Aug 09. 1000 Cut's member on VR and Social Change

Stanford University faculty and 1000 Cut Magic Grant member Prof. Jeremy Bailenson was recently among those cited and quoted in an August 1 USA Today Article entitled "New breed of VR pushes for social change." The article examines how this emerging platform is being used as an instrument for letting participants examine their conceptions of social practice and norms in the real world. 

Click here to see the full article. 

Jul 16. 7/19 - FB Live event on telling race-related stories

Professors Courtney Cogburn and Desmond Patton are going LIVE on CSSW's Facebook page to talk about the projects they are doing with the help of two Magic Grants from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. Professor Cogburn's project took place this past year. she will report on what it was like to create a visceral experience with racism using Virtual Reality. Professor Patton will describe the projet hel plans to begin in the fall, furthering his data analysis of scoial media exchanges among youth in communities with high rates of gang violence, in hopes of providing an alternative narrative.

Register at and we will email you with the link as soon as the presentation begins. Or simply join us at noon at

Jun 26. Sneakercon, a forum to reexamine offline networks - Aug 25/26

Registration is now open!
The  Internet has grown so omnipresent today that it's easy to overlook the continuing role of "offline networks," systems for exchanging digital information that bypass the Internet. "Sneakernets" (by which we mean any kind of offline networking, a slight abuse of the terminology) take many forms, whether it's a thumb drive passed between friends or a semi-trailer truck full of hard drives delivered to a server farm, or games played over a private network. Sneakernets form countless links in our digital infrastructure, but nevertheless tend to pass unnoticed in favor of a totalized, global Internet. The purpose of Sneakercon is to reexamine the offline side of the digital age by foregrounding the prevalence, variety, and uses of offline networks during two days of talks, discussion panels, and workshops.
Sneakernets serve many purposes: to overcome transmission limits, to circumvent surveillance, to foster community, or simply for convenience. Companies like Google and Amazon have found that massive collections of data sometimes travel more quickly by physically moving hard drives from place to place. A whistleblower may decide that delivering a tranche of data to a reporter through the postal service would pose fewer risks than contacting them electronically. Meshnets may provide communications in times of crisis or upheaval, when online network infrastructure may be damaged by severe weather or shut off by the authorities. Even when friends or coworkers share files in person, they may casually opt for some offline method despite the ready availability of the Internet.
Studying unique sneakernets around the world can reveal the complexity and variety of information ecosystems in different cultures, subcultures, movements, and communities. Before the Internet was widely available in Cuba, a static, offline slice of the Web called El Paquete was regularly downloaded in Spain, transported to Havana, and then transmitted through a network of dedicated readers who shared each new edition by copying it in person from drive to drive. During the 'Umbrella Revolution' in Hong Kong, students coordinated their protest using a mesh network rather than risk using centralized communications infrastructure. In Afghanistan, some people create a custom ringtone and share it only with friends and allies, then the tone is treated as evidence of their social connection when they encounter mutual acquaintances.
Even some historical, non-digital sneakernets could be considered precursors of alternative information networks in use today. The SecureDrop anonymous whistleblowing platform was originally called 'Dead Drop' in reference to hidden locations where spies could exchange parcels without having to meet in person. Similarly, in the USSR, where publishing was strictly controlled by censors, dissident writers organized underground newspapers called samizdat that both collected articles and distributed each issue in a hand-to-hand, no-questions-asked network so that the route to the publishers could not be retraced by investigators. As a model of anonymous information exchange, this bears a striking resemblance to onion routing, the system that secures web traffic over the Tor browser via a network of nodes with strictly limited knowledge of one another. These precursors and parallels highlight that even online systems may take on certain qualities of a sneakernet in the interest of security, privacy, or anonymity.
The inaugural Sneakercon will convene on August 25-26, 2017, at Columbia's Brown Institute for Media Innovation. Our audience of journalists, academics, developers, activists, and artists will collectively learn how to notice, measure, map, and otherwise make sense of an offline network -- while bearing in mind the potential risks and ethical concerns that may arise when you observe or enter into these communities.
Keynote talks by Nathan Freitas and Hans-Christoph Steiner of The Guardian Project will highlight the political and social stakes of sneakernets today. Lectures and panel discussions will provide a forum for experts to discuss the significance of different case studies and highlight both the challenges and the promise of offline networks. Finally, a series of workshops will allow the audience to focus on the specific technical, journalistic, ethical, or practical aspects of sneakernets that interest them most.

