Mar 10. This summer - The Brown Institute in Columbia College!

Brown Institute fellow Charles Berret and other members of our staff collaborated on a new class being offered by Columbia College. The six-week summer course is focused on using data, code and algorithms to open new lines of journalistic inquiry and new ways of telling stories about the world around us. The class will explore the role of journalists as storytellers for the public, explaining that over time, technology has changed how and what stories are told. In parallel, the course builds on the traditional journalistic techniques for asking questions about how society functions, and introduces the new technical tools of computation. This course is intended to help students understand the world in new ways and question the very tools and frameworks that they will learn during the semester. The classes will enable students to recognize what phenomena in the world can be translated into data and what aspects of the world are open to computation. Students are expected to produce works of journalism. They will explore the history of the profession and the basics of reporting, but will continually return to aspects of computation as a means of exploring the world and how it functions. Our hope is that this class, through its connection to journalism, will offer a new kind of critical thinking around technology. Students are required to bring their own laptop to all sessions. Read about the class!

Mar 07. A Brown Institute All-Hands: The Magic of New York In February


Part of the joy of the Magic Grant process is getting to see all of our teams coming together over the course of their year with us. So two weekends ago, we brought the whole Brown Institute family (our grantees, fellows, and staff) out to Columbia University for our first All-Hands of 2017.

Magic Grantees get together for four collective meetings a year - two at Stanford and two at Columbia - coming together frequently enough so each team can benefit from the cultures of each university and its surroundings. This year, the cycle kicked off in September with a public showcase at Stanford for our outgoing class of grantees and fellows and our first meeting of the new class to orient them to The Institute.

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For this second convening, we made a point to bring the city into the conversation, sending teams out to visit four field trip sites across New York with visits to the Bloomberg Graphics team, public data platform Enigma, the archives of the New York Times, and world-renown architects diller scofidio + renfro. While these form a somewhat eclectic collection of New York institutions, they also happen to be progressive in how they think about the organization and presentation of information. We wanted folks across Brown Institute teams to see information in new ways:


    • How information can be presented interactively; not just what's possible, but the processes behind doing so regularly at Bloomberg
    • How public data can be collected an organized at scale at Enigma, and how similar approaches to information collection can solve different kinds of problems that they're facing
    • How archivists at the New York Times' morgue have created a usable past for reporters and researchers out of over a century and many lifetimes of work organizing newspaper and photo clippings
    • And how the aggressively interdisciplinary architects at DS+R approach their practice of research and how the spatial design of information can affect inhabitants and users


Expect to hear more over the coming weeks about what kinds of magic folks have been up to: from finding public health stories in Dhaka, the latest in newsroom source security, to computer-aided creativity, and documenting dying (and thriving) coral reefs.

If you've got a project that's just perfect for one of our Magic Grants, you've got a few days until the March 17, 2017 to submit your proposal and join us this coming September as we welcome a new class of members into the Brown Institute Family.

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Mar 04. Brown staff in Reveal with "The Wall"

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President Donald Trump’s promise to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is the subject of intense discussion. The immigration debate has raised the question about the current state of the U.S. border protections and what would be needed to build such a wall.

Former Magic Grantee and current Brown staff member Allison McCartney took a look at the question. Working with The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Michael Corey and Andrew Becker (of Reveal, CIR’s nationally-syndicated radio show), the three created an interactive map of the U.S.-Mexico border fence. The map allows viewers to see the existing border fencing already built by the U.S., see what that border fence actually looks like, how much has yet to be built, and identify locations that represent quirks or issues with the current border fence.

Feb 23. Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron, In Conversation

Just hours after The Washington Post unveiled its new slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” the Brown Institute at Stanford hosted the newspaper’s Executive Editor Martin “Marty’” Baron, as part of the Institute’s Winter Quarter Speaker Series.

Brown's Stanford Director, Maneesh Agrawala, interviewed Baron before a capacity crowd at Stanford’s CEMEX Auditorium. The two held a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the state of journalism, the Post’s response to President Trump’s attacks on the press, and howThe Washington Post is surviving and thriving in the digital era.


Feb 13. Daniel Alarcón: Telling True Stories in Sound


In the United States, audio storytelling is experiencing a renaissance. The latest wave of sophisticated podcasts cover stories on everything from true crime to architecture to imaginary worlds. Instead of just recreating radio for the digital age, podcasting is expanding and rewriting the type of stories that can be told in sound.

On Tuesday, February 7, the Brown Insitute hosted Daniel Alarcón, the creator of one of these podcasts, to talk at Stanford about how he tells true stories in audio. His podcast, Radio Ambulante, started with the ambitious premise of being the Spanish-speaking "This American Life." Since it began as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, Radio Ambulante has gained an audience across the Americas, and is now the first Spanish-language podcast distributed by NPR. In 2014, it received the Gabriel García Márquez Prize for Innovation in Journalism, a highly prestigious journalism honor in Latin America.

Feb 10. Brown Institute Movie Night: "The Search for General Tso"


Food from Pei Wei and Panda Express greeted guests at the Brown Institute's first ever movie night on Wednesday, February 1.

The Chinese food helped guests get in the mood for the evening’s event: A screening of Brown Institute Fellow Jennifer 8. Lee's documentary "The Search for General Tso.” The film debuted at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and now is available on Netflix.

Jan 30. Recap: Networks in Journalism - Transparency Series


This past weekend at Columbia University, The Brown Institute played host to some of the world's most prodigious networkers. Not the schmoozing kind nor the TCP/IP and fiber kind, but analysts of the public interest, studying networks of people and documents to map out relationships among the powerful.

