Over the weekend, the Brown Institute hosted an experiment in interdisciplinary collaboration. On Saturday, March 25, we gathered 24 journalism students and 7 PhD students from Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Sciences campus to collaborate on new stories about our changing climate.
We started the day with a presentation by Gavin Schmidt, Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, which brought students up-to-speed on the latest news and developments in climate science, and highlighting some of the ways in which published journalism has involved collaborations with researchers in the field. Following his presentation, Susanne Rust, former investigative reporter for The Center for Investigative Reporting and Director of the Environmental Reporting Fellowship at the Columbia Jounalism School, conducted an engaging discussion with Dr. Schmidt on how journalism can better respond and inform the public on issues of climate. The main takeaway: now more than ever, scientists and journalists need to work together on stories about our planet. This set us up perfectly for the second half of the day...
In the afternoon, we got our hands dirty, pairing journalism students with doctoral students from Lamont-Doherty to build on our morning discussion. This started with a rapid ideation exercise, where groups were challenged to take non-environmental articles from major news outlets--a story about housing developments, a wedding announcement, a pasta sauce recipe--and produce a climate angle to accompany the story.
So, for example, a team of MS candidates from journalism and a student studying ocean science were given an article that focused on the White House's plans for constructing Trump's wall on the border with Mexico. After 20 minutes the students had an angle. Stream and river flow into the Gulf of Mexico has a tremendous impact on coral growth in the region. Clean river discharge has a neutral-to-positive effect on reef health. But with major construction taking place across hundreds of rivers and streams along the border, run-off and construction debris could have dramatic impact on the coral of the region.
The goal of this exercise was to promote collaboration between the scientists and journalists -- moving them from "expert" and "reporter" to collaborators. Some articles were harder than others to view through a climate lens, but we were surprised and delighted by the incredible creativity of teams!
Following three rounds of rapid story ideation, groups prepared pitches for new stories altogether. From bird migrations to profiles of new climate scientists facing an uncertain funding and research future. This weekend was a testament to interdisciplinary collaboration and the need for journalists to work alongside scientists when reporting on issues of climate change. With each round of exercise, our angles and pitches got deeper and deeper. It was gratifying to watch.
The Lamont-Doherty PhD Students involved were Weston Anderson, Ocean and Climate Physics; Alex Boghosian, Marine Geology and Geophysics; Logan Brenner, Biology and Paleo Environment; Kyle Frishkorn, Biology and Paleo Environment; Laura Haynes, Geochemistry; Nathan Lennsen, Geostatistics and Modern Climate; and Ruth Oliver, Biology and Paleo Environment.
For the past few years, the Brown Institute has been attempting to better understand how journalism can respond more productively to climate change. We've partnered with the UNDP and IRI to help African-based Meteorological agencies provide new ways to turn weather and climate data into information for farmers and other at risk communities. We've partnered with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to contextualize the impacts of and potential adaptation models for climate change through food and art. And we've partnered with the Sundance Institute to think through new models of documentary to better engage and inform around the topic of climate change. This weekend, however, we focused inward, bringing our previous work into the Journalism School.
This is a reminder that applications for Brown Institute Magic Grants are due in one week -- March 17!
We are looking for hardware, software, and story proposals. We are interested in projects that advance storytelling and journalism through new applications of technology. We also are interested in new tools and applications to the media space, broadly.
To date, the Brown Institute has funded 30 projects focusing on big data, applications of new technologies like drones and virtual reality to media, personalized TV and more. We've told some amazing stories as well -- stories about the digital life in Cuba, the drag renaissance in Bushwick, food adulteration in the markets in Dhaka, and the famine in South Sudan.
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 members from Columbia and Stanford. On our web site you will find specific details about the Magic Grant program and how to apply.
If you're still searching for collaborators, post your pitch to our slack. If you still need help crafting your proposal or have specific questions pertaining to the grant/application process, reach out to a member of the Brown Institute Staff! At Columbia, you can register for office hours at brwn.co/officehours or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns! At Stanford, reach out to email@example.com to ask questions or schedule office hours.
Enigma and The Brown Institute for Media Innovation are hiring a graduating student from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism to work as Fellow for a period of three months beginning sometime in the Summer or Fall of 2017. The Fellow will work at the Enigma offices near Madison Square Park in New York City. The deadline to apply is April 3, 2017!
Enigma started with the idea that there is an enormous quantity of hidden knowledge locked away in public data silos and obscure formats, waiting to be released. The company is building data discovery and analytics tools that make it simpler for organizations to understand their own private data; and for the wider community to explore and build on Enigma’s own integrated public platform, linking data from federal, state, local and international government sources.
With this Fellowship, The Brown Institute and Enigma are combining efforts to introduce the idea of “narrative” into the all stages of the data pipeline. Where do data come from? How are they organized? What algorithms are used to recognize “entities” across different databases? At each stage in the process, a narrative perspective helps designers, engineers and end users tell better stories.
Scope of the role and prerequisites
This fellowship seeks an individual interested in engaging with data on one of two beats: either healthcare or issues surrounding financial sanctions as a tool of foreign policy, anti-terror and antiorganized crime efforts. The ideal candidate will have experience producing content on regular deadlines and thrive in a self-directed environment.
The Fellow will spend some amount of time finding stories in the vast collection of data offered by Enigma. They will also explore how decisions in data collection and organization affects the different kinds of stories that can be told. Perhaps it’s best to think of this Fellowship as a kind of “Journalist in Residence.” As such, the ideal candidate has a background in data and computation as well as strong reporting and writing experience.
The Fellow must be a student or graduate of Columbia Journalism School. They must be reasonably fluent in a programming language for data manipulation — R and Python are fine examples. They must also be skilled at reporting and writing, with some experience using data to find and tell stories. The Fellow will work as a full-time, temporary employee of Enigma and will be paid a gross amount of $1,200 per week.
How to Apply
To apply, upload a resume and 3 examples of your written work (links or PDFs), including data related publications or visualizations. The link is https://brown.submittable.com/submit and the deadline is April 3, 2017.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Join our mail list.