Jun 20. "This is not a game:" Jane McGonigal visits Brown@Stanford

Game developer Jane McGonigal joined Brown Institute Stanford Director Maneesh Agrawala on May 23 for a conversation about critical topics in game theory and culture entitled “This is Not a Game.” The two discussed how new forms of media - online gaming and augmented realities – influence our personal wellness, political views and collective behaviors. The discussion capped a day-long symposium during which McGonigal joined UC Berkley Professor Greg Niemeyer (visiting this year at Brown) and Antero Garcia for a discussion of talks in conjunction with the release of a new book: Alternate Reality Games and the Cusp of Digital Gamplay.

Jun 15. El Tabulario Launches


On May 26 and 27, members of the Brown Institute traveled to Panama City, Panama, for the launch of El Tabulario, a new platform promoting data transparency in the country. Journalists from the area, as well as representatives of the government's transparency initiative, attended the launch. The two-day event was a mini design sprint, taking participants through the data aggregated and disseminated in El Tabulario. We emphasized a journalistic approach, starting with the journalists own knowledge of the goverment and its ministries.

The response was, frankly, incredible. In many cases, the journalists were shocked that the data they had long wanted for stories were actually available. Ana Méndez told the Knight Journalism in the Americas Blog "The most important thing is that people feel empowered to make informed decisions and that is only done with real and transparent access to the information that belongs to them."  You can read the full interview on the Knight Center site. A report has also appeared about the launch in La Prensa, the leading daily in the country.

Jun 07. The Credibility Schema Working Group


By Miles Campbell, Brown Institute Fellow

On June 7th, the Brown Institute hosted the New York meeting of the Credibility Schema Working Group. The Credibility Schema Working Group is a body of data scientists, researchers, journalists and other professionals who are dedicated to addressing the growing problem of misinformation in the media. Through combining diverse perspectives on the issue, the members of the Working Group plan to develop a set of indicators of misinformation in a news article. More specifically, by organizing these indicators into a technical schema, the Group aims to create a system that is capable of assessing the credibility of news articles and sources.

Throughout the day, various individuals presented their work in combating this issue of misinformation. From researchers who have developed software that can detect levels of bias, to businesses that have created tools to annotate misleading articles, to news websites that aim to source their content ethically, the multitude of ideas that were exchanged showcased the vast efforts that are currently being undertaken to fight the spread of misinformation.

Later in the day, members of the group engaged in a brainstorming session to identify characteristics of news articles that contain misinformation. While tackling the issue of misinformation is certainly a daunting task, the Working Group was able to develop a set of indicators that prove promising for further efforts to develop the technical schema needed to combat misinformation in the media. This workshop demonstrated the power –and the necessity– of collaboration between many different disciplines in tackling an increasingly complex and important issue.

May 17. Brown Institute heads to Panama!


In 2015, the Brown Institute funded the Nueva Nación team in Panama to create the country's first truly accessible public data platform, El Tabulario, and now they're finally ready to launch. On May 26th and 27th, we'll be hosting journalists, computer scientists, and students in Panama City to pore over the team's compiled data and explore new story ideas with the country's untapped statistics. 

The Nueva Nación team is particularly excited about exploring student-teacher ratio data for public schools, never-before seen historical government payroll data, government spending and budgeting numbers, the country's debt numbers, and private and public credit consumption data.

May 10. The Stanford Daily: Innovative Media Organizations Recognized

The Stanford Daily highlighted the latest round of Magic Grant recipients in a front-page article on Tuesday.

Their article described the 11 projects that Brown has chosen to fund this year, and the unique space these projects inhabit at the interesection of media and technology.

This year the grant projects will push the boundaries of video, data availability and gameplay, among other topical and timely issues.

Read more about the Daily's coverage of this year's class of Magic Grant recipients here.

May 09. Enigma/Brown Institute Fellowship Winner

The Brown Institute for Media Innovation and Enigma, a data start-up known for its civic-minded projects, named Rashida Kamal as the 2017 Data Journalism Fellow. The fellowship gives recipients the choice of covering healthcare or issues surrounding financial sanctions as a tool to inform foreign policy, anti-terror and anti-organized crime efforts.

Contemporary reporting is a melding of traditional journalistic practices and new data technologies. The Brown Institute’s work sits squarely at this intersection by providing innovative programs, fellowships and grants that are changing the media landscape.

Ms. Kamal will focus on questioning the vast collection of data offered by Enigma, which has one of the broadest repositories of clean and standardized public data available.  She will also explore how decisions in data collection and organization affect the types of stories that can be derived from the data. Brown’s Data Journalism Fellowship is akin to a “Journalist in Residence” program at one of the most innovative start-ups in the country.

Ms. Kamal, a first-year student, is pursuing a dual degree in Computer Science and M.S. in journalism from the Columbia Journalism School. She was previously enrolled in the school’s LEDE program, a post-degree certification on computational skill building offered by the Journalism School and the university’s Computer Science department.

