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.

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Reflection: The Secret to Teaching Journalism to Digital Natives

Written by Ryan Thornburg May 24, 2009 9:55 am EDT No comments

A brief story in The News & Observer today notes how journalism education at UNC and Duke are changing. When I spoke with reporter Eric Ferreri a few weeks ago for his story, he asked about the difficulty — and perhaps futility — of teaching “new media” to students who probably can’t remember a world without the Internet.

As Ferreri notes in the story, I think there’s a significant difference between using technology and understanding its social, political and economic implications — just like there’s a difference between driving a car and being able to repair its engine. (This is why it’s still important to teach students HTML.)

The challenge for educators is to get students to begin to reflect in both positive and normative terms about how they communicate in different media environments.

Reflection is a key component in