Sep 12. 2013-2014 Magic Grant Wrap-ups

It’s been an exciting year for the 2013-2014 Brown Institute Magic Grant recipients.Teams from Columbia, Stanford – and Columbia & Stanford - have been hard at work pushing the boundaries of media innovation. Read more.

Sep 03. Brown at Columbia's new fellows

The Brown Institute at Columbia is pleased to announce three fellows for 2014-2015. Each has a very different kind of engagement with narrative - from new experiments in longform storytelling, to the development of journalistic technology, to finding story by tracing a black line on a white wall. 

Jennifer 8. Lee is a journalist and entrepreneur. She is co-founder of a literary studio called Plympton, which focuses on publishing serialized fiction for digital reading. Its mobile reading app, Rooster, launched in March of 2014. She serves on the boards of the Center for Public Integrity, Hacks/Hackers, the Asian American Writers Workshop, Nieman Foundation, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Committee. Jenny was a reporter at the New York Times for nine years and is the author of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles," a book documenting the history of Chinese food in America that was #26 on NYT bestseller list. She also produced "The Search for General Tso," a documentary which premiered at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival. She is a cofounder of Newsdiffs and Spark Camp. 

Aram Chung joins us from a Google Journalism Fellowship at IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) where she explored ways to apply graph database techniques to investigative reporting and contributed to DocumentCloud, IRE's online document management platform. Aram is a 2014 graduate from the dual Master of Science degree program between Columbia's School of Journalism and the Department of Computer Science. During her fellowship period, Aram will create a graphic, interactive textbook explaining computational methods in terms of journalistic applications, helping journalists and students both select approaches for their stories as well as dig deeper into the underlying metaphors and abstrations motivating their design.

Shantell Martin draws - black ink on white surfaces. Her illustrations transform everything from walls, found objects, sneakers and even faces into a visual narrative. Shantell's work is a meditation of lines; a language of characters, creatures and messages that invite her viewers to share a role in her creative process. Her creations bridge fine art, commercial and the everyday experience. Martin has been featured on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, the cover of the New York Times Home Section, and Creative Review Magazine. She was named French Glamour’s New York’s "coolest it girl" in 2011 and her collaboration with fashion brand Suno was featured in Vogue in 2013. She regularly creates live digital drawings at conferences, musical performances, and museums including MoMA.

Aug 23. Crowdsourcing experts by Michael Bernstein

Michael Bernstein's work about crowdsourcing expertise and problem-solving is featured on a new video. He shows how to dynamically assemble and manage paid online experts. Bernstein is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Stanford, and he develops systems and tools for crowdsourcing work with his team. Bernstein is affiliated with the Brown Institute, and he and his teams are Magic Grants recipients for their projects Visual Genome (2014-2015) and Ensemble (2013-2014).

Aug 23. XRay featured in the NYT Bits Blog

The New York Times Bits Blog featured a long piece by Steve Lohr on XRay, "a reverse-engineering machine that models the correlations made by web services." As you browse the web, shop online or contact friends via SMS or email, companies collect and share information, making inferences about you to target their services. XRay exposes those inferences. According to Lohr, "the group’s three initial efforts have tried to determine the kinds of ads shown to Gmail users based on the text in their email messages; the product recommendations Amazon shows users based on their wish lists and other data; and the video recommendations made by YouTube determined by the videos users have previously viewed."

The work on XRay was supervised in part by Augustin Chaintreau and Mathias Lecuyer, whose previous project Dispatch was funded by the Brown Institute in 2012-2013. XRay is the basis for a 2014-2015 Magic Grant by Charles Berret, Max Lee Tucker de Silva, Cecilia Reyes and Augustin Chaintreau, who are customizing the tool for journalistic investigations. XRay will be presented at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Diego. Try it out here


Jul 26. Columbia student seminar with Latour on Sept. 23

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Applications due: August 18 (double extended!)

