Nov 22. Brown Brings Journalism Collaboration to MozFest


Elections, hacks, leaks and a potentially compromised position of net neutrality mean that digital rights will be a major battleground of the next decade, and maybe decades to come. As government policies lag behind technological realities, many people and organizations are stepping in to have the difficult conversations necessary to establish new rules for a sustainable and equitable web. Many experts feel that open technologies are the only way to push innovation and storytelling forward, and say that a free and open web is critical for the free flow of information and to sustain a healthy democracy.

The Brown Institute's Allison McCartney and David Riordan recently travelled to the annual Mozilla Festival October 28-30 in London to meet with organizations like Mozilla and the Internet Archive, both of which are dedicated to promoting these ideas. There, we ran a workshop that explored ways to collaborate at the edges of journalism, asking the question: How can journalists and their organizations better establish and foster relationships with non-journalistic entities?

That mission is becoming ever more important with the rise of "fake news" and as news organizations increasingly focus on their digital operations, at the expense of traditional means of circulation and profit. Meanwhile, would-be partners like tech companies, universities and non-profits need news organizations to provide information and better tell the stories of what they do. None of this is possible without the support of ethical actors of all sorts who have the good faith of the public in mind.

The topic garnered a lot of interest and thoughtful discussion among the approximately 50 participants, most of whom were not from journalism.

Read more about the discussion, and the Brown Institute tips for on how to  successfully establish cross-industry collaborations at the session’s Etherpad.

Nov 04. Transparency Series: Virtual Reality

The next Transparency Series event is on the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in journalism. With the recent explosion of VR – specifically 360-degree video– journalistic outlets are hungry for quality documentary content for immersive platforms. While immersive media experiences have become increasingly prevalent in the gaming and entertainment industries, we are only beginning to explore them within the context of documentary photography and journalism. How can media makers use immersion as a tool to engage communities and forward social change? How does immersing your viewer in content change the nature of the story you are telling? And how does this mode of experiencing a story change how journalists approach the planning, creation, and distribution of stories?

As usual, this event is broken into two parts.

The first part, on Friday November 18 at 5pm, is a talk by Raney Aronson-Rath. Aronson-Rath leads FRONTLINE, PBS' flagship investigative journalism series. She has been internationally recognized for her work to expand FRONTLINE’s reporting capacity, reimagine the documentary form across multiple platforms, and report and tell stories that matter in new, creative ways. She has overseen the production of several VR documentaries including “Return to Chernobyl,” “On the Brink of Famine,” and “Ebola Outbreak." 

The second part, on Saturday November 19, is a day-long, hands-on workshop led by Marcelle Hopkins, the Executive Producer for 360 News at The New York Times, and Matt MacVey from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. The VR workshop will take students who have little to no background in virtual reality and introduce them to the fundamentals of working in the medium. The workshop will start with a screening of VR films and quickly move outdoors to film. As with all the events in the Transparency Series, this will be a mix of theory and practice. 

Registration for the hands-on workshop will at 5pm November 4. The sign-up form will be posted at Below are the bios for our presenters. This should be a great event!

Raney Aronson-Rath leads FRONTLINE, PBS’ flagship investigative journalism series. She has been internationally recognized for her work to expand FRONTLINE’s reporting capacity, reimagine the documentary form across multiple platforms, and report and tell stories that matter in new, creative ways. Under Aronson-Rath’s leadership, FRONTLINE has won every major award in broadcast journalism, earned new funding to expand its investigative capacity and dramatically expanded its digital footprint. Under Aronson-Rath, FRONTLINE has produced several groundbreaking documentaries in VR — “Return to Chernobyl,” “On the Brink of Famine,” and “Ebola Outbreak” — and they will expand their exploration of virtual reality in journalism with a large grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Prior to FRONTLINE, Aronson-Rath worked at ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, and MSNBC. She earned her bachelor’s degree in South Asian studies and history from the University of Wisconsin, and received her master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Marcelle Hopkins is the Executive Producer for 360 News at The New York Times. Before joining The Times, she produced and directed virtual reality documentaries for FRONTLINE and Emblematic Group. In the past two years, she has received a reporting fellowship from the International Women's Media Foundation, a Magic Grant from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a Ford Foundation JustFilms fellowship at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP, and a United Nations Correspondents Association award. She spent seven years at Al Jazeera's UN bureau, where she produced TV news packages, interviews, features and documentaries.

