JOMC 491.4 - "Newsdesk" - Spring 2009

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Ryan Thornburg

Meeting Times: Lectures - Thursday, 9:30-10:45 a.m.; Open Lab Sessions - TWR, 2 - 5 p.m.


Newsdesk: The Freedom to Fail
and the Expectation to Succeed

In this class we will be starting a news service for Chapel Hill from scratch. This is an experimental effort, which means that if we don't fail at least a few times we aren't trying hard enough.

The goal of this course is to provide a capstone to your journalism education by preparing you to combine sound traditional principals of full, fair and balanced reporting with new methods of delivering information and telling stories that are memorable and relevant.

Our experiment will explore these ideas:

* Authentic conversational leadership builds trust and loyalty - Journalists should create a safe, civil place for community conversation and then lead it, stoking the dialog by presenting new information and helping the community connect.

* Customer service adds value to the commodity of the public record - Journalists should create tools that help people more easily find the right information at the moment they need it to make better decisions about public affairs and private life.

* Context and reporting differentiate professional journalism from amateur journalism - In a world where anyone can publish, the journalist's role is to pursue hidden facts of public importance and provide context to the events of the day, which are recorded and reported by our readers.

Principals & Mission

Our news organization will:

  • Hold powerful people accountable.
  • Help people make decisions in their daily lives.
  • Shine light in to the dark places of our community.
  • Explain a world of increasingly complex patterns and social, political, economic and natural structures.

We will endeavor to avoid operating out of self-interest.

We will endeavor to seek the truth with the eyes of scientists, by pursuing evidence without prejudice about where it leads and by reporting our findings completely, transparently and without fear or favor.


All the work done in this class will be for public consumption and will be graded according to the highest professional standards.

Curiosity about the larger world, self-motivation and individual responsibility are prerequisites for this course.

We will treat each other and all members of our community with respect.

Differences of opinion are strongly encouraged.

Libel and laziness are equally intolerable. Facts will be doggedly pursued.

Late work will not be accepted.

Our standards are higher than any legal standard for libel or copyright violation. All potential violations of the UNC Honor Code by members of this organization will be immediately addressed and reported to the Student Attorney General's office when appropriate.

About the Instructor: Before joining UNC in 2007, I was the managing editor at U.S. News & World Report in charge of I have also been the managing editor of at Congressional Quarterly and was the editor of national and foreign news on during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2004 presidential election.

During those jobs, I created and edited nationally recognized multimedia packages and led online coverage of presidential election and the war in Iraq. As an entrepreneur, I started the Carolina Political Report, a site that was dedicated to coverage of state politics and government in North Carolina. I've also appeared as a political analyst on CNN, MSNBC and several other local and national broadcast outlets.

My Web site is and my blog is

Contacting Me: The professional standards of this course include interpersonal communication and put an emphasis on personal accountability. Students are responsible for making sure they have the information and tools they need to complete their assignments on time and to a high standard. To do this, all you have to do is follow a basic tenant of journalism — if you don't know something, you should ask.

My responsibility is to outline clear expectations, help you find the resources you need to be successful and be available to answer your questions when you get stuck. I encourage you to meet with me about any topic, any time.

Here are some guidelines about how to best reach me:

  • In person: Face-to-face communication is the best for any in-depth topic. Grades, and career advice are two examples of the kinds of in-depth conversations I like to have in person. If you'd like to sit down and chat with me for more than five or 10 minutes, please make an appointment and I'll find time to meet with you.
  • E-mail: Use e-mail if you have a long, detailed question or explanation, or if you don't need a reply faster than 24 hours. Don't assume that I've read your email until you get a confirmation from me.
  • Instant Messaging: If I'm online you can email me short questions that require a prompt response, but don't require a lot of explanation.
  • Mobile phone: This is the best way to reach me in an emergency. But if you leave a voicemail, don't assume that I've received the message until you get a confirmation back from me.


Course Navigation

Contact Info

  • 219 Carroll Hall
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  • O: 919-962-4080