Columbia graduate students are now invited to apply for a seminar led by Professor Bruno Latour on Tuesday, September 23, 12-3pm. Twenty-five graduate students from throughout the university will be selected to participate in this single seminar given by Prof. Latour. Students will organize themselves into a reading group to meet once or twice in early September for discussion of Prof. Latour’s work. They will then meet to continue this discussion with a small group of faculty on September 15, 12-2pm. Students and a few faculty will meet with Prof. Latour on September 23. A reading list will be distributed in advance. 

Applications are available through the Brown Institute submitttable site. Aside from your name, advisor and dissertation topic, we also ask for (in one short, concise paragraph) the major themes/keywords from Latour's work that are most relevant to your own work, and a description of why you would benefit from this seminar. The due date for applications is August 11, and successful applicants will be notified in mid-August.

This seminar is part of a week of events with Prof. Latour (more information forthcoming): 

Monday, Sept. 22, late afternoon: public lecture with Q&A by Nick Lemann 

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 7pm: Latour’s play, Gaia, for Columbia students and faculty 

Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 24, 25, 7pm: Public performances of Gaia 

Prof. Latour’s visit is sponsored by the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Alliance (Columbia, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University), The Center for Science and Society, and The Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Jul 21. Our new Columbia home!


Today the Brown Institute moved into its new home at Columbia University. I (Mark Hansen) can report that the space is more lovely than I could have ever imagined. While there's plenty to do still -- including a mural by Shantell Martin -- the space is inspiring. LTL Architects did a wonderful job! To mark the move, the Chronicle of Higher Education also wrote a fantastic piece about Brown and its goals. Joy! 

Jul 19. Brown hosts Bruno Latour at Columbia


September 21-25, The Brown Institute, with assistance from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University, will host the French anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour. During his visit, Latour will give a public lecture (with Q&A by Nicholas Lemann of the Columbia School of Journalism), participate in both student and faculty seminars, and oversee three performances of his play "Gaia Global Circus" at The Kitchen in Chelsea. Check out for a complete list of events.


Jul 16. The 2014 Computation + Journalism Symposium


Computation+Journalism is a forum for discussing the ways journalism is and should be adapting in the face of the quantitative turn in society. We invite the participation of a broad range of thinkers, doers, and storytellers to this interdisciplinary meeting, a hybridization of journalism and the computing and data sciences. We want to hear from journalists with an interest in, or experience in, developing new technologies or applications, and from data and computer scientists working in news, or storytelling broadly, and collaborating or hoping to collaborate with journalistic organizations.

The conference will be held on October 24-25 at the Brown Institute for Media Innovation in New York.

Details at

Jul 09. Stanford names its 2014-2015 Brown Institute Fellows

Reflecting the growth and broadening scope of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Stanford has named five accomplished individuals from diverse backgrounds as its 2014-2015 Brown Fellows. 


Dr. Tanja Aitamurto has participated in a range of Institute activities over the last two years and she has collaborated closely with the Widescope team.  Having recently received her doctoral degree from Tampere University (Finland), her background connects journalism, engineering, public policy and design. Tanja will also join the Brown leadership team and serve as the Institute's Deputy Director at Stanford.

After receiving his PhD from Stanford, Dr. David Chen continues as a Brown Fellows for his third year. He was a key member of the bicoastal Personalized Television News Magic Grant team in the Institute's inaugural year. Now a full-time research associate, David will continue collaborating with the current Magic Grant teams, as well as continue his research in the area of mobile visual search and augmented reality.

Huizhong Chen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Electrical Engineering Department, focusing on new approaches for word recognition in text documents.

Rebecca Weiss is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communications and a member of the 2013-14 Magic Grant team, Gistraker. Her research leverages natural language processing and machine learning for semi-automated content analysis of news stories.  

Matt Yu is also a PhD candidate in the Electrical Engineering Department. Matt previously contributed to the Personalized Television News and the STAR (Storytelling with Augmented Reality) Magic Grant projects. He a recipient of a 2014-15 Magic Grant as part of the bicoastal Reframe Iran team. 

Jun 21. Fireside favorites


In the closing days of ITP Summer camp, the Cannabis Wire Magic Grant team of Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian test out the Oculus Rift. The experience is shaping up much as we had hoped -- Students in journalism learning about new forms of expression through technology. (Photo o

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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