Example of Corrections in an N&O Sports Blog

Written by Ryan Thornburg October 12, 2010 10:06 am EDT No comments

It’s not life-and-death news, but sports writing values speed and currency more than just about any other news value. That’s one of the reasons that blogs work so well for sports coverage. But with that speed comes increased risk of making a fact error.

In yesterday’s coverage of the NCAA investigation into football at the University of North Carolina, Robbi Pickeral made a mistake on her News & Observer blog post. But then she provided a good example of how to correct it…and some examples of how a news organization could be more transparent about the mistakes they publish during the reporting process.

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Technology ≠ Relevance, Age ≠ Freshness

Written by Ryan Thornburg October 11, 2010 8:52 am EDT No comments

Sitting in my Carroll Hall office, it’s not unusual for me to read about some new online news tool and wonder to myself how I’m going to keep up with all the changes that continue to happen in digital media. When I was in newsrooms, I had a pretty good sense about which technologies were solid and which were hype. But the one thing I don’t wonder is how I, or a school of journalism in general, is going to remain relevant. A journalist doesn’t stay relevant solely by keeping up with technology. A journalist stays relevant by keeping up with his audience — by following the social, political, economic and, yes, technological trends and then finding a way to get the audience interesting stories that the audience itself doesn’t even yet know that it wants.

When I talk with older journalists about my students, they often assume that the Millennials constant exposure to the Internet means that they will be the ones to figure out the future of news. And what I hate to tell those older journalists is that while young people today are voracious consumers of services that have good product design and high social utility, that that alone doesn’t make them curious or informed or creative. And technological proximity alone doesn’t provide vision and leadership for journalistic innovation that our nation needs. It’s up to professors like me to cultivate those things in as many students as we can.

On the other end of the chronological spectrum, I talk to young people whose ambition sometimes eclipses their ability. I’m drawn to their gung-ho attitude but often put off by their assumption that journalists who are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning have somehow used a limited lifetime allotment of creativity and curiosity that they’ve been given. And what I tell those young people is that just as youth doesn’t guarantee innovation, neither does age limit someone’s ability to seek a fresh approach to the industry’s problems.

That brings me to the answer that I give journalists who ask for my advice on how to stay fresh and relevant. It’s the same advice I try to heed myself. Keep an eye on your audience and stay one step ahead of them with story ideas as well as storytelling and delivery tools.

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18-24 Year Olds: It’s Their Problem to Solve

Written by Ryan Thornburg November 6, 2009 10:40 am EST No comments

Last week a reporter from Argentina’s Clarin asked me what I thought about the French government’s plan to spend $22.5 million over three years to give 18-24 year-olds a free, yearlong subscription to a newspaper of their choice. The biggest problem of many that I see with this plan is that it doesn’t address the true issue with news consumption among young people. Here’s what I’d do with $22.5 million to invest in the future of news — sponsor a grant competition for people 18-24 to conceptualize and create solutions to their peer’s lack of interest in current affairs.

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Fertile Failure & the Lessons of History

Written by Ryan Thornburg October 30, 2009 7:21 am EDT No comments

Speaking this week to journalists in Argentina, there is much concern about the closure this week of award-winning Spanish Web site, Soitu.es. A student at  Universidad del Norte Santo Tomas de Aquino in Tucuman said she felt “heart-broken” by the news.

She and others have been asking me whether this is strong evidence that new online-only news organizations will never work. My question back to them: Why do you expect them to work? We are in an era of innovation and entrepreneurship. We are early in the process of leaving behind the security of mass media and we can expect to see many failures as brave journalists look for new ways to re-engage a shrinking news audience and to make money doing it.

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We All Live in Tiananmen Today

Written by Ryan Thornburg June 4, 2009 10:58 am EDT No comments

Twenty years ago the Chinese military killed perhaps thousands of people as they crushed a pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Two weeks ago I stood in Tiananmen Square for the first time, looking for any remaining hint of the energy and tragedy of that day.