Matt MacVey is developing immersive journalism curriculum and workshops at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Matt wrote a report about immersive media for the NYC Media Lab and worked on interactive stories in the exhibitions department at the American Museum of Natural History.

Oct 24. Stanford Daily's take on the Media Innovation Showcase (video)

Stanford's campus newspaper, The Stanford Daily, gave a run down of the projects recently presented at the the Brown Media Innovation Showcase in their article, "Brown Institute showcase features tour guide drones, defense contract database." Read their report here, or if you'd like to see the flash presenations from the night, the video is now posted (or watch it below).


Oct 21. JSK Fellowship Program - New “Teams and Themes” Concept


As they open applications for their next year of fellows, our colleagues at the JSK Journalism Fellowship program at Stanford are launching a new approach to create deeper collaborations among fellows and test innovative ideas for addressing the biggest challenges facing journalism.

Oct 18. Introducing the 2016-2017 Base Camps


The Brown Institute for Media Innovation at the Columbia Journalism School and the School of Engineering at Stanford University invite you to apply to the Media Innovation Base Camps taking place on November 12-13, 2016 at Columbia University in New York City, and on January 14-15, 2017 at Stanford University in Palo Alto. The Media Innovation Base Camp offers a great starting point for entrepreneurial students who want to explore the interplay between story and technology, creating new ways to inform and delight

Are you passionate about the role that emerging technologies can play in the future of storytelling and journalism? Do you have a story taht can only be told using technology outside the scope of traditional media? Base Camp is for you!

For each Base Camp, we will assemble a cohort of 12-15 students from each campus. In November, engineering students from Stanford will travel to New York to work with journalism students at Columbia, and in January we flip, sending Columbia students to the Bay Area. (All expenses are paid, of course!) Each cohort, a mix of engineers and journalists, will learn about interdisciplinary collaboration, exploring new forms of storytelling.

Our goal at Base Camp is to introduce students to a design process customized for journalistic innovation, with a potential byproduct being a new idea that might lead to a one-year “Magic Grant” project — you can read about the Brown Institute's Magic Grant program here. Brown Institute Fellows, industry experts, and faculty will be on hand to provide feedback, guidance, and support. You don’t need to have a fleshed-out idea to apply for these events — the Base Camp is designed to give you space to develop your ideas, collaboratively.

Apply at

Oct 18. Cannabis Wire in Nieman Reports

Magic Grantees Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian are featured on the NiemanReports website with a piece entitled "Why Cannabis Coverage Needs to be a Serious Beat." During their time with Brown, Martin and Rashidian created Cannabis Wire, a single-subject news site that "provides smart coverage of the global cannabis industry through original, in-depth nonpartisan reporting and analysis." Their article for Nieman presents the complexity of reporting on the medical, legal and economic dimensions of cannabis. They write:

"At a time when roughly 200 million Americans live in a state with some form of legalized cannabis, the need for in-depth reporting about the drug is urgent. Patients, doctors, researchers, regulators, recreational consumers, and industry members are arguing over whether to focus on the plant’s pharmaceutical potential or to treat cannabis like alcohol... Many journalists find themselves in new or unfamiliar roles, sometimes taking positions, sometimes becoming part of the story."

