Nov 15. Upstairs, Downstairs

This weekend the Brown Institute at Columbia sponsored two events. In the Brown Institute space on the ground floor of Pulitzer Hall, Ellen Weinstein led a day-long workshop on illustration and journalism. One flight up, in the Lecture Hall, students from the School of Journalism and the Department of Statistics joined forces in a hackathon mixing data and story. 


As part of the Transparency Series, the session downstairs introduced J-school students to an aspect of publication that is usually not discussed in the curriculum. As Ellen put it, an illustration is like the book cover for your story. Students started with rapid sketches in response to verbal prompts like "identity" or "social security" or "bullying." Then, an exercise for pairs of students, one playing art director and the other an illustrator. 


Downstairs, the day finished with each participant being asked to start an illustration for a story they had written or were thinking about. This was a very special session of the Transparency Series in that it stripped the subject matter to something  very basic -- pencil and paper. Thinking through the relationship between illustration and story proved to be an invaluable exercise for our students and we're grateful for Ellen's encoragement and support.


Upstairs at the hackathon, students started their day learning about the data that had been prepared for them to work on. Members of the Newscorps data science team took them through FEC filings, presidential speeches and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services payment data. Soon after that, teams formed, mixing journalists and statisticians. We kept the group small -- about 30 people in all -- for this event. From the J-School we invited members of our Dual Degree with Computer Science as well as our Data Concentrators, and the statistics students were all members of the newly-formed Statistics Club. The combination of journalism and statistics created unique projets. To be frank, this is the first hackathon I've attended that emphasized both the quality of the story being told, as well as the tools used to tell it. Data visualizations mixed with digital platforms to craft a unique collection of stories.


Work upstairs continued until around 9pm Saturday night and picked up again at 8am Sunday morning. Judging will take place at 4pm after a talk by Ben Wellington. Stay tuned for the results!


Nov 09. Base Camp 2015!

This weekend, 15 students from the Graduate School of Journalism joined 15 graduate students from Stanford's School of Engineering for a unique workshop, our second "Base Camp." We began the weekend with a simple assigment -- think about stories you've come across, or technologies you've experienced, that have changed the way you see yourself or your city, or have made you rethink your relationship to the world around you. Both journalism and engineering create images for us, images of who we are as communities, as a nation, as a planet. True, they work in very different ways, but ultimately the two practices help us understand the world, perhaps also making a case for how it should change. Base Camp is about making new stories or thechnologies that will forever alter the way we see the world.


Alright, that sounds like a pretty tall order, but, in the end, 8 groups of students coalesced around a fantastic set of ideas. Some were stories that aren't being told because of some technological block, while others were platforms that structured or published information in new ways. Some were designed to aid people in moments of crisis, and still others imagined new forms of stewardship over endangered or fragile corners of our planet. It was a special weekend and we thank our participants for coming to the event with open minds, in a spirit of forging authentic collaborations. We also thank our most excellent facilitator, Ivan Sigal, for his thoughtful leadership over the weekend. 

The next Base Camp will take place in January at Stanford and applications will be due December 4.


Nov 09. Information Cartography


Former Magic Grantee Dafna Shahaf, a post-doc in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University, together with researchers from Stanford, the University of Washington, and Microsoft, has just published a paper in the Communications of the ACM on "Information Cartography." Dafna and her coauthors construct a news summarization tool inspired by "metro maps."

Metro maps consist of a set of lines with intersections or overlaps. Most important, they explicitly show the relationships among different pieces of information in a way that captures a story's evolution. Each metro stop is a cluster of articles, and lines follow coherent narrative threads. Different lines focus on different aspects of the story; for example, the map i[above] was automatically generated for the query "Crimea." The map outlines the 2014 Crimean crisis, with the three lines corresponding to the Russian, Ukrainian, and Western points of view. 

The paper is a thoughtful presentation of the algorithm's design and implementation. Congratulations, Dafna!

