CQ and the Media Economy

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 30, 2009 10:46 am EST 1 comment

News broke this week that the Times Publishing Company is putting my former employer, Congressional Quarterly, up for sale. This immediately prompted a small Twitter storm from current and former CQ staff about the need to protect and preserve … faithfully … the company’s mission.

It also prompted a small Twitter storm among online news gadflies about the future of the non-profit business model for news.

For me, the news was a reminder that the genius of CQ is that it has been able to turn a low-value commodity and resell it as a high-value service. To grow the business, its next owner will need to understand that and look for ways to evolve CQ from a service to an experience.

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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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Online Class Discussions and Twittering Breaking News

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 20, 2009 9:42 pm EST No comments

Things were a little out of rhythm all day today, with a weird snow storm that couldn’t decide whether it did or did not want to close down UNC today.

The bad news is that I didn’t get a chance to have MDC’s Richard Hart host a discussion about the N.C. dropout rate. The good news is that I had a chance to run two good live experiments in online journalism.

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Lecture: The Online News Audience

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 19, 2009 5:10 pm EST No comments

Before I let the students in my online reporting and editing classes touch any piece of technology or blurb their first blog post, I think it’s important to spend some time talking with them about the behaviors of the online news audience. The way people consume news and information online is fundamentally different than the way they consume it in other media, and it’s pointless to practice online journalism without understanding those habits.

This is not a lecture about how I wish the online news audience behaved. It is a lecture based on years of watching actual site usage at national news sites, watching focus groups, and reading industry surveys — primarily those done by Pew and collected in the annual State of the News Media reports.

This isn’t a lecture about how to change audience habits. It’s a lecture about riding a wave that is SO much bigger than journalism.

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Newsdesk, Day 1

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 15, 2009 9:13 pm EST No comments

The other class I’m teaching this semester is “Newsdesk,” a capstone convergence lab class for journalism students at UNC. Here’s the syllabus.

The idea of creating an online newsroom from the ground-up has been a bit of a tough sell. I have four takers this semester.

I’m most excited about the possibility of collaborating with other classes and other local media. There is also one national partnership I’m looking forward to announcing here soon.

We kicked things off today with a discussion of how people read news online and how it is different from the way they consume news in print. I’ll be blogging more about it over the next three months. You can follow along here.

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DIY Online Newsroom: Budget Edition

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 14, 2009 5:06 pm EST No comments

Starting an online newsroom at a journalism school isn’t exactly the same as starting one in the world outside those friendly confines. First, the staff tends to pay us to work there. Second, there’s usually a pretty substantial technical infrastructure already in place.

That said, there are still technical hurdles to overcome before we can start doing good journalism. Let me give a brief rundown of where we stand on technology on this third day of classes.

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Public Affairs Reporting for New Media: Day 1

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 13, 2009 1:17 pm EST 1 comment

The new semester kicked off this at 9:30 this morning in CA 132 with “Public Affairs Reporting for New Media,” a new APPLES service-learning class I’m teaching.

The goal: Partner with N.C. news organizations to create a set of multimedia, interactive news reports about the state’s high school dropout rate. And since part of the class’s mission is to be a public service, I’ll be blogging from now until May 2 about the lessons we learn.

Here’s the syllabus and here’s how the first day went …

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What I'm reading

  • News Corp. Donation Clouds Fox Coverage of Prop. 24 - NYTimes.com 2010/11/02
  • How to Count Items in a Filtered List in Excel 2010/10/25
  • Relational Databases - Example - Martin Baker 2010/10/16
  • MySQL :: MySQL 5.0 Reference Manual :: 10 Data Types 2010/10/16
  • Download & Install 2.4.1 2010/10/16

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