the government accountable, using virtual reality in new ways to tell the story of human impact on oceans, building a network for freelance journalists, and identifying and surfacing conflicting "facts" in news stories.

"I liked that I forgot half way through who was from Stanford and who was from Columbia." That sentiment appeared to be shared by all.


Dec 29. Looking back on 2013-2014

We are pleased to release the first of our annual reports, describing the work done by the Brown Institute over the previous year. This is essentially an adaptation of a report we submit to our universities, but we thought it might be interesting enough for others that we published this PDF (admitedly not very "innovative"). Eventually, we are hoping to either make this into a proper publication (and yes, we will commit the slightly illicit act of turning "born digital" projects back into paper) with case studies and essays from journalists, media experts and technologists; or "innovate" on its form, folding more substantial thought pieces into a novel publication format. Either way, it will be a place to capture all the thinking behind our various projects and fellowships. For the moment, enjoy our annual report for 2013-2014!

Dec 26. 2015-16 Brown Magic Grant Applications Open!

Wa are now accepting applications for 2015-16 Brown Institute Magic Grants. The full process is documented on this page, but here's our timeline for the season.

Proposal submission deadline: March 8, 2015
Announcement of finalists: March 20, 2015
Presentations by Columbia finalists: April 6, 2015
Presentation by Stanford finalists: April 13, 2015
Announcement of winners: April 30, 2015
Projects start: September 2015 (Summer 2015 by special arrangement) 

To help encourage applications, the Institute will be hosting a number of mixers at both Columbia and Stanford. On January 26 and February 20th, Columbia will host two of these events. The second is in conjunction with the Institute's "All Hands" meeting, where our Stanford colleagues join the crew at Columbia for workshops and check-ins on the 2014-15 cohort of projects and fellowships.

The Brown Institute is a unique connection between Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford School of Engineering. As such, we are particularly interested in supporting “bi-coastal” Magic Grants proposals, those with teams that have at least one member associated with each university. To help foster this kind of collaboration, Stanford is offering travel grants to prospective Stanford applicants to attend the February "All Hands" meeting. These travel grants are described on this page and are due no later than January 31, 2014. 

Both Columbia and Stanford will also be hosting open office hours to help students and faculty refine their ideas. Look for email about the times and locations of these sessions. If you have any questions contact Bernd Girod (for Stanford students) or Mark Hansen (for Columbia students and faculty).

Good Luck!

Dec 20. Brown Institute Fellow makes new Bedfellows

Nikolas Iubel, Brown Institute Fellow for 2013-2014 and graduate of the Dual Degree program between Journalism and Computer Science at Columbia University, is currently an intern with The New York Times' interactive news desk. Together with The Upshot's Derek Willis, Nik created Bedfellows, a Python command-line tool intended to facilitate exploration of campaign finance data. Willis and Iubel have designed a model that quantifies the financial relationship of political action committee donors and their recipients. Willis wrote a piece for The Upshot introducing the tool, and Iubel published an article on OpenNews’ Source documenting the development process and justifying the editorial decisions embedded in the code. Read the NYT article, the Source post and even checkout the GitHub RepoCongratulations to Nik! This is a fantastic platform.

Dec 13. @Brown: World Press Photo Multimedia Awards

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From December 12-19 (Monday-Friday) and again from January 19-February 6 (again, Monday-Friday), the Brown Institute at Columbia will host the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia Award Winners. The institute has been transformed into an exhibition space, featuring six award winning films, three interactive documentaries, and a selection of famous WPP phographs. The features showing during this period are inspiring, captivating, compelling works of filmmaking.


Witnessing Gezi, 1st prize, Long Feature: Witnessing Gezi' was created with the recordings of photojournalist Emin Özmen who witnessed the protests against the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park.
Hers to Lose, 2nd prize, Long Feature: Christine C. Quinn, once the front-runner in the New York mayoral race, lost in the Democratic primary. A behind-the-scenes film captures the campaign’s final month.
Swan Song, 3rd prize, Long Feature: When Marilyn is diagnosed with dementia at age 58, her daughters refocused their lives to care for her during her most precious years.
Staff Riding, 1st prize, Short Feature: ‘Staff riding’ is local slang for train surfing, and it is a widespread phenomenon in South Africa. 
Silent Night, The Kandahar Massacre, 2nd prize, Short Feature: The Kandahar Massacre is considered the most severe war crime by a member of the U.S. Armed Forces since the Vietnam War. In the early morning hours of 11 March 2012, U.S.
Calcio Storico, 3rd Prize, Short Feature: The Calcio Fiorentino is an early form of football, originally played only by the aristocracy.
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The three interactive documentaries on display during this time represent the very best in interactive story telling:


