Triangle’s Media Ecosystem Needs Tributaries and Mainstream

Written by Ryan Thornburg October 14, 2010 9:16 am EDT No comments

Sitting next to News & Observer editor John Drescher last Friday during a forum about the Triangle’s media landscape, I had to feel a bit sorry for him. Of the nearly 20 representatives of news media in the region, he was the most prominent representative of the mainstream media and drew all the fire from the bloggers, entrepreneurs, do-gooders and pontificators who had him easily outnumbered and whose smaller organizations had often beaten his Goliath newsroom on important stories.

But I also envied Drescher. He was also the only one at the table who had ever dropped $200,000 of his company’s money on an investigation of a state agency. And the only one who knew what it was like to spend four years pinging the government for public records before he had a story solid enough to sell to his subscribers and advertisers.

One other thing made Drescher an enviable character in the Triangle’s media ecosystem. Despite their valid criticisms of increasing gaps in The News & Observer’s coverage of our communities many noted without irony in their voices, the small, independent and non-profit news operations had the most impact on public policy when they got the attention of Drescher’s paper or one of the local television stations.

And that made me realize that if our state is going to retain its generation-long reputation as a home for journalism that gives voice to the voiceless and holds powerful people accountable, then we must find a way to foster dozens of new and diverse tributaries of news and information that flow into the big, slow-moving mainstream media. Without the tributaries, the MSM seems likely to evaporate entirely. Without a larger channel into which they can empty, the tributaries seem likely to overwhelm us with a flood of disconnected datapoints.

Learn More

What’s the Demand for Downballot News?

Written by Ryan Thornburg May 5, 2010 1:33 pm EDT No comments

One of the partners for my Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class this semester was the N.C. Center for Voter Education, long known for its efforts to change the way judges are elected in North Carolina as well as the voting guide it creates in partnership with UNC-TV. That voting guide was the first place I turned for information on candidates in yesterday’s statewide primary for seats on the Court of Appeals. I just presumed that no newspaper had covered the race.

But you know what happens to you and me when you assume things, so I checked it out. Turns out I was mostly right. I’m going to put together a summary of information that got reported about this race, but it got me wondering about this question: How much information – and what kind – of information do North Carolinians need about downballot statewide primary races? Are they getting? From where? Or why not?

After all, if journalism’s worth saving it’s only because of the impact it has on public life. I’ve long been curious about the connection between information and citizen participation. The presumption – not always right, as Samuel Popkin and Michael Schudson might tell you – is that the more information voters have the “better decisions” they will make.

A little more than 700,000 people voted in those races. Some of them might have wanted more information than others? How many had enough? How many would have changed their votes if they had had different information?

And, if we can figure out who needs this information – and what information they need – is there any business model that gets it to them? Do we need independent reporting on downballot races like this or is informing voters the job of the State Board of Elections and the candidates themselves?

Learn More

Facebook Politics: Hidden in Plain Sight

Written by Ryan Thornburg April 29, 2009 7:49 pm EDT No comments

Surely some of you know more about this topic than I, but here are my thoughts the News & Observer’s Under the Dome blog.

Facebook groups are ripe for the harvesting

Learn More

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.

Learn More

Leaders — Political and Editorial — Need to Work the Network

Written by Ryan Thornburg November 26, 2008 2:53 pm EST No comments

The News & Observer in Raleigh today picked up an op-ed I wrote about the need for winning political candidates to follow through on their gestures of online community connectivity. (Hat tip to WCHL for the idea…)

But this challenge isn’t unique to political leaders, it’s also one that journalists must meet and a gesture on which they are following through even less.

Hooked on the promise of the free advertising inventory generated by online comments, more and more newspaper Web sites are deploying  some type of online discussion technology.  What they aren’t deploying is the kind of human  resources that are needed to foster and develop online conversations. Why do most comments on news articles follow Godwin’s Law? Because there is little or no authentic conversational leaders. There is no human being making connections between people and ideas and, um, fact.

Just look at this recent survey of online journalists in North Carolina — online community management ranked as the skill that these editorial staffers said was least important to their jobs.

Here are my quick thoughts on how news organizations should begin to approach online comments.

Learn More

N.C. Rising Dropout Rate: A Call for Media Partners

Written by Ryan Thornburg November 19, 2008 5:00 pm EST No comments

Next semester, I’m leading a group of students in a service-learning class at UNC-Chapel Hill that be using online reporting and publishing techniques to dig in to the story of North Carolina’s rising high school dropout rate. As part of this experiment, we’re working with news outlets in the state on a collaboration that will live both on their individual sites and on a centralized site at UNC. If you’re interested in participating, please take a look at our draft plan of attack here .

Learn More

Research Question: Do Hits Equal Votes?

Written by Ryan Thornburg May 5, 2008 4:24 pm EDT No comments

North Carolina Republican gubernatorial candidate argues that they are.

But what’s he talking about? Page views? Unique visitors?

What parts of the site are busiest? Fundraising? Issue briefings?

How are people finding his site? Google “earned search”? Online ads? Media coverage?

Learn More

What I'm reading

  • Writing from Video Exercise 2 hours ago
    These video writing and editing exercises are from the 4th Edition of the Broadcast News Handbook by Charlie Tuggle, Forrest Carr and Suzanne Hoffman.
  • 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

Blog Archive