Kara Swisher

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Columbia J-School and Stanford Eng Nab $30M Joint Gift for Media Innovation From Helen Gurley Brown

In an unusual gift, Helen Gurley Brown has given Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford University’s School of Engineering $30 million to create a bi-coastal Institute of Media Innovation.

Said the schools in a joint press release about the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation, “it is designed to encourage and support new endeavors with the potential to inform and entertain in transformative ways. It will recognize the increasingly important connection between journalism and technology, bringing the best from the East and West Coasts.”

Each university will get $12 million, with the additional $6 million to build a “state-of-the-art, high-tech newsroom” at Columbia’s famous J-School in upper Manhattan in New York.

(Full disclosure: I went to graduate school there, but we used typewriters way back then.)

Among the advisors to the project is well-known Silicon Valley exec Bill Campbell.

The move will be interesting as a collaborative venture between the East and West coasts, although it is unclear what it might yield.

Interestingly, last week, Harvard University announced an on-campus venture fund with New Enterprise Associates to better compete with the enticements of California.

Great content needs useable technology. Sharing a language is where the magic happens,” said Gurley Brown in a statement. “It’s time for two great American institutions on the East and West Coasts to build a bridge.”

Here’s the official press release on the Brown gift:

COLUMBIA JOURNALISM SCHOOL AND STANFORD SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING ANNOUNCE JOINT $30 MILLION GIFT FROM DAVID AND HELEN GURLEY BROWN

Gift Establishes First of Its Kind Bi-Coastal Institute for Media Innovation — Bringing Together the Best in West Coast Technology with East Coast Content

NEW YORK and PALO ALTO, Calif., January 30, 2012, 1:00 p.m. ET – Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford University’s School of Engineering today announced a $30 million gift from longtime Cosmopolitan magazine editor and author Helen Gurley Brown to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

The Institute and the collaboration between the two schools is groundbreaking in that it is designed to encourage and support new endeavors with the potential to inform and entertain in transformative ways. It will recognize the increasingly important connection between journalism and technology, bringing the best from the East and West Coasts.

The Institute, the first of its kind, is inspired by the memory of Ms. Brown’s late husband, David Brown, a graduate of both Stanford University and the Columbia School of Journalism. Brown, who along with partners Richard Zanuck and Steven Spielberg created such classic American films as Driving Miss Daisy, The Verdict and Jaws, was also a former journalist, publisher and, late in his career, a stage producer whose credits included the musicals Sweet Smell of Success and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Of the total gift, each school will receive $12 million for Institute activities. The gift to Columbia’s Journalism School, the largest in its history, will endow a professorship whose holder will be the Institute’s East Coast director. The gift to Stanford’s Engineering School will similarly endow the position of the West Coast director. An additional $6 million will go to Columbia which will also pay for the construction of a highly visible signature space at the eastern end of the J-School’s landmark building, featuring a state-of-the-art high-tech newsroom.

The funding of the Institute will support graduate and postgraduate fellowships, both at Stanford and Columbia, and competitively awarded “Magic Grants,” intended to seed the most innovative and promising ideas for future development conceived of by Brown Fellows.

Commenting on the announcement, Helen Gurley Brown 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 east-west collaboration of the two schools will enable students at both institutions to build upon their ideas with professors and innovators at both universities. At both locations there will be a strong emphasis on executing new ideas and demonstrating products and prototypes. The
Institute will establish ongoing links to business leaders and media companies to bring its innovations to market.

“New York City, as the major center for the television, music, print media and advertising, is profoundly affected by rapidly evolving digital technology,” said Stanford engineering professor Bernd Girod, who will serve as the Institute’s founding director until Columbia appoints his East Coast counterpart. “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.”

“This gift from David and Helen Gurley Brown is truly transformative for the school,” said Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. “As we enter our Centennial year, the Browns’ generosity will enable us to explore new and exciting realms of leadership in our field. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with Stanford Engineering.”

“Stanford brings to this partnership its exceptional research and teaching, a history of transformative technology innovation and a tradition of multidisciplinary collaboration,” said Stanford University President John Hennessy. “We are excited about the opportunity to partner with Columbia University’s truly outstanding School of Journalism, and look forward to combining the expertise of New York and Silicon Valley at a critical point in the evolution of media.”

Stanford Engineering has a storied history of achievement and entrepreneurship. Its faculty and graduates have founded such iconic companies as Google, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems and Yahoo! and contributed to such groundbreaking technologies as lasers, global positioning, magnetic resonance imaging, digital sound synthesis and modern web-search algorithms.

“Under Dean Nick Lemann, Columbia Journalism School is building on its tradition of leadership by developing innovative teaching and research addressing the future of a fast-changing news media,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger, a First Amendment scholar who has written extensively about press freedom. “We are deeply appreciative of Helen Gurley Brown’s vision in honoring her late husband by bringing together his two alma maters to develop the next generation of digital journalism. We look forward to working with Stanford in seeking new ways for technology and creativity to enhance a robust free press in our society.”

The Institute will have a distinguished board of advisors including leaders from technology, venture capital and media including, among others, Frank A. Bennack, Jr., CEO of Hearst Corporation; Bill Campbell, Chairman of the Board at Intuit and an Apple Inc. board member; and Eve Burton, Vice President and General Counsel of Hearst Corporation.

Helen Gurley Brown, who turns 90 in February, is one of the world’s most popular and influential editors. She led Cosmopolitan magazine from 1965 to 1996 and authored many books, including the 1962 bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. Her impact on popular culture and society has reached around the globe, largely due to the three-plus decades when she put her personal stamp on Cosmopolitan in a way that has rarely been replicated. Under her reign, Cosmopolitan became the go-to magazine for women worldwide and remains the best selling young women’s magazine around the world today with 64 editions, in 35 languages and more than 80 countries.

“As both CEO of Hearst Corporation and advisor to the Brown Institute, today marks a very special day for education, journalism and technology,” said Bennack. “I’m very proud of David’s legacy and Helen, who understood the power of community, in particular, and its importance to women, long before social media had a name.”

(Photo credit: Hearst Corp.)


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik