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. 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 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 15. Narrative Medicine Meeting


On Saturday, November 15, the Brown Institute hosted the Digital Storytelling Lab's meeting on "Narrative Medicine." In the picture above, Rita Charon, a physician, literary scholar and the Founder and Executive Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, is telling us about her experience with narrative medicine, speaking beautifully about the "deep and unifying power of narrative acts with all the things that made the healthy self... conferring form on a chaotic experience." Charon reminds us that "stories of illness start with stories of health" and that they are like any other serious narrative we encounter. A group of about 35 participants reflected on the ways in which narrative could change the relationship between patient an physician, and might even help us imagine new forms for our medical bureaucracy, one that uses stories to elicity our underlying values around health.

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!

Nov 11. Synapp/Widescope receives Notable Paper Award at HCOMP 2014

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David Lee, Ashish Goel, Tanja Aitamurto and Hélène Landemore’s paper, “Crowdsourcing for Participatory Democracies: Efficient Elicitation of Social Choice Functions,” received a Notable Paper Award at HCOMP 2014, the second Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligenceconference on Human Computation and Crowdsourcing.  The paper was one of the two runner-ups to the best paper award.

Nov 10. Announcing - Stories Told, Beautifully


On Thursday, November 20 at 6pm, the Brown Institute is pleased to sponsor a conversation between Ellen Weinstein, world renown illustrator, and Len Small, the Art Director from Nautilus, on their partnership combining word and image, story and illustration. The event is focused on the collaboration between two distinct practices that, together, can produce beautifully told stories.

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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