May 22, 2012

Young game developers honored at 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge

WASHINGTON — A competition that gives middle- and high-school students a taste of what it takes to develop educational video games awarded more than $80,000 in prizes to top contestants in the second annual STEM Video Game Challenge.

In a crowded auditorium full of proud parents and jubilant children, a series of distinguished speakers congratulated winners during the May 21 awards ceremony and spoke about their personal connections to video games and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

Youth winners await their turn on stage.
"Everybody should be proud of these young people," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who serves on the "E-Tech Caucus" in Congress, which advocates for educational software. "I also think all of these young people are going to end up with really good jobs."

The competition was designed to interest students in STEM education through video gaming. Last year's inaugural competition drew roughly 600 entries. This year saw a sixfold increase, with over 3,700 entries from across the country.

This video explains the genesis and inspiration for many of the winners, including:
  • Michael Feng, a high-schooler from Redwood City, Calif., who designed "Tales of Encephalia." The game's storyline presents scientific concepts to players while they investigate mysterious phenomenon, and topped two different categories; and 
  • Shashenk Mahesh, a middle-schooler from Gibsonton, Fla., who designed "Mission 17639: Planetcorp," which challenges players to explore the solar system. Its playing levels incorporate real planetary characteristics. Mahesh tapped his younger brother as a test player.
A complete list of the 28 middle school and high school winners, as well as videos of the award-winning games, are available here.

Zachary Levi, star of the NBC show Chuck, served as a guest judge for this year's challenge. In a video message to contestants, Levi declared his abiding love for video games and urged the crowd at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to "viva la nerd-volution."

The competition recognized additional winners in collegiate and educator categories. Details about those games can be seen here.

"Our overall goal is to grow the ecosystem of youth video game design with better tools, curriculum, and ideas," said Alan Gershenfeld, president and founder of E-Line Media, a main organizer of the challenge. "I think that the games of these winners speak for themselves."

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is E-Line's partner in organizing the STEM Challenge. Sponsors include the Entertainment Software Association, AMD Foundation, Microsoft's Xbox 360, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/PBS KIDS Ready To Learn Initiative.

The winners of the 2012 STEM Video Game Challenge.

Judge dismisses part of broadcasters' suit against online TV streamer Aereo

A portion of a lawsuit brought by WNET, PBS and several other broadcasters against online television startup Aereo has been dismissed, reports Reuters. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan turned down a claim of unfair competition but left intact a copyright infringement argument. Aereo, backed by billionaire media magnate Barry Diller, launched in New York City in March, charging subscribers $12 a month to stream over-the-air content to cellphones, tablet computers and other devices. Broadcasters filed the lawsuit that month.

"It's print as an accessory" — Voice of San Diego launches magazine

A Knight Foundation-backed magazine, in print and digital versions, is part of the Voice of San Diego's new membership program. Seem backwards? After all, Voice of San Diego is a web-based nonprofit news organization.

However, said Scott Lewis, c.e.o., said on the Knight website, "We put several stories out every day. Some longer and more in-depth than others. When we gather them all up over the course of a month, we have reason to be proud. At the same time, not everyone can keep up with the daily chaos of news, let alone read some of our longer pieces."

Lewis heard about MagCloud, a self-service publishing platform, and pitched the idea to Knight. Voice of San Diego designs and uploads the magazine each month, supporters buy it, MagCloud takes a cut and sends the rest of the money along.

"If we can generate enough support for it," Lewis said, "through sponsors who want to put messages in it, people who buy individual copies and members excited to have it, then we can keep uploading new editions. And then we get to have this great package of our content that we can take around and show people. They can fold it up and put in their bag."

Frontline and ProPublica team up for cell tower death story

Today, Frontline and nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica released their long-awaited collaboration on the issue of poor accountability and safety among cellphone carriers and the subcontractors they hire to maintain and build the nation's over 280,000 cell tower sites.

The investigation found that 50 cell tower climbers have died between 2003 and 2011. The ProPublica article details how lackluster safety regulations, the overbearing push for cell tower expansion, and a culture of recklessness have caused this boom in accidental fatalities. In addition, the investigation found that many cell phone carriers deliberately hide behind layers of subcontractors, thereby recusing themselves from most liability and preventing easy linkage between cell carriers and the deaths.

The Frontline version of the story will air at 10 p.m. Eastern tonight on most local PBS stations.

PRI receives $1.6 million grant from Gates Foundation for health coverage

Public Radio International has received a two-year, $1.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support reporting on health and development on its program PRI’s The World. The funds will help PRI “further extend the reach and impact of coverage around critical issues affecting the world’s poorest nations, such as maternal health and infant mortality; water, sanitation and hygiene; vaccines and immunization; infectious and chronic diseases; and food security and nutrition,” the producer said in a press release. The release also alludes to PRI’s development of “an ambitious strategic framework” to step up engagement on digital platforms around The World’s reporting. PRI has received funding from the Gates Foundation since 2004.

PRPD wants help in drafting a "Programmers Manifesto" for public radio

The Public Radio Program Directors Association is asking public radio programmers for help in developing a “Programmers Manifesto,” a collaborative project that will build on and update the organization’s work on defining public radio’s “Core Values” for today’s media environment.

In a blog post, PRPD says the project is inspired by The Cluetrain Manifesto, a landmark 1999 work about the Web’s disruptive effect on traditional business models and practices. PRPD members are asked to “document and share their beliefs and aspirations for serving significant audiences on line, on the air, during fundraising, and in their communities.”

The process, which will unfold over the next few months, will result in “a modern vision of public service,” says Arthur Cohen, president of PRPD. Programmers are encouraged to submit their ideas to Israel Smith, who is leading the project for PRPD, at

New America to convene panel on public interest and new technologies May 23

Tomorrow the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., will host “From Broadcast to Broadband: New Theories of the Public Interest in Wireless.” In two panel discussions, running from 9:30 a.m to noon Eastern time, communications wonks will discuss the role of the public interest in broadband and wireless technologies. Panelists will include Joaquin Alvarado, formerly the senior v.p. for digital innovation at American Public Media, and Andy Schwartzman, senior v.p. and policy director for the Media Access Project. New America will provide a live web stream on the event’s web page and an archived video after the panel concludes.

Ford Foundation provides $1 million grant to Los Angeles Times

The Ford Foundation, a longtime supporter of public broadcasting, has given a grant of $1 million to the Los Angeles Times, which will expand its coverage of beats including immigration and ethnic communities in Southern California, the southwest U.S. border and Brazil. A Ford Foundation spokesman told the newspaper that as media organizations face challenges funding reporting through traditional means, “we and many other funders are experimenting with new approaches to preserve and advance high-quality journalism.”

In a column on the announcement, Adam Clayton Powell, senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy notes that Ford used to give NPR "six and seven-figure grants each year for international news coverage and reporting of certain topics." But that has changed: While last year Ford continued to support certain pubcasting projects, Powell writes, the foundation's grants database does not include any grants to NPR, or PBS, in 2010 or 2011.

Patient Harm Community Facebook page now online, from ProPublica

ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom, has established a Facebook page for people affected by errors, injuries or infection while undergoing medical treatment. The page is moderated by ProPublica reporters Marshall Allen, who has covered the topic since 2006 and won a Goldsmith Award at the Las Vegas Sun for his series "Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas," and Olga Pierce, who covers health policy, insurance issues and data journalism. ProPublica's plans for the online community include Q&A's with experts and links to the latest reports, research and policy proposals.