Friday evening was kicked off by a conversation with Mar Cabra, the head of the Data and Research Unit of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and Kevin Connor, Director of the Public Accountability Initiative and a co-founder of LittleSis.

You can listen to the audio from Friday night's conversation with Kevin and Mar on the Brown Institute's Soundcloud.

Jan 25. Innovation in Unique Places - Dick Penny of The Watershed


On January 31st, 2017, The Brown Institute at Columbia Journalism School will welcome Dick Penny, director of the Watershed in Bristol. The Watershed offers lively public programs in film, media, the arts and the creative economy. Penny and the Watershed reach out to museums, libraries, government bureaus and NGOs, engaging them through new creative practices and nurturing media innovation in unique places. 

The Watershed supports the work of various artist collectives like WeAreAnagram, creators of the immersive theater piece “Door into the dark”, Winner of the 2015 Storyscapes Awards at Tribeca Film Festival and selected for the Digital Dozen by Columbia University. The Watershed is also responsible for nurturing the Pervasive Media Studio, a city-centre research space which brings together a network of over 100 artists, technologists and academics to explore the future of mobile and wireless media -- from talks on VR and contemporary dance to sponsoring a "Food Residency", described as "uniting sound, image and taste."

In addition to directing the Watershed, Dick Penny works as a producer, a manager and a consultant in the creative sector. He is also founding director of Bristol+, a creative partnership board made up of public sector officials and creative entrepreneurs. In 2010 he was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England. He was awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for services to the creative industries in Bristol.

The event will be held January 31, 2017  starting at 5:30pm in Pulitzer Hall at The Brown Institute on the campus of Columbia University, 2950 Broadway, NY, NY. 

We hope you can join us for a discussion of novel collaborations in media!

Jan 20. Brown Institute Converges for Base Camp at Stanford


The Brown Institute was founded on the promise that by bringing together students from our two campuses, Stanford and Columbia, we might be able to change the world, but we'd certainly be able to enrich their lives. This past weekend, we did just that, inviting 24 students to particpate in our third annual Base Camp held at Stanford.

We spent the weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, developing project frameworks to enrich the discussions happening in comments sections, characterize journalists' use of anonymous sources across different publications, craft new expressions of the "American Dream," and create playful ways to break online ad tracking.

The event was designed and emceed by Lydia Chilton, our Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford for 2016/2017, making the jump from being a previous Base Camper to Head Councilor.


Part of what makes Base Camp so meaningful to us at The Brown Institute is that it is such a distilled expression of what we aspire to do: literally bringing together students of Journalism, Engineering, and related fields from Columbia and Stanford, and getting them to appreciate and collaborate with one another. In just three days, these students meet each other, most for the first time, and by the end they've seen through the planning of several radically diverse projects that push technology and story forward in some way.

It also serves as a chance to bring new collaborators into the Brown Institute family, creating project ideas and potential collaborators across both universities for our upcoming fifth annual Magic Grants. If spending a few months, or a year working on that intersection of story and technology, or using technology to push journalism forward sounds like your idea of a good time, consider putting in an application.

See more photos from the event by our Stanford visiting professor Greg Niemeyer and 360gifs by Rosalie Yu.

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Dec 03. Ellen Weinstein on Illustration


The Brown Institute is delighted to welcome back Ellen Weinstein, a well-known illustrator whose work has appeared in outlets like The New York Times, The Village Voice, Nautilus and The New Republic, to name just a few. On Friday, December 2, Weinstein led a panel on illustration and journalism. Panelists included Andrew Horton, the Creative Director of the Village Voice; Alissa Levin, founder and principal of Point Five; and Victor Juhasz, a prolific political caricaturist. While our discussion was ostensibly about the ways in which illustrators craft stories, we kept returning to the national election.

How do you make sense of it and how do you respond? What should illustrators, and artists in general, be doing? The panel returned to this question in one way or another, whether it was through overtly political satire or more quiet expressions of uncertainty. With a mix of art directors and illustrators on the panel, we started to get a sense of how illustration interacts with the editorial process -- how work is commissioned, how ideas develop and how judgements are made about the appropriateness of images.

In the end, we saw the power of the medium, both as its own form of expression, as well as through its ability to elevate journalism.

Some details. Andrew Horton oversaw the design of The Village Voice covers during the election cycle, creating illustrations about Clinton being "her own worst enemy," the Republican National Convention, and, just a week before the election, the impact of Trump's candidacy on the U.S. Horton opened his process, showing works in various stages before publication and describing when drawings had gone "too far." Alissa Levin and her company Point Five have worked with publications like Harpers, Nautilus, and even our own Columbia Journalism Review. Levin discussed a range of projects she's supervised and her different strategies for developing illustrations. Victor Juhasz presented sketches during his time embedded as a "combat artist" with a MEDEVAC unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan. These were powerful works, often drawn during rescue missions. We also saw a fair number of Juhasz's political satire pieces that commented, sharply, on moments during the election cycle.  

Then, Saturday, Weinstein led a packed house of journalism students through a set of exercises, prompts for drawing. First, fast sketching around big words - "climate," "identity," "bullying," and so on. Then, we paired off and took turns as editor and illustrator, creating an image for two of three articles Weinstein provided. The energy around this task was amazing. Weinstein is a true professional and her critique ranges from the practical to the profound. We closed the day with students considering their own projects and how they could add illustration. Weinstein's advice was to distill the story into one sentence -- that process of reduction leads to an effective back and forth with visual ideas. We closed with a detailed critique from Weinstein, again insightful and compelling. 

This was the second year we have featured illustration in the Transparency Series, and there will certainly be a third! Thank you, Ellen, for an incredible couple of days.

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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