Oct 23. Science Survey in the NeimanLab Blog

The goal of Science Surveyor, a flagship project sponsored by the Brown Institute, is simply stated - Produce better reporting on science. The NiemanLab Blog has just published an overview of the project. Here is there setup.

"About 1.8 million new scientific papers are published each year, and most are of little consequence to the general public — or even read, really; one study estimates that up to half of all academic studies are only read by their authors, editors, and peer reviewers.

But the papers that are read can change our understanding of the universe — traces of water on Mars! — or impact our lives here on earth — sea levels rising! — and when journalists get called upon to cover these stories, they’re often thrown into complex topics without much background or understanding of the research that led to the breakthrough.

As a result, a group of researchers at Columbia and Stanford are in the process of developing Science Surveyor, a tool that algorithmically helps journalists get important context when reporting on scientific papers."

Achieving the project's goals is a heavily interdisciplinary affair, involving faculty and graduate students from both Columbia and Stanford Universities. Marguerite Holloway (Journalism), Dennis Tenen (English) and Laura Kurgan (Architecture) lead the team at Columbia and Dan Jurafsky (Computer Science) and Dan McFarland (Education) head the effort at Stanford. With this team, Science Surveyor has decades of experience in science reporting, the digital humanities, data visualization, and the science of networks. 

The NiemanLab post nicely summarizes the team's process and aims for the year. Congratulations to Marguerite and her team on an excellent article!

Oct 23. Image Truth/Story Truth


By Nina Berman

When talking about photojournalism ethics the conversation tends to focus on the integrity of the digital image and the rules governing Photoshop manipulation. Photojournalists are prohibited from adding or deleting objects or people from their pictures, or combining two pictures together and passing it off as one moment. Those who break these conventions are dismissed from employment. The degree of acceptable toning and use of filters to enhance contrast and color varies widely by publication.

The Image Truth/Story Truth conference aimed to broaden the debate around ethics and direct it away from pixels and post processing, towards representation, context and commissioning.

Are photojournalists creating images that repeat certain visual tropes and perpetuate social stereotypes? Do contests such as World Press Photo and the Pulitzer Prize, reinforce those stereotypes by consistently awarding work that focuses on the dramatic individuation of suffering and the search for the iconic moment?

Is it time to dispense with the catchwords of yesterday that focus on humanizing subjects (as though they were ever less than human), or giving voice to the voiceless, language steeped in hierarchy and outdated notions of narrative privilege?

Given the complexity of contemporary conflict, should pictures do more than provoke emotional reactions? Is it enough to simply wait for disasters to happen and then make gorgeous images of those disasters, as one panelist asked? Can a deeper form of documentation and witnessing take place that looks less to the dramatic moment, and more to causes and context? Can new technologies help or distract? Is a new visual language required?

And finally, what is the purpose of photojournalism? Is it to record? Or to advocate? Is it illustrative or investigative? Detached or collaborative? Can work produced within a corporate commercial context be anything but conformist? Is work commissioned by NGOs more true or just a different kind of sell?

Image Truth/Story Truth - an intentionally ambitious title - predictably presented no conclusions. Rather, the purpose was to put highly accomplished people together who don’t normally converse, industry leaders with academics, curators and critics, and see what develops.

Oct 22. Cannabis Wire Launches!


Today, Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian formally launched Cannabis Wire, "a news startup that will document the end of a prohibition and the birth of an industry" -- a site that focuses "on the intersection of cannabis and business, tech, health, and criminal justice (among other issues)." Alyson and Nushin received initial funding and a fellowship at The Made in NYC Media Center by IFP through a Brown Institute Magic Grant, and we join them in celebrating the launch of an incredible site. Their first feature is published in partnership with The Guardian, and profiles Responsible Ohio's mascot, Buddie and the legalization battle in that state. Their site will soon become the destination for people interested in marijuana legislation in the U.S. Congratuations to Alyson and Nushin! 

