May 16. 3 Magic Grantees Awarded IWMF Scholarships!

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) offers women journalists a wide range of opportunities to grow as media professionals, gain reporting experience, and be recognized for remarkable work. Each year, IWMF sponsors initatives in specific regions of the world. This year, two of these efforts were the African Great Lakes Reporting and Adelante intiatives. Of the 24 scholarship slots offered, three went to 2016-17 Brown Institute grantees Marcelle Hopkins, Juanita Ceballos and Jika Gonzalez. Read more here...

Apr 22. Welcome David Riordan!

We are pleased to announce that David Riordan will be joining the Brown Institute as our Chief Technology Innovation Officer. We were looking for someone whose work is deep technically, but who also speaks to the wider creative community... and reaches even farther to the public at large. We couldn't think of a better match than David Riordan. He is widely respected for his expertise in data and mapping, as well as his commitment to civic projects and community-driven design.

David is joining us from Mapzen, where he headed the product team working on geospatial search. Together with designers, artists, developers and Mapzen users, he also created open source projects for community collection and "enrichment" of mapping data.  Prior to Mapzen, David helped launch the New York Public Library's first "Labs" division, an institutional platform for creatively reimagining the future of humanities research. At the NYPL he helped fashion new tools for unlocking the value of deep, historical archives -- tools that opened the library's collections to the public, engaging people in the acts of creating and making sense of data.

David's first official day is April 29. Please welcome David Riordan to the Brown Institute!

Apr 19. Sad news

We were deeply saddened to receive news yesterday that Bill Campbell had passed away. Bill was key in the creation of the Brown Institute, forging a unique partnership between Stanford and Columbia Universities. As a close advisor to some of the most influential Silicon Valley companies, he had a profound understanding of technology and its power in the world. But he also held a deep commitment to journalism -- not just "storytelling" in the abstract, but robust, world-changing journalism. He saw the Brown collaboration creating something new. While he set the bar for us incredibly high, he was always willing to help us over.  It is hard to imagine Brown without Bill, but now, somehow, we have to.  His ingenuity and intuition live in the tools we've built, the stories we've told and the projects on our horizon.

Apr 17. LATIN AMERICA 360° - April 20, 6 – 8PM


The Brown Institute for Media Innovation and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists presents “Latin America 360,°” a panel featuring media professionals who have integrated classic storytelling techniques with new technologies to cover Latin America from unique angles. Jenna Pirog, the Virtual Reality Editor of The New York Times Magazine, and reporter Mark Binnelli will kick off the panel with an in-depth discussion of their recent collaboration for "10 Shots Across the Border." Jeff Abbott, an independent journalist whose work has appeared in Fusion and VICE News, will then join us from Guatemala. Refreshments will be served. Guests are strongly encouraged to download the NYT VR app prior to the event.  

Apr 14. Immersive Approaches: Storytelling that Surrounds You


Join us on Thursday, April 28 from 6-8pm for a panel discussion presented by Magnum Foundation and The Brown Institute for Media Innovation as part of our Photography, Expanded initiative.

We're thrilled to welcome a range of practitioners working in different types of immersive media, including Vassiliki Khonsari, game designer and founder of INK StoriesMichael Rau, immersive theater director and creator of "Temping" at Wolf 359, and Ziv Schneider, creator and research fellow at the Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU Tisch. The panel will be moderated by Dan Archer, graphic journalist and founder of Empathetic Media.

Panelists will share their projects and discuss immersive narrative and the impact that immersive approaches have on the experience of a story.

RSVP here.

Mar 16. The Last Mile


We are proud to announce that “The Last Mile” workshop and hackathon is under way! With "The Last Mile," The Brown Institute and the UNDP have partnered to address climate change. “Innovation, out-of-the-box-thinking, big ideas, and smart applications of technology have the potential to significantly impact the way weather information is shared across Africa,” said UNDP Programme Manager Bonizella Biagini.  “In a world where information is power – and climate change is producing more severe storms and temperature fluctuations that affect vulnerable African communities – access to accurate and timely weather forecasts can work toward reducing poverty, empowering rural communities and saving lives.” 


The Brown Institute has sent four members to help facilitate. Deputy Director Michael Krisch and 2015-2016 Magic Grantee Allison McCartney (pictured above), 2014-2014 grantee Caelainn Barr and Francesco Fiondella from the IRI at Columbia.

The Climate Action Hackathon will continue through March 17, and participants have access to leaders in meteorology, technology, sustainable development and communications. They will work individually or in teams to create mobile applications, technology solutions or data-crunching systems that address Africa’s persistent challenges in adapting to climate change, and sharing early warnings and accurate climate information across the continent.

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.

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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