The Next Silicon Valley: USC’s Annenberg?

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By Jon Friedman, MarketWatch

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — Ernest Wilson smiles when he assesses his job as the dean of the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California.

“I admire and envy Nick Lemann,” Wilson said with a smile about his counterpart at the Columbia School of Journalism. “He has a straightforward task and one school — and its ‘journalism.’”

Of course, Columbia has long been widely recognized as the preeminent training ground for journalists in the U.S.

Wilson, for his part, can take pride in knowing he is making progress with his journalism, communications and public relations agenda. He supervises one of the nation’s most complex and ambitious media-education programs.

Annenberg works in conjunction with such USC divisions as business, engineering and public diplomacy. Labeling USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism as a simply “journalism” school, in the traditional sense, diminishes what Wilson and his colleagues are trying to accomplish.

USC Annenberg’s Ernest Wilson

Wilson believes that journalism plus innovation equals entrepreneurship, and that word sums up what Annenberg is trying hard to preach to its roughly 2,200 students.

U.S. journalism schools have occasionally been accused — and occasionally with some justification — of being factories of irrelevance. They hired professors who rhapsodized about their good old days in journalism, failed to keep up with the ever-changing technology — which is always going to be the driver in the communications industry — and minimally prepared their graduates for the real world.

Wilson is wise to put the accent on entrepreneurship. Considering how many magazines and newspapers have gone belly-up lately, it’s worth the effort to retrain Annenberg students for the 21st century. “We’re not just training our students for jobs that won’t exist in five years,” Wilson said. “We need people who can connect the dots.

“Five years from now, if we do this right,” Wilson said, “we can establish a new set of competencies for the digital age. Our graduates can go to work for Cisco /quotes/comstock/15*!csco/quotes/nls/csco (CSCO 17.00, -0.03, -0.16%) or the government of China or the World Bank or a school in South Central LA. All of them would understand that communications is at the center. The biggest export in the U.S. economy is content.”

Investing in innovation

Wilson, who welcomes participation from the private sector, instituted the Innovator in Residence program at Annenberg’s Innovation Lab, which encourages student collaboration with public and corporate entities. Levi Strauss, IBM /quotes/comstock/13*!ibm/quotes/nls/ibm (IBM 166.21, -0.13, -0.08%)  Verizon /quotes/comstock/13*!vz/quotes/nls/vz (VZ 37.85, -0.02, -0.05%) , Mattel /quotes/comstock/15*!mat/quotes/nls/mat (MAT 26.80, +1.06, +4.12%) , DirecTV /quotes/comstock/15*!dtv/quotes/nls/dtv (DTV 46.89, +0.29, +0.62%)  and Intel /quotes/comstock/15*!intc/quotes/nls/intc (INTC 19.73, +0.15, +0.77%)  are among the corporate sponsors of the Innovation Lab.

One application was to use the raw data about Levi Strauss’s 4 million Facebook friends and advise the company on how it could improve its marketing and social media. Some might fret that the school has too cozy a relationship with its sponsors and corporate America. But Annenberg officials would counter that their methods give students greater access jobs after they graduate.

Apps for picking paint colors

Smartphone apps have hit the home improvement world. WSJ’s Gwendolyn Bounds shows digits a variety of apps that help users pick out paint colors.

At the same time, it’s possible that Wilson wants to use this kind of a platform to gain stature for the school. Historically, USC Angeles has not been mentioned in the same breath as J-school kingpins like Columbia and Northwestern.

Since arriving at Annenberg in 2007, Wilson’s dedication to entrepreneurial training has rubbed off.

“Ernie has been a real wonderful gift to Annenberg, in the sense that he is a great manager,” said Innovation Lab director Jonathan Taplin. “He takes chances and gives you the ability to go and try and make things happen.” Read more about the Innovation Lab.

“Universities are normally very bureaucratic,” Taplin observed. “But he gave me the go-ahead to make the Innovation Lab happen last May and we had it up and running in August. That’s unheard of, in university-time.”

Whether or not the Annenberg Innovation Lab becomes a breeding ground for another Silicon Valley any time soon, I noticed one bit of progress. Annenberg students sport a can-do spirit that’s sorely missing in media nowadays.

I observed a distinct lack of jaded people at the first annual Annenberg Innovation Lab Conference two weeks ago on the USC campus. USC students participated in the Lab’s Crunch Design Challenge. The winning projects — each of which was awarded $3,000 — were declared in four categories: the Future of eBooks, Transmedia Storytelling, Community Platforms and Tools & Applications.

It was reassuring to see enthusiastic students not talking about the end of the media — which is often the case with members of the journalism establishment. At Annenberg, they see a future in the media biz.

But Wilson doesn’t expect any bouquets. “A leader’s job is to inspire people. My colleagues stand up every morning and say, ‘Innovate or die.’ But no one has the right answer by himself. If someone says that, I’d run screaming from the room.”

The same can be said for journalism programs: innovate or die. With the proliferation of blogs today, young journalists can gain experience and a following without paying high tuitions of such schools as USC.

Wilson recognizes, “what we’re trying to do [at Annenberg] is not unique. We’re all trying to figure out this crazy thing,” he said of the digital revolution in American life.

“Back there,” he said of the New York-Washington journalism establishment, “people are always sounding the death knell of democracy and values. But my kids are inventing the future and we’re helping them. They’re excited. For them this is the best of times — and how cool is that?”

MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Where do you think the next Silicon Valley-style innovation will come from?

Jon Friedman is a senior columnist for MarketWatch in New York.


Me and Mrs. Brady Getting Awards at the Genii Awards

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She’s hot!

Microsoft’s Imagine Cup – Honorable Mention

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Okay, if you say so!

Dear Interactive GeoSurface Map,

While you were not an Imagine Cup US finalist, we wanted to commend you on your exceptional project that caught the attention of our judges.   To recognize the effort and quality of your idea and project we would like to provide you with this ‘Honorable Mention’ certificate.

As you talk with faculty, professionals in industry and potential employers you should talk your Imagine Cup project and this certificate, which is a recognition of your teams outstanding work.  Potential employers are often eager to hear about your role on the project, the technology you used, the goals of your project, and especially what you learned from the process.

Your team scored very well overall and definitely has what it takes to stand out against the thousands of students that compete in Imagine Cup each year.  We sincerely hope that you’ll continue working on and further improving your project and consider submitting again next year for Imagine Cup 2012.

Congratulations on behalf of the Imagine Cup US team!


Jessica & Martin

HM_award-1 50

WE WON!!! Read Henry Jenkins Update on the Challenge

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We won first place for our Interactive GeoSurface Map!

April 4, 2011

Check Out Student Work from Annenberg Innovation Lab Conference

Last Friday, I had the pride and joy of participating in the first conference organized by the Annenberg Innovation Lab. The Lab is a new research initiative launched over the past year, with the goal of becoming an incubator for new media practices and platforms, a space where important conversations can occur between academics and industry leaders which may help shape the future of communications.

The mastermind behind the project is Jonathan Taplin, a saavy industry veteran, who has tapped his considerable network to bring some major stakeholders to the table. He’s been working with two amazing women — Erin Reilly, who is also the Research Director for my own Project New Media Literacies, is the Creative Director and Anne Balsamo, a veteran of Xerox Parc, serves as The Director of Learning. I am proud to be working with the lab on several new initiatives which I will be talking about here more in the future, including a new platform to support our work in fostering New Media Literacies and a new eBook project which will expand the resources available to Comic Studies scholars.

They’ve pulled in many other key researchers from across USC, providing a context which supports the move from theory to applied practice. The real special sauce at the lab is going to be the ability to mix social and cultural insights with technological experimentation and innovation in a space where humanists and social scientists can work hand in hand with engineers and business people.

Between them, Taplin, Reilly, and Balsamo hit the deck running, pulling off the near impossible, in getting the center ready to share some research results only eight months after it was originally conceived.

The conference’s highlights include a conversation between Balsamo and the two authors of the important new book, A New Culture of Learning, Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown; a presentation by the musician T. Bone Burnett showing how degraded the current state of sound is within the music industry and announcing a significant new research initiative to help repair the damage of the past decade of failed digital practices; a discussion of the value of play in fostering an innovative environment whether in schools or the workplace; and some great exchanges with key thinkers and doers within the computer and entertainment industries.

But, for me, by far, the highlight was seeing the work being done by USC students as part of what the Lab calls CRUNCH sessions. Altogether, more than 60 students from 8 different schools worked over the past two terms to develop prototypes, including demonstration videos, for new projects which covered a broad range of different models of media, from innovative approaches to eBooks to new game controllers, from civic media to new kinds of visualization tools. The most amazing thing was done by the student teams fueled entirely from their own passions: the Lab provided them with a space, with brainstorming and training sessions, and with technical consultants, but they were neither paid nor offered academic credit for the considerable labor they put into the process. Most of the teams were interdisciplinary, and one of the key values of the Lab was to help match up students from across the University to work together towards common goals.

I was pleased to see how many of the students involved were people I’d been seeing in my classes and it was great to witness what they could create when turned loose on their own projects outside any academic structures. It was especially pleased to see that these projects were informed by a deep understanding of the value of storytelling and entertainment and a grasp of the actual needs of communities of users who have been underserved by the first waves of digital development.

What follows here are the five winners of the CRUNCH competition, each representing a very different model of what media innovation might look like.

Interactive Geosurface Map — Lauren Fenton, Desdemona Bandini, Shreyas Heranjal

NimbleTrek \ Natalia Bogolasky and David Radcliff

WeLobby \ Leonard Hyman

Combiform \ Andy Uehara and Edmond Yee an

New Quill \ Michael Morgan

And for good measure, here are three more projects which I thought were too cool not to include:

Love in the Time of Genocide \ Thenmozhi Soundararajan

The Mother Road eBook \ Erin Reilly

Reading the News on the Wall \ Jennifer Taylor

Posted by Henry Jenkins at 8:20 AM

The Joys of Tech

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Genii Awards

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What is better than just attending the Genii Awards? Winning a scholarship! 🙂

Genii Awards

Please join us for the

54th Annual Genii Awards

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
At the Skirball Cultural Center
in Los Angeles

5:30 p.m. Cocktails
7:00 p.m. Dinner & Program

Hosted by George Pennacchio, Entertainment Reporter, ABC7 Eyewitness News.

AWM SoCal’s Genii Awards, named after the Southern California Chapter Founder, Jeanne Gray McDonald, celebrates the outstanding accomplishments of women in our industry who have shown tremendous leadership, a commitment to promote progress and create change and dedication to the community.

This year, we are proud to honor:

Lifetime Achievement – Florence Henderson, Actress

Inspiration Award – Holly Robinson Peete,  Co-host of the CBS daily talk show, The Talk

Excellence in New Media – Brooke Burke, actress, entrepreneur, host, author, model, Co-CEO, President of

Excellence in Management – Wenda Fong, Vice President of Alternative Programming for FOX

Excellence in Television – Michaela Pereira, Anchor KTLA Morning News

Excellence in Advertising – Linda Southern,  Director of Local Media Buying at Campbell-Ewald

Excellence in Radio – Karen Sharp, On-air Personality:  Love Songs on the KOST

Tracey Miller Merit Award – Rita Garcia, CBS 2/KCAL 9 Reporter

The gala benefits AWM SoCal’s scholarship program, which provides financial assistance to promising college students who are aiming for careers in the media and entertainment industries.

Past Genii Winners Include: Betty White, Mary Hart, Alana Stewart, Ellen Degeneres, Heather Locklear, Jamie Lee Curtis, Candice Bergen, Lucille Ball, Anne Sweeney, Whoopie Goldberg, Carol Burnett, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and many others.

Our Interactive GeoSurface Map for TEDxUSC

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UPDATE: WE WON! First place for Transmedia Storytelling in the CRUNCH Design Contest via Annenberg Innovation Lab!


I am happy to say I joined up with a GREAT team to work on the CRUNCH! Interactive Design Challenge at the Annenberg Innovation Lab. My  team consists of Project Lead extraordinaire Lauren Fenton, Programmer cover boy Shreyas Heranjal, myself — Desdemona Bandini as Project Manager, and the amazing Annenberg and SCA Faculty Advisor Anne Balsamo.

Our team’s project is called “The Interactive GeoSurface Map.”  It uses an interactive device created by Onomy Labs called a “Tilty Table.” The table functions as an interactive interface to create an experience of playful navigation through Microsoft’s Bing Map database of high-resolution satellite images . By tilting and twisting the Tilty Table, the user can zoom in and pan over details of the landscape. By dwelling on hotspots they can access multimedia metadata on important landmarks.

As an interface meant for public spaces and public use in museums, galleries, community centers, and municipal buildings, the Tilty Table offers a unique means of apprehending geography, land use and infrastructure not only as a collection of data but as a communal experience of embodied travel through a virtual space. As opposed to interfaces designed for individual experiences only, The Interactive GeoSurface map is about collaborate browsing, allowing viewers to engage with each other over the data.

We are collaborating with an institution called the Center for land Use Interpretation to adapt their exhibit, Urban Crude, about the Oil Fields of the city of Los Angeles, for the Tilty Table. Urban Crude explores the way oil is being drilled in the city, by whom, and what their strategies are to hide this drilling activity from plain view, which includes hiding oil wells behind fake buildings or churches. The exhibit contains images and text as well as geographical data that weaves a narrative around this particular example of land use.

What distinguishes The Interactive GeoSurface Map project from other interfaces for vizualizing geographical data (for example, Google Earth), is that we don’t just present data, we present a narrative about the data. The user can explore a story, rather than just a collection of facts. The story we are presenting is about geography and land use, and how these topics relate to us as urban dwellers and citizens.

As such, it is an ideal tool for any institution that is involved with thinking about geography in a creative and interesting way – our potential audience includes museums, science centers, schools, community centers, and any institution involved in urban planning.

“What distinguishes The Interactive GeoSurface Map project from other interfaces for vizualizing geographical data (for example, Google Earth), is that we don’t just present data, we present a narrative about the data. The user can explore a story, rather than just a collection of facts. The story we are presenting is about geography and land use, and how these topics relate to us as urban dwellers and citizens.”

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