Oct 19. Brown at the American Society of News Editors Conference


The Brown Institute for Media Innovation made a splash at the American Society of News Editors conference, held Oct. 16-18 on the Stanford University campus.  Magic Grant recipients discussed and gave demonstrations of their projects to attendees during Sunday’s Digital Showcase. The goal: to discuss Brown research, projects and prototypes with newsroom practitioners, many of whom were keen on collaboration and university partnerships.

Images: (above) Brown Magic Grantee Lydia Chilton discusses her project, Emotional Impact, with Megan Finnerty of the Arizona Republic. (below) Stanford's Matt Yu takes David Hulen, Editor of the Alaska Dispatch News, through a tour of the Reframe Iran project.


Oct 16. Event: Image Truth/Story Truth, October 16

Digital photography has changed the nature of photojournalism inspiring new creative practices that challenge conventional standards of storytelling and image truth. At the same time, the ease with which images can be digitally altered and shared across social media platforms, often stripped of context and attribution, has led to a crisis of credibility and confusion over standards.

Add to the equation, an energized, seeing public, not to mention corporate and political actors, unrestrained by ethical conventions, now flooding global image streams with millions of news like images, unverified, but in effective competition with professional photojournalists and documentarians for attention in the media space.

What role does the professional photojournalist play in this new media landscape? What are the ethical standards of commissioning, producing and disseminating photojournalistic images across global platforms? In the age of social media and democratization of production how should subjects play a role in framing and directing their own stories?

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism,  and photographers Nina Berman and Gary Knight  will host a one day conference Image Truth/StoryTruth on Friday, October 16th, bringing together industry professionals, academics, cultural theorists and historians to discuss the changing nature of photojournalism and documentary photography in the digital age.

Oct 12. Three layers of openness in design: Maker culture, crowdsourcing and open hardware

Oct 03. The 2015 Computation+Journalism Symposium


For the second year in a row, the Brown Institute has played host to the Computation+Journalism Symposium - two full days of talks and panels exploring collaborations between journalism and the computational sciences. Our first keynote was by Lada Adamic,  head of the Product Science group in Facebook's Data Science Team. Her topic -- Is Facebook a political echo chamber? Lada discussed some of the work covered in her paper in Science earlier this year.

The first panel of the day was on news commenting, moderation and community systems, a lively discussion between theorists and practitioners. The Niemanlab Blog picked up on remarks from the New York Times community editor Bassey Etim, who said The Times treats "comments as content." From here we had papers exploring computational approaches to "media bias" in various forms. From gender discrimination by audiences of online news to the ways the media, writ large, cover international events. This was followed by a session on "computable content," studying the way we can augment standard publication to help provide contenxt to news stories, break stories into atomic units that can be reassembled, and personalize news stories. 

The day ended with a panel of journalists tackling large, complex data sets -- From the complexity of scale to advanced modeling techniques, these journalists are making use of data in ways that was simply not imaginable even a few years ago. The panel included Janet Roberts from Reuters, Tom McGinty from the WSJ, and  Olga Pierce from ProPublica. In the evening, we held a reception and demo session to let particpants audition the technology they heard about during the day.

The second day started with a session on data journalism education -- from techniques for teaching computation to the technical infrastructure required, and a survey of the current state of data education in J-Schools. We also had a panel organized by Suman Deb Roy from betaworks on algorithms and ranking, an excellent discussion between academics and practitioners. The day closed with an amazing talk by Chris Wiggins, the Chief Data Scientist at the New York Times -- an excellent exploration of how "engineering" spans the divide between news organizations' "church and state."


The two-day symposium was recorded and you can catch up here: Day 1Day 2. You can also find the papers here. One final note -- there was so much Twitter activity around our hashtag that we actually trended in New York! Ha!

Thank you to everyone who participated, to everyone who attended and to Yahoo! who sponsored the event. The next symposium will take place at Stanford University. See you next year!

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.
See us on YouTube.


Brown News