Former Cosmo editor gives $30 million to establish media innovation center at Stanford, Columbia

Stanford's engineering school and Columbia's journalism school will use the $30 million gift to establish the bi-coastal David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation. In a joint release, the schools say the new Institute will "recognize the increasingly important connection between journalism and technology, bringing the best from the East and West Coasts." Helen Gurley Brown, who edited Cosmopolitan for 31 years, donated the money on behalf of her late husband David, a movie and musical producer who attended both schools.

Each school will receive $12 million for Institute activities, part of which will be used to endow professorships -- one for the East Coast director, the other for the West Coast director. Columbia will get another $6 million to build 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 gift is the largest ever received by the J-School. Leaders in the technology and journalism industries will sit on the institute's board.

The full release follows:


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.

This 1984 photo of the Browns appears courtesy of the Hearst Corporation.

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, Columbia’s Chairman of the Board, 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."

Email from Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia's J-school:

Dear Friends,

I am writing with some very exciting news for the Journalism School. Today we will announce the largest gift in the school’s history: $18 million from Helen Gurley Brown, the longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and the widow of David Brown, who graduated from our school in 1937 and served for many years on our Board of Visitors.

With the gift, we will establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation, in partnership with the Stanford Engineering School. Stanford will receive $12 million from Helen, making her total gift to create the Brown Institute $30 million. The purpose of the Brown Institute will be to create the closest ongoing partnership I’m aware of between journalists and computer scientists. Our two schools, renowned leaders in their respective fields, will work closely together on projects that will represent our mutual best efforts to do what we can to help move our profession toward its future in the digital realm. This historic gift is especially exciting against the backdrop of the School's Centennial celebration, which begins this spring.

The Brown Institute will be a complex, ambitious project for the Journalism School. It should not stand apart from the rest of the school; it ought to be a new enterprise that helps move our whole institution forward as we enter our second century.

Please read the press release, and stay tuned for more information.


Nicholas Lemann

Dean and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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