“I’m excited to work with a team that values making data accessible to all and to have the chance to use data to tell stories,” said Rashida Kamal, who has an undergraduate degree in Linguistics from NYU and hails from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

“At Enigma we are committed to helping people understand and improve the world around them,” said Marc DaCosta, Chairman of Enigma. “Narrative-driven, critical approaches to data are an important part of this mission and we are excited that Rashida will be helping us to pursue it this summer.”

“The Brown Institute is thrilled to be partnering with Enigma for a second year. Our journalism students are hungry to tell stories in new ways and this fellowship is a unique opportunity to explore how their journalism depends on and can actively shape basic database design and operations,” said Mark Hansen, Director of the Brown Institute at Columbia. “Enigma has been a joy to work with.”

May 04. 2017-18 Magic Grants Announced!

The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a collaboration between Columbia Journalism School and Stanford University’s School of Engineering, has awarded its 2017-18 Magic Grants to 11 teams of innovators todevelop technologies that could transform the media landscape. Grant recipients receive awards of up to $150,000 for projects lasting up to a year.

Founded in 2012 through a gift from longtime Cosmopolitan magazine editor and author Helen Gurley Brown, the Brown Institute is celebrating its fifth year of Magic Grants. With the support of the Institute, this year’s winners will build data sharing networks to connect journalists around the globe; develop in-camera video feedback tools to help news teams capture high-quality footage efficiently; explore new ways to critique the data, code and algorithms that shape our world; and enable the routine exploration of vast archives of video.

This is a varied group, selected based on their potential for innovation in both stories and platforms. This year the Institute’s projects are also supported through partnerships with PBS FRONTLINE, the NYC Media Lab,  ProPublica and the BBC.

David and Helen Gurley Brown believed that magic happens when innovative technology is combined with great  content and talented people are given the opportunity to explore and create new ways to inform and entertain. The  Brown Institute annually awards fellowships, grants and scholarships, and designs public events and novel educational experiences in digital storytelling.

The following is a complete list of Magic Grants funded by the Brown Institute for 2017-18:

DataShare. Investigators around the world are all facing the same problem: each holds a wealth of information, but the sensitive documents and data are entirely locked behind their organization's firewall. There are hundreds of stories and investigations that could be done, if only these data collections were interoperable. DataShare allows for valuable knowledge about people and companies to be "sieved" into indexes and shared securely within a network of trusted individuals, fostering unforeseen collaboration and prompting new and better investigations that uncover corruption, transnational crime and abuse of power. The DataShare team consists of Mar Cabra, a fellow at Columbia Journalism School in 2009-10, and Julien Martin, both from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. It will be funded by the Brown Institute and supported by PBS’ investigative series FRONTLINE.

Visual Beat. Today’s journalists are tasked with informing a public that is used to being entertained. News has to compete with the rest of the Internet, where good reporting often drowns in a sea of cat videos and click-bait. In this challenging landscape, news organizations have to adapt new strategies to keep readers, viewers, and listeners engaged. One strategy that has seen tremendous success in late-night television has been to embrace the dual role of journalist and entertainer, often by blending news with comedy. While effective at keeping audiences engaged, this strategy is difficult to scale  — comedy, it turns out, is hard. Visual Beat will build tools that take audio/visual content curated by journalists, and transform it into alignment with music to create a song-and-dance like presentation. This editing device could be a powerful way to engage viewers and draw them to a story, without asking journalists to change the way they choose content. The Visual Beat team is led by Abe Davis and Sean Liu from Stanford Computer Science.

Campaign is a strategy game that takes place in an imagined nation whose leaders are up for reelection. You are a campaign manager who must persuade the fictional characters in the game to vote for your candidate. You learn about the characters by accessing their personal information, including their employment status, age and hometown. You can learn more by solving logic puzzles, or by "convincing" the characters to share data in exchange for a reward. With enough information, you even unlock a Cambridge Analytica-style psychological "archetype" for a character. Campaign is a game about politics, privacy, data sharing and micro-targeting. The project is led by Laurent Bastien Corbeil, Rashida Kamal, Kevin Fei Sun and Eileen Townsend, all members of the class of 2017 or 2018 at the Columbia Journalism School. It will be funded by the Brown Institute and supported, in part, by ProPublica.

Camera Observa. In the modern, fast-paced news environment where video is in high demand, it is essential to capture high-quality video quickly and easily. Even for professional news teams, consistently producing high-quality footage is a major challenge. Yet it is essential to get a satisfactory first capture due to the ephemeral nature of news. Camera Observa proposes using a 360° camera technology to capture the context of the scene (such as lighting) to help reduce the many burdens of capturing video. Led by Jane E and Ohad Fried at Stanford Computer Science, the Camera Observa platform will provide in-camera feedback on quality of lighting in a video frame and suggest orientations of the subject to achieve various image styles; capture important interactions happening off-camera; and record additional B-roll.

