Mar 11. Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A

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Recent acquisitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London include a WeChat enabled soft toy, a set of Christian Louboutin shoes in five shades of 'nude', the world's first 3D-printed firearm, the mobile game Flappy Bird, and an all-female LEGO set. All have been acquired as part of the V&A's Rapid Response Collecting activities, a collecting model that through objects seeks to raise questions of globalisation, mass-manufacture, and demography, or regulation and the law.
Rapid Response has led to the year-long pursuit of a set of broken computer parts, albeit ones used to store top-secret NSA files, the sourcing of a painted umbrella on the streets of Hong Kong in the days immediately after what became known as the 'umbrella revolution', and an effort to establish precisely what a VW 'defeat device' is, and how we might bring it into the museum. Taking Rapid Response as a starting point, in this talk I will make a case for designed things and their ability to tell political and social stories about our digital age, and the role of the museum as a place to foster informed public debate.
Corinna Gardner
Victoria and Albert Museum
Small Objects, Big Questions: Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A
March 11, 2016
12:30 PM, Gates B01
This event is co-sponsored by the Brown Institute and the CS 547 Winter Seminar Series.
Corinna Gardner is curator of contemporary product design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Part of the Design, Architecture and Digital department, Corinna leads on the Rapid Response Collecting activities of the museum and has curatorial responsibility for product and digital design. In 2015, Corinna curated All of This Belongs to You, an exhibition about the design of public life, and the role institutions play in shaping public debate. The exhibition included Ways to be Secret, a display which included devices that force us to question who owns our personal data and what right we have to privacy. Corinna trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art and prior to joining the V&A, worked at Barbican Art Gallery, London on exhibitions including OMA: Progress, Bauhaus: Art as Life, Random International's Rain Room and Cory Arcangel's Beat the Champ.

Mar 10. Students Explore New Uses for News Agency Content


On March 5, the Tow Center and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation hosted the MINDS Innovation Challenge at Columbia Journalism School. Columbia students from different disciplines, including journalism, data science, and statistics, came together for a day-long hackathon examining the central question: how can news agencies find new uses for their content? 

At the conclusion of the hackathon, groups gave a short pitch with mock ups and prototypes, and fielded questions from the judging panel which included Pete Brown (Senior Research Fellow, Tow Center), Aine Kerr (for Managing Editor, Storyful) Eric Carvin (Social Media Editor, AP) and Lucy Sun (Business Development, AP). The judges evaluated the pitches on criteria including: use of data, practical application for news agencies, originality, and scalability.

“One of the goals of the agencies is to find innovation. What better place to find those ideas than at a university, working with students who are exposed to new technologies, new platforms, and new ways of thinking about problems,” said Francesco Marconi, Manager of Strategy and Development at AP. “I was very impressed by the quality of work the students delivered in such a short period of time and their understanding of the challenges news agencies face.”

Mar 07. Magic Grants Due TODAY 3/7!

This is a reminder that applications for Brown Institute Magic Grants are due TODAY (3/7) by midnight Pacific time! 

As many of you might know, one of our current team of grantees has released a VR documentary on the famine in South Sudan. It's an immersive video that we produced with FRONTLINE. The full video is out now -- watch it at is just one example of the projects we fund. Successful Magic Grants are varied, but they all represent authentic collaborations between a story and some kind of novel technology.

New kinds of interfaces for personal drones. An open data platform to support coverage of the Panamanian government. A toolkit that helps science reporters quickly contextualize new research studies. A detailed study of how digital information is shared in Cuba via El Paquete. A collaboration with the drag community in Bushwick and the reimagining of a social media platform that allows for richer notions of identity. A platform to apply machine learning to collections of declassified documents for understanding patterns in official secrecy. Geotagged social media and a new form of police scanner. Novel interfaces for massively collaborative creative work and a story that could draw on the contributions of thousands of people. This is the kind of work we've funded.

