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Stanford Engineers and Columbia Journalists Get Magic Grants To Fund Tech Journalism

The "Magic Grant" winners have been selected, and eight teams from Palo Alto's Stanford University and New York City's Columbia University will be working on projects that use technology to transform how media content is created, delivered and consumed.

The Magic Grants provide seed funding of up to $150,000 through the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. The Institute was formed in 2012 from a $30 million gift given to Stanford's School of Engineering and Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism by the longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown. She died later that year. Brown made the gift in memory of her husband, David Brown, who graduated from both institutions and later went into filmmaking and stage production. David Brown was involved in American films including Jaws, Driving Miss Daisy and The Verdict.

At the time she made the endowment Brown had said, "David and I have long supported and encouraged bright young people to follow their passions and to create original content. Great content needs useable technology. Sharing a language is where the magic happens. It's time for two great American institutions on the East and West coasts to build a bridge."

The Magic Grants given for 2014- 2015 encompass the following projects at Stanford:

Augmenting Art with Technology, or Art++, is hoping to develop a technique that uses augmented reality to give museum visitors an immersive experience when viewing objects through a smartphone or tablet. The team includes electrical engineering PhD candidate Jean-Baptiste Boin and Colleen Stockmann, an assistant curator for special projects at Stanford's Cantor Arts Center.

Visual Genome is looking for a way to help journalists gather breaking news images and videos in near real time using crowdsourcing, then extracting meta-data from those and using them to bolster the quality of their coverage. This project is being undertaken by computer science graduate student Ranjay Krishna and Justin Johnson, a PhD candidate in computer science.

Widescope, which was funded last year, will be renewed to expand the system. This social media platform crowdsources development of proposed federal and state budget proposals. Users design a budget showing their preferences and then interact with other users to evolve that budget until consensus is achieved. Synapp is an add-on that will be included in the project this year. The team has David Lee, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering, and Sukolsak Sakshuwong, a graduate student in computer science.

Project recipients at Columbia are:

Cannabis Wire, a single-topic news site that will focus on simplifying tracking of cannabis-related legalization and examine its role in the broader drug "war" and criminal justice system. This team features Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian, both Columbia journalism graduates.

De-glass hopes to uncover the commercial and political tactics used in advertising to draw consumer and citizen attention in specific directions. The team consists of Charles Berret, a PhD candidate in communications, computer science undergraduate Cecilia Reyes and Max Tucker De Silva, a software developer at Carnegie Mellon's Institute for Software Research.

Earnings Inspector is a tool with fraud detection algorithms that will let reporters sift through a database of accounts of all public companies in the United States to uncover potential manipulated earnings. The team includes three graduate journalist students, Caelainn Barr, Cécile Schilis-Gallego and Daniel Drepper.

Science Surveyor is intended to help science journalists by providing a quick way to review the context for journal articles they're referencing in their reporting, including a timeline of publications on a given topic and information about funding. This project is being undertaken by Marguerite Holloway, director of science and environmental journalism and assistant professor in the Graduate School of Journalism, as well as two members of Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning: Laura Kurgan, director of the Spatial Information Design Lab, and Juan Francisco Saldarriaga, associate research scholar and adjunct assistant professor of urban planning.

One project is being undertaken by participants from both institutions. Reframe Iran presents profiles of Iranian artists living both in Iran and abroad, using text, photo and immersive video. The hope is that journalists from other countries will gain insights about the social and cultural pressures characterizing the region through the study of its artists. The team consists of Matt Yu, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford, and Alexandra Glorioso, João Inada and Matteo Lonardi, journalism students at Columbia. Magic projects involving participants from both universities are eligible to receive up to $300,000 in funding.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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