Dark Inquiry. In an era of "filter bubbles" and social media-driven echo-chambers, the traditional critical essay may no longer be well-suited to the message. In response, the founders of The New Inquiry propose Dark Inquiry, a series of "critical software projects" (a game, an app, a bot, an API or some other creative use of technology) that produce critique through experience and interaction rather than written language. Their first experiment with this idea is the recent “White Collar Crime Zones,” a reappropriation of a predictive policing algorithm that usually targets street crime, refocused on white collar crime. The Dark Inquiry team consists of Sam Lavigne, Rachel Rosenfelt, and Francis Tseng, founder and editors at The New Inquiry.

Esper. With the advent of cheap consumer photography and the rise of ubiquitous imaging devices like street cameras and drones, large video collections are of increasing interest and availability to journalists and academics. Video streaming websites like YouTube and LiveLeak present rich datasets covering both high activity events (protests, conflict zones) as well as more mundane affairs (traffic, C-SPAN). For example, with video streams of a protest, a journalist might ask: how many people attended the protest? When did someone start speaking? What are all the messages seen on the protest signs? Just as existing tools like LexisNexis enable researchers to organize, index, and search large corpora of text, journalists need the same kind of tool to explore video data. Esper is a system that facilitates exploration of large video collections by enabling researchers to easily organize and annotate their videos at scale. Esper is led by Will Crichton at Stanford Computer Science.

Measure for Measure. The Public Theater and renowned theater ensemble Elevator Repair Service propose to experiment with one of Shakespeare’s most notoriously ambiguous “problem plays”: Measure for Measure. Interactive technologies and old media forms collide to create a new media dramaturgy for a contemporary Shakespeare audience. A custom teleprompter system will allow the ensemble of twelve actors to wildly modulate time and delivery. Radical experiments with speed set the play’s combination of the comically absurd and the tragically serious in stark relief, and deliver a remarkable new show that marries the company’s unique performance style with the Bard’s exquisitely lyrical language.

VillageLIVE  is an augmented reality walking tour of New York. Users can walk through the city to selected areas and use their phones as a window to peer into the city’s queer past. VillageLIVE is built around a video archive filmed by Nelson Sullivan. In the 1980s, Nelson became fascinated with video, which was entering consumers’ hands with the advent of handheld camcorders. He is considered the first vlogger; he turned the camera on himself and assiduously documented his life in the queer downtown scene of New York, featuring a cast of queer characters including Rupaul, Keith Haring, Lady Bunny, and more. The VillageLIVE project highlights a selection of these videos that tell stories of gentrification, of public safety for the queer public, and the revolutionary roots of NYC's queer community. The VillageLIVE team consists of Shir David, Jordan Frand and Anne Goodfriend, recent graduates of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, and the project is funded through a joint effort of the Brown Institute and the NYC Media Lab.

Measuring Public Perception of Stories in the News. News is no longer made through self-contained works of reporting, but instead often emerges as an ongoing dialog between facts, readers, and multiple media sources. For every news story published, thousands of people will react via comments or social media, and it will often be re-reported by other media outlets (from small blogs to major newspapers). These reactions in turn impact the perceptions of future readers: How do people feel about a story? Do they generally accept its facts, or dismiss them? How is the story shaping public opinion? To understand the true impact of a story, journalists must understand the substance of the discussion it inspires. The goal of this project is to create tools that allow journalists to measure these reactions at scale. The Measuring Public Perception team consists of Ethan Fast and Binbin Chen from Stanford Computer Science.

Beyond the Bullets. News reports of firearm violence focus on access to guns, gang activity, poverty, and racial segregation. A careful reading of the conversations on social media among youth living in marginalized communities with high rates of violence, however, can provide an alternate yet in-depth narrative of how and why violence occurs. Beyond the Bullets proposes a hybrid approach to addressing gun violence, mixing automated, machine learning analyses of the networks implicit in social media posts, with community-level expertise and social work knowledge of community development. Beyond the Bullets is led by Desmond Upton Patton from Columbia’s School of Social Work and Kathleen McKeown from the Computer Science Department.

Data Interrupted. The 1994 Rwandan genocide left millions dead or displaced, and a society in ruins. There is one consequence of the genocide that has gone unreported: the near-total collapse of Rwanda’s ability to gather data, including that related to the weather. Data, Interrupted is a story about a country’s struggles to replace a generation of missing data and to try to understand and manage climate uncertainty. It’s also a story about the climate-data divide that exists in the world, and the implications this has on vulnerability, sustainable development and adaptation. The project is led by Francesco Fiondella and Catherine Vaughan, with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and Amir Imani, a student in the Data Science Institute at Columbia University.

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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