At the Brown Institute, we look for innovative ideas with the potential to change the ways in which stories are produced, delivered, presented or consumed. David and Helen Gurley Brown believed that magic happens when innovative technology is combined with great content, and creative people are given the opportunity to explore their ideas and vision of the future.

Magic Grants can support small teams for up to a year, with an overall budget of $150K for teams that are based at Columbia and $300K if the teams involve both Columbia and Stanford. On our web site you will find specific details about the Magic Grant program and how to apply.

If you have any last-minute questions, please contact  Mark Hansen (, Michael Krisch ( at Columbia, or Kelly Yilmaz ( at Stanford. 

Good luck!

Mar 05. Behind the scenes of "On the Brink"


In two publications this week, the Magic Grant team of Evan Wexler, Marcelle Hopkins and Ben Moran take us behind the scenes of their VR documentary "On the Brink of Famine," a moving experience of the hunger crisis in South Sudan.

In a post for FRONTLINE's blog, Marcelle Hopkins explains how the food crisis developed in South Sudan. Shockingly, it has nothing to do with climate change or El Niño.

South Sudan’s food crisis is entirely man-made. In December 2013, two years after the country gained independence, a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, launched the young country into civil war...

In April 2015, the government launched an offensive to retake rebel-held areas. Across Unity state, its forces burned down entire villages, destroyed food crops and looted livestock, sparking mass displacement of the survivors, according to the U.N.

“There are indications that this may have been a deliberate strategy by the government or the SPLA [South Sudanese military] aimed at depriving civilians of any source of livelihood with a view to forcing their displacement,” a U.N. human rights report said.

It is a chilling article.

Next, in a video and accompanying story in ArsTechnica, the team explains their creative process for making both technical as well as journalistic decisions for "On the Brink."

Managing civil war, excruciating heat, and a ton of GoPro cameras—these were just a few of the challenges of shooting a virtual reality documentary in South Sudan...

Once in the field, the team put those cameras into some risky situations, including planting one in a field designated for a humanitarian food drop. Luckily, the camera survived its bombardment with 100-pound bags of sorghum, producing a mesmerizing, if terrifying, 360-degree view of the drop.

In these two pieces, the team offers deep historical analysis of the crisis and the technical approach they adopted to tell its story.  Again, congratuations to Evan, Marcelle and Ben for creating a powerful work of journalism.

Mar 04. Photo Expanded Fellow DiCampo Launches "What Went Wrong"


This week, Peter DiCampo, a fellow in the Photography Expanded program -- a joint effort of the Magnum Foundation and the Brown Institute -- launched his site "What Went Wrong". DiCampo explains the goals the project. 

The efficiency of development aid is one of the more contentious issues of our time, but consistent journalistic investigation and the voices of the would-be beneficiaries are often missing from this debate. What Went Wrong? is an effort to reframe the conversation on foreign aid through in-depth photojournalism, crowdsourced reports, and data visualization.  

In parallel, the first issue of Broken Toilets was published today. It is a new online magazine focusing on development issues.

Welcome to the first issue of Broken Toilets, an online magazine featuring stories about global development and culture.

Issue 1, Sludge, deals with the often ignored, decidedly murky, yet undeniably crucial topic of fecal sludge – a subject that exemplifies the problems of reconciling new solutions with old practices.

This first issue includes a piece by DiCampo. In it, he reflects on his Peace Corps experience that led to his photography of foreign aid sites and, ultimately, to "What Went Wrong."

Mar 03. "On the Brink of Famine": Full Doc Released

The Drop Posted by FRONTLINE

Today we are proud to announce the release of the full documentary "On the Brink of Famine.”

"On the Brink" takes you inside South Sudan in 360° to meet people battling a man-made hunger crisis. Experience the front lines of a famine in the making, in a VR documentary by Marcelle Hopkins, Evan Wexler and Ben Moran. The team received a Magic Grant from the Brown Institute for this piece -- a collaboration betwen Brown, FRONTLINE and The Made in NYC Media Center by IFP. Watch the video here or on Facebook 360°

Feb 27. Second VR Trailer for "On the Brink": The Camp

The Drop Posted by FRONTLINE

Imagine having to leave your family, your home, everything you hold dear, and walk alone for days just to find food and shelter. Eventually, you end up in a camp with over 120,000 others who, like you, fled the violence of civil war -- living on the brink of starvation.

