$30 million donation will fund new Stanford-Columbia media institute

Jan. 31, 2012, 2:15 a.m.

Stanford’s School of Engineering and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism announced Monday a new institute that will span both campuses and explore the relationship between technology and journalism.


A joint press release heralded the plans as “groundbreaking in that they are designed to encourage and support new endeavors with the potential to inform and entertain in transformative ways.”


Long-time Cosmopolitan editor in chief Helen Gurley Brown donated $30 million, in memory of her belated husband David Brown B.A. ’36, to make the bicoastal institute possible. The new center will bear both their names: the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.


This $30 million donation will be divided in thirds. Both Stanford and Columbia will receive a gift of $12 million, intended to fund a director for the institute on the West Coast and a separate director on the East Coast. The remaining $6 million will finance the construction of an addition to Columbia’s current journalism building, which will include “a state-of-the-art high-tech” newsroom.


Bernd Girod, a Stanford professor of electrical engineering, has been appointed as the institute’s founding director. Columbia has yet to choose its counterpart director.


“New York City, as the major center for television, music, print media and advertising, is profoundly affected by rapidly evolving digital technology,” Girod said in the press release. “The Brown Institute will bring together creative innovators skilled in production and delivery of news and entertainment with the entrepreneurial researchers at Stanford working in multimedia technology.”


At both Stanford and Columbia, the institute will award “Magic Grants,” which will financially support “the most innovative and promising ideas” by graduate and postgraduate fellows. The press release stressed that the new center will focus on actually realizing ideas through the creation of prototypes and establishing links with the business world.


“David and I have long supported and encouraged bright young people to follow their passions and to create original content,” Brown said in the press release. “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.”


Mr. Brown graduated from Stanford with a B.A. in communications and would later attend Columbia School of Journalism. He was an Academy Award-nominated producer for the films “Jaws,” “The Verdict,” “A Few Good Men” and “Chocolat.” David passed away in 2010 at the age of 93.


— Kurt Chirbas 

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