What did I find? Unable to speak Chinese and woefully ignorant of the subtleties of country’s recent history, I was able to take mental snapshots of China, without knowing the signifance or meaning of those images in my head. But today I sit here writing a blog post that my friends in China probably won’t be able to read. And I find it incredibly ironic that while the Chinese government let me freely wander Tianament Square two weeks ago, today it prevents me from speaking freely with friends — or enemies — who live there. In the interconnected world of social media, I feel the spirit and tension of Tiananmen more today while I’m writing this blog post than I did two weeks ago standing in that concrete pasture 7,000 miles away.

Here are my snapshots of China. I’d like your help thinking about what they will mean to us on the 40th anniversary of Tiananmen and the world in which my daughter will be entering when she turns 21 on June 5, 2029.

Full Screen Slideshow

(Conflict of Interest Disclosure: My airfare to Beijing was paid for by the China Internet Information Center, which is controlled and directly funded in large part by the Information Office of the State Council. I was invited to China for the purpose of speaking with the staff of China.org.cn about online journalism, through an ongoing partnership between that Web site and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

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Corrected: How Many Online Journalists in the U.S.?

Written by Ryan Thornburg March 16, 2009 10:10 am EDT No comments

Correction: March 16, 10:10 a.m. ET

Update: March 6, 10:44 a.m. ET

Following the news that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is likely to go online-only if it stops printing sometime after March 10, Ken Doctor wrote on his blog, Content Bridges, uses some loose estimates to wonder if newspaper newsrooms are about to go from employing 44,000 journalists to 6,600.

A recent scan of newspaper mastheads and some loose estimates of my own put the number of online journalists currently working in the U.S. at between four and five thousand.

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Online Exercise: Write an FAQ

Written by Ryan Thornburg February 9, 2009 7:51 am EST 1 comment

FAQs are a good way to introduce students to online news writing and editing for three reasons.

  • It gets them thinking about conversational journalism.
  • It gets them writing shorter.
  • It gets them using links.

The key to good FAQs — of course — is to formulate a good set of questions. A good question is at the start of all good reporting. And to formulate a good set of questions, the FAQ writer needs to have a very good sense of his or her audience. There are a few questions to consider when thinking about writing an FAQ.

  • Who is the audience?
  • What would they already need to know to get value out of this FAQ?
  • What search terms would they use to find this FAQ?
  • How would they use the information they find on the FAQ

Consider those questions and see if you can answer them for each of these examples of online FAQs that employ different styles.

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How to Plan an Online News Project

Written by Ryan Thornburg February 6, 2009 8:01 am EST 1 comment

If I had to pick only one difference between the mindset of print and online journalists, it’s the way they plan. Online journalists are more likely to have to collaborate with a large group, they are often working on longer time horizons on products that has longer shelf-lives. They are dealing with lots of smaller moving pieces and have to try to get management approval using static words and images to represent a project that will have a lot of animation and user-driven customization.

So, if you want to work online doing something other than breaking news you have to learn how to plan. In my experience, any online project — from an election returns database to a deadline explainer on the capture of Saddam Hussein — needs six things:

  1. A product concept
  2. A storyboard
  3. Asset management
  4. A clear workflow
  5. A financial budget
  6. A testing and quality assurance procedure
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If Wikipedia Says It Loves You, Check It Out

Written by Ryan Thornburg February 2, 2009 8:24 am EST No comments

The idea of using social media to report a story is appalling to some journalists. They have a certain germophobia when it comes to the Internet. Because it is littered with rumor and lies, they never use it as a source for a story, they say. They’re right, of course. Social media like Twitter and Wikipedia are littered with rumor and lies, but so are most city halls and almost every other place journalists ply their trade.

Social media, I tell my students who have been scared away from it by other professors and editors, are like all sources — a great place to start and a lousy place to finish.

Armed with the same skepticism and curiosity with which I treat any other source, I try to teach students to stop worrying and love the hyperlink.

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Open Letter to Washington Post: Keep the Frontier Open

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 9, 2009 1:06 pm EST 1 comment

I normally try to avoid giving public advice to my former employers. But, with it having little chance of helping or hurting any of my former colleagues at this late point in the decision process, I’m going to fire away.

Dear Washington Post Deciders,

You need to merge the print and online newsrooms immediately. There is no time to spare. Oh, and you need to keep them separate.

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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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