By Veronica Kim
The Brown Institute for Media Innovation has awarded its 2017-18 “Magic Grants” to 11 teams of innovators. A collaboration between the Columbia Journalism School and Stanford University’s School of Engineering, the Brown Institute was founded in 2012 and this year is looking to fund teams whose technological developments could transform the media landscape.
The teams receiving awards will create data sharing networks, develop video feedback tools, expand access to information and connect with consumers, according to Stanford News.
The grants, which amount up to $150,000 each for yearlong projects, traditionally support small teams of graduate or postgraduate students at both Columbia and Stanford.
Selection for the grants depends on the team’s potential in innovating both stories and platforms. In addition to the support from the Magic Grants, the 11 selected teams are supported through partnerships with PBS FRONTLINE, the NYC Media Lab, ProPublica and BBC. The teams all strive to innovate the journalism world through new technologies and inclusion of popular media.
The teams that comprise the complete list of this year’s grant recipients are DataShare, Visual Beat, Campaign, Camera Observa, Dark Inquiry, Esper, Measure for Measure, VillageLIVE, Measuring Public Perception of Stories in the News, Beyond the Bullets and Data, Interrupted. Four of the teams are affiliated with Columbia, four are affiliated with Stanford, one is affiliated with New York University and two are unaffiliated with any university.
Some projects like Camera Observa, Esper and VillageLIVE modernize the news through video technology, from the utilization of higher-quality video footage to livestreams. Camera Observa and Esper are both led by members of the Stanford Department of Computer Science. Other projects are more interactive — Campaign, for example, is a strategy game in which the player is a campaign manager persuading fictional game characters to vote for his or her candidate.
Other teams focus on current events and political issues: Beyond the Bullet, a media platform, uses machine learning to address the complex narratives around firearm violence. Another team, Data, Interrupted, tells the story of Rwanda’s struggle to replace the data lost during its 1994 genocide. A third team that has taken on relevant political issues is Dark Inquiry, a project developed by The New Inquiry magazine. Dark Inquiry created “White Collar Crime Zones,” a project intended to “reappropriation of a predictive policing algorithm that usually targets street crime, refocused on white collar crime.”
The Brown Institute and Magic Grants are the result of a gift from former Cosmopolitan magazine editor and author Helen Gurley Brown, given in memory of her late husband, David Brown. Gurley Brown passed away in 2012.
The grants are so named because Gurley Brown and Brown both believed that true magic could be found in the combination of innovative technology and great content, according to Stanford News. Moreover, the collaboration between an east coast university and a west coast university was an intentional move to metaphorically bridge the country.
Beyond Magic Grants, the Brown Institute also offers fellowships for graduate and postgraduate students to work on similar projects that push the bounds of media technology and visibility.