A Short History of the Highrise, 1st prize, Interactive Documentary: ‘A Short History of the Highrise’ is an interactive documentary that explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and the issue of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world. 
NSA Files: Decoded, 2nd prize, Interactive Documentary: In a series of investigative stories based on top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, The Guardian US revealed the vast scale and scope of domestic and international surveillance programs, the close relationship between technology companies and intelligence agencies, and how technology is leading to widespread, indiscriminate and routine mass collection of telephone and internet data of millions of people.
Hollow, 3rd prize, Interactive Documentary: ‘Hollow’ is an interactive documentary and community participatory project that examines the issues of shrinking in rural North America through the eyes and voices of those living in McDowell County, West Virginia.
On December 11, the institute also hosted an opening event, inviting journalists, phogotraphers, filmmakers, documentarians, deisgners and students and faculty from the Columbia Journalism School to celebrate this amazing collection of work. The evening included three short talks: Brian Storm (the founder and executive producer of Media Storm and 3rd prize winner for his long feature Swan Song) spoke on storytelling with video and the blurry line between documentary and advocacy; Gabriel Dance (managing editor of The Marshall Project and 2014 Jury member and 2014 2nd prize winner for his interactie documentary on the NSA files) questioned just what constitutes interactivity; and Adnaan Wasey (executive producer at POV Digital and 2015 World Press Photo Multimedia Jury Member) challenged the audience to think about how new technologies are expanding the field of journalism and what we might consider to be a story. 
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Finally, the exhibition of World Press Photos, a sampling of some of their best images from the last three decades, is installed on the two large grids of screens that line the entrance to the institute space. It represents the first time we've used these areas for an exhibition and the images look stunning. Given this success, the institute will sponsor a regular photo competition for J-School students to show their work, and will invite curated shows of videos and photos by our faculty. 
The Brown Institute is proud to support this incredible body of work and would like to thank Micha Bruinvels, Paul Ruseler and Casper Shipper for bringing this exhibition to Columbia. 

Dec 09. Institute members get crash course in Design Thinking


Click the above title to read the whole article.

Stanford Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Michael Bernstein, led Magic Grant teams in a Design Thinking-style “Crash Course” at the Brown Institute’s second All Hands meeting of 2014, December 2 and 3, held at Stanford. Prof. Bernstein offered the teams a “D.School digest” adapted from his popular Introduction to Human Computer Interaction class (CS 147/247).

Among his key takeaways:  “Focus on users needs.” What do we mean when we talk about a need? Prof. Bernstein asked. “Something that a user wants … something that increases productivity…. something that must be satisfying …  something that is induced necessity (by a situation and/or scenario),” he said. Leading the teams through a series of exercises, Prof. Bernstein helped our grantees sharpen their “needs finding” thinking in order to better ground their projects in something users actually want.

Prof. Bernstein then offered tips on prototyping.  “All prototypes ask a question,” he told the group.  Pointing to the early days of the Palm Pilot, Prof. Bernstein remembered how Jeff Hawkins initially used a wood block to simulate the form of the first hand-held computer. Similarly, he discussed the first digital camera produced by Kodak. Their question - What would it be like to see your photograph right after you take it? (Never mind that the actual prototype was gigantic!)   “Kodak didn’t care about the physical importance of the device. They cared about the interaction and the buttons on the screen,” he said.

Finally, Prof. Bernstein suggested that each team generate several prototypes for their project, rather than sticking to just one idea and refining it in a linear fashion. “Flare out to a bunch of other ideas, then focus back down to fewer ideas. Then flare back out and in. This is the design process,” he explained. “ Generate many prototypes,” he said. “You will come out ahead.”

Dec 03. World Press Photo Multimedia 2014


From December 12-19 The Brown Institute will host the World Press Photo Multimedia awards from 2014. In all, 6 films and 3 interactives will be on display in the Institute space and will be open to the public from 4-8pm. The winners are listed here. 

Nov 18. Documentary about crowdsourced constitution in Iceland


Iceland, that small and mighty island nation in the middle of the Atlantic, decided to crowdsource its constitution in 2010, making it a pioneer in policy-making. Join us for the screening of the first and only documentary about this incredible experiment. The screening of the documentary Blueberry Soup takes place December 3rd at 6.30pm at Packard 101 at Stanford. Refreshments and snacks will be served. RSVP here. This event is open to the public. 

Nov 18. Brown Bags kick off at Stanford


On November 7, the Stanford arm of the Institute hosted the second in a series of "Brown Bag" lunches launched earlier this fall. The Institute welcomed David Cohn, head the engagement team at AJ+, speaking on "structured journalism" and how he sees stories as a collection of "interconnected cards." As a story develops, Cohn said, AJ+ only writes and pushes what's new. The stories are time-shifted and become long-form over time.



Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, spoke about his experience as a news consumer on November 18 at the second fall "Brown Bag" lunch. Newmark's talk, which was live-streamed to students at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, spurred a discussion about how the news media might better "signal" to readers and users that news and information was "trustworthy." In other words: That it had been properly vetted, sourced, edited and reported.

"I just want news I can trust," Newmark said, pointing out that "a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy."

Newmark suggested that technology could be used in better ways to help readers better identify "trustworthy" news. Suggestions included: using algorithms to push trusted news to the top of new aggregators, publishing a code of ethics, making use of transparent links that show sources,  istinguishing between original and derivative news reports, labeling opinion as such, and correcting the record, quickly. Read further on Craig's thoughts ont he subject here

Nov 15. Brown Institute Concert Series


Friday November 14, the Columbia arm of the Brown Institute held the first of its concerts mingling data, code, journalism and music. The series is curated by Charlotte Mundy, a soprano and new music advocate, who has been praised as “mesmerizing” and “preternaturally focused” by the New York Times. This first concert explored the ties between mathematics and music, featuring works by Iannis Xenakis, Georg Friedrich Haas, Oscar Bianchi and Christopher Burns. We were delighted to host violinist Miranda Cuckson and cellist Paul Dwyer. About 60 people filled the space, which, if we do say so ourselves, felt very much like an actual music venue. The next concert will be held in January and is more about computer music, live coding and transforming data into sound. Enjoy!

Established in 2012, the Institute is a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford Universities. Our mission is simple: Sponsor thinking, building and speculating on how stories are discovered and told in a networked, digitized world.


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