Oct 18. Election Hackathon with Journalism, Poli Sci and Data Sci

Interested in politics, social media, and big data?  The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, the Data Science Institute, and the Departments of Political Science and Statistics are sponsoring a Hackathon on October 29 and 30 where students and faculty at Columbia will analyze data from the web site to help us better understand the 2016 elections.
voxgov does multiple daily scrapes of government internet sources and makes the information it obtains available in a massive searchable database. The data that voxgov will provide include over 1 million documents from all contested U.S. House, Senate, and gubernatorial races, as well as the presidential race. The documents include social media content from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and official campaign press releases.
This data offers the opportunity to study the dynamics of elections in new ways. Social media represents a vast new frontier in how candidates for political office interact with potential voters.  Yet we know almost nothing systematically about how candidates and campaigns are using this new mode of interaction, nor do we know much about how social media might be changing the nature of elections in democracies.
One of the goals of the Hackathon is to advance our understanding of the role that social media plays in elections.  With data provided by voxgov, teams of students from programs in data science, journalism, political science, and statistics will explore a range of questions in an attempt to better understand the dynamics of the 2016 elections. Potential questions for exploration include fundamental ones regarding amount and variation in social media activity, as well as more complex questions such as how the tone of the race has shifted in response to domestic and international events.  
How do the candidates compare in terms of the language they are using?  Which candidates have been the most positive and which have been the most negative?  Which candidates have been the most issue-oriented and how are they speaking about the issues?  Which candidates are driving the conversation and why?  What can we learn about the popularity and viability of the candidates through social media activity involving "retweets" and "likes"?  
These questions will be addressed using the modern tools of data science, with a key focus on producing stories and visualizations that help to distill an enormous amount of information into forms that are accessible to broad audiences.  The collaboration with voxgov promises to be an innovative way to showcase the interplay between journalism, data science, political science, and statistics and to demonstrate how such interdisciplinary efforts can give us new perspectives on political and social phenomena.
If you would like to participate in the Hackathon, please fill out this form.

Oct 01. Media Innovation Showcase Draws Crowd at Stanford


More than 200 people turned out for the first annual Brown Institute Media Innovation Showcase last night at Stanford University. The event recognized the innovative work of 12 Magic Grant teams and Brown Fellows from the 2016 cohort who presented and demoed their projects—some for the first time. Read on.

Sep 25. Photoville opening - "Women on the Outside"


Lisa Riordan Seville and Zara Katz, fellows of our Photography Expanded program, and photographer Zora J. Murff are exhibiting an installation of photography, video and, yes, data visualization, at the Photoville festival in Brooklyn Bridge Park. "Women on the Outside" accompanies Kristal Bush as she drives from Philadelphia to the state prisons in Smithfield and Huntingdon. Kristal knows these routes well - she runs a van service that takes families and friends to visit their loved ones in prison. "Women on the Outside" is about one trip in Kristal's van and the relationships between the women who rode with her. The Village Voice wrote that the exhibition "conveys the bonds, and moments of joy, that take shape amid this new kind of family." The installation was also mentioned in The New York Times's coverage of Photoville.

The Brown Institute partnered with the Magnum Foundation to support Riordan and Katz with this project. Our own Michael Krisch contributed some powerful data depictions of the Pennsylvania prison system, putting Kristal's ride into context. Photoville closes Sunday, September 25. See it if you can.

Sep 24. Transparency Series on Polling


The Brown Institute began it's 2016-2017 Transparency Series with a day-long workshop on opinion polls. Harry Enten and Neil Paine from FiveThirtyEight introduced 25 students to the complexities of modern polling. Many organizations conduct polls. But they can provide different, often conflicting impressions of public opinion. Enten, a political writer, and Paine, a sports reporter and data journalist, introduced students to the broad strategies and technical tools for making sense of poll results. Part art, part science, their approach rarely considers a single poll in isolation, but is instead informed by deep knowledge of the polling organizations, historical precedents for specific relationships between polls, and computational methods combining poll numbers.


Enten has an impressive portfolio of stories and shared his experiences with students. This was not a dry, technical exercise. Enten's work is computational, but he is a first rate journalist. He cautioned students not to dive into a data set without a basic question to answer. We followed his process with exercises using the Roper Center's extensive archive of polling questions. This incredible resource provides a detailed view of the public's opinion over decades. Enten shared his other "go to" data sources and data analysis strategies, using some of his reported stories as examples. Paine introduced R, an increasingly common tool among data journalists. (In the first Transparency Series session of 2015-2016, Amanda Cox of the New York Times demonstrated her use of R for creating visualizations.) Through a handful of basic constructions, we learned how to implement Enten's strategies, and, in the process, experienced simple programming as a powerful tool for finding stories in data.

We can't thank Enten and Paine enough for sharing their weekend with us. It was an incredible glimpse into an extremely timely topic.


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