Notes From a Semester

Written by Ryan Thornburg May 6, 2009 5:03 pm EST No comments

The semester at UNC-Chapel Hill is done and the students in “Public Affairs Reporting for New Media” have put together a wonderful resource for learning about and engaging in efforts to curb the state’s high dropout rate.

You can read my notes about their work at http://www.ncdropout.org/node/415
or visit the site’s homepage at http://www.ncdropout.org.

Among the pieces I’ve enjoyed the most are the online journalism tutorials that the students themselves created based on their own experiences hashing through their first efforts and multimedia, interactive, on-demand news story telling. You can see their tutorials here.

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Innovative Student Journalism in the Works

Written by Ryan Thornburg March 25, 2009 11:49 am EST No comments

The students in JOMC 491: “Public Affairs Reporting for New Media” are developing some bang-up stories and tools. For anyone interested in the future of news, in North Carolina civic life or in education policy, their projects are worth reading … and engaging.

More here.

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FAQs on North Carolina’s Dropout Rate

Written by Ryan Thornburg March 2, 2009 9:34 am EST No comments

An earlier post provided a quick introduction to writing FAQs, and how they can be used to apply several concepts of online news writing.

The students in Public Affairs Reporting for New Media have posted their FAQs. They’re a good example of explanatory journalism and online news writing. They’re also the kind of evergreen content that can be re-used when there’s a strong news peg for the topic.

Our next step? User-generated content. More on that tomorrow.

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When Everyone’s a Publisher, Who Will ‘Convene’ The Public?

Written by Ryan Thornburg February 22, 2009 6:39 pm EST No comments

Last week, Richard Hart of MDC, Inc., kindly came to speak to my Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class. He led us through an illuminating conversation about the nonprofit’s recently released report on the Triangle’s “Disconnected Youth.” (PDF)

At the end, I raised this question: If government is already publishing a lot of raw data online, and if organizations like MDC are already put together in-depth, relatively objective analyses of public policy issues like this, then what does he — as a former journalist and the nonprofit’s communication director — think is the role for journalists? How do we fit in to his overall communication strategy for this report, I wondered.

That was a good question, Hart said. He noted that his primary focus now, after an initial and relatively small media hit, was convening small groups of influential and interested area leaders from various sectors to discuss how to implement some of MDC’s recommendations.

That made me wonder: Should journalists be doing that? Presuming we think that the subject of high school dropouts is an issue that is relevant and important for our audience, how much effort should news organizations be putting in to creating conversation around content that is created elsewhere? Should journalists be conveners?

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How to Report for New Media

Written by Ryan Thornburg February 10, 2009 8:04 am EST 1 comment

Links Referenced in This Lecture:

MP3 Audio of the Lecture

Lecture: Reporting for online media

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Site Critiques and Story Ideas

Written by Ryan Thornburg February 4, 2009 9:03 am EST No comments

Our Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class is transitioning from the first to second phase of the semester, and I’ve blogged about it a bit more over at http://www.ibiblio.org/newsdesk/apples/sp09/blogs/ryan-thornburg

In the first phase, we’ve been cramming on learning more about the topic of dropouts in North Carolina and also cramming on learning the tools and techniques of online journalism. We’re now starting to think about some of our initial content creation.

In two blog posts, I summarize our critiques of other online news projects as well as our initial brainstorm of story ideas.

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Cooperating Across Newsrooms

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 29, 2009 1:23 pm EST No comments

The newspaper partners for our Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class joined the students and I in Chapel Hill this week for a discussion about how a collaboration would work. I was interested in hearing about content ideas as well as logistics. I think we had an incredibly engaging and informative conversation about story ideas. Logistics seemed to be less of a concern.

Here are some of the angles to the dropout issue that our partners were interested in pursuing:

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How to Blog

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 28, 2009 11:54 pm EST No comments

While talking earlier this week to a journalist about the future of news, I again heard the story of newsroom leadership that has issued an edict that all reporters must blog. While I believe there are many contributions that the blog format can bring to news reporting, I can think of no more certain way to kill their potential than by making them mandatory.

If you think “blogs suck,” then there ain’t anything I’m going to say here that will convince you otherwise. I never knock another person’s religious beliefs.

If you are looking for more evidence to arm yourself in the battle of whether bloggers are/are not journalists, then please stop reading now. I have about as much interest in the answer to that question as I have in debating whether figure skaters are athletes.

BUT… if you are a journalist who wants to start blogging or be a better blogger then welcome. And if you’re a blogger who wants to be more newsy, then read on, my friend.

And if you don’t have time, just check out the PDF one-pager.

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Case Study: Link Journalism With Publish2

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 27, 2009 12:17 am EST No comments

I start every semester in my online news classes teaching students the fundamental concepts of HTML. Not primarily because I want them to know the technology, but because I want them to appreciate that for all the bells, whistles and buzzwords it is the lowly link that makes online journalism fundamentally different than offline journalism.

If journalism is a conversation, I tell them, the first key to being a good conversationalist is being a good listener. You’d never walk in to a party and just hijack the first conversation you come across. You listen, wait and figure out what you can add and how you can move the discussion. Putting this analogy in to practice with links from your site to another site is the first step in developing authentic conversational leadership.

After all, the man who invented the hyperlink also hypothesized this role for journalists.

This semester, we are putting this concept in to practice in the site we’re building for Public Affairs Reporting for New Media. Using Publish2, the students are getting to practice “link journalism.” The site is now live, and here’s how we’re starting to build it out.

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How to Cover the Dropout Issue

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 23, 2009 8:33 am EST No comments

Perhaps my biggest fear about the subject for this semester’s Public Affairs for New Media class is the danger of mission creep. We’re going to be covering the state’s dropout rate, which anyone who has spent any time with the issue will tell you is not a problem isolated to single moment in a child’s life.

Reading up on the issue, it seemed that people tackled the issue in one of two ways — either as a trailing indicator with roots in pre-kindergarten or as a leading indicator of difficulties that a person will have throughout his or her life staying out of jail, holding down a job, and maintaining a family.

So we run a real danger of trying to wrap our arms around a topic that seems to be correlated to lifelong problems that begin at birth persist throughout life.

On Monday, we’re hosting our newspaper partners in Chapel Hill. We’ll find out then how they see the issue playing out in their communities. But as I educate myself on the topic and have been discussing it this week with students, here are some of the questions I have.

My question to you: What would you like to know about North Carolina’s diploma dilemma? How would you like to see us cover the issue. I welcome your comments.

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