It’s one thing to read about it. It’s another to experience it. We invite you to go inside a UN camp in South Sudan via Facebook 360° in this scene from “On the Brink of Famine.” The full VR documentary, by FRONTLINE and The Brown Institute with support from the Ford Foundation and The Made in New York Media Center by IFP, premieres March 1.

Feb 27. Reframe Iran selected for Kaleidoscope World Tour


Reframe Iran is a virtual reality experience taking place in eight Iranian artist studios throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. With a Gear VR headset, the user will be up close and personal with internationally acclaimed artists such as Shirin Neshat and Parviz Tanavoli. The narration and music for this experience are both minimal, allowing the user to feel like they are dropping in on some of the artists’ most intimate moments– while they are working – or behind the scenes of a conversation with our team. While the user visually investigates these studios, a cohesive story emerges through narration and interviews about Iranian identity and the heavy burden these artists carry to represent Iran while living simultaneously in exile from their country. 

Reframe Iran is one of 19 VR videos awarded "Official Selection" at the 2016 Kaleidoscope World Tour. The event, produced in association with WIRED, is a "traveling showcase of the best in cinematic virtual reality & immersive experiences." The tour will take the winning videos to 10 cities around the world.

Reframe Iran received a Magic Grant from the Brown Institute for 2014-2015. The core group – João Inada, Alexandra Glorioso, Matteo Lonardi and Matt Yu – applied for their grant while they were graduate students. Inada, Glorioso and Lonardi were journalism students at Columbia and Yu was (and still is) a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford. They wanted to understand the connection between media narratives about an isolated country – Iran – and their effect on the public’s perception of that country through its demand for art. Later, a former classmate, John Albert joined their team and Reframe Iran was born. Currently, Albert is working for McClatchy News in Kansas, Inada and Lonardi are working as video journalists for Culturerunners, Glorioso is working at a the Center for Responsive Politics in DC and Yu is finishing his PhD.

Congratulations to João, Alex, Matteo, Matt and John!

Feb 26. Visual Genome: A new interface for image search and retrieval

Visual Genome is a dataset, a knowledge base, an ongoing effort to connect structured image concepts to language. It allows for a multi-perspective study of an image, from pixel-level information like objects, to relationships that require further inference, and to even deeper cognitive tasks like question answering. It is a comprehensive dataset for training and benchmarking the next generation of computer vision models. With Visual Genome, we expect these models to develop a broader understanding of our visual world, complementing computers’ capacities to detect objects with abilities to describe those objects and explain their interactions and relationships. Visual Genome is a large formalized knowledge representation for visual understanding and a more complete set of descriptions and question answers that grounds visual concepts to language.

Feb 25. Announcing the MINDS Innovation Challenge!

On Saturday March 5, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation are teaming up to host the MINDS Innovation Challenge.
Working with text, photo and video APIs made accessible from AP and the Press Association, students will be challenged to rethink how agencies can find new uses for their content.
Over the course of the day, teams will be mentored through design exercises to prototype new engagement, products and stories that can be can be told through the mass of existing content. If you have attended the transparency workshops or Base Camp offerings, consider this a continuation of those exercises.
Now to the exciting part! At the end of the hack, teams will be evaluated on the ideas generated during the hack. Three select finalists will be given the opportunity to present at MINDS Conference NY at AP in April. The winning presentation at this conference will be awarded a one-week trip to London and the chance to present at Press Association and AP Headquarters in London! Winners of MINDS Innovation Challenge will also receive a Diploma/Certificate signed by all the agencies.
We know this is a week away and you're the midsts of finalizing your master's projects and Brown Institute proposals. But if you have time, this is the opportunity of a lifetime!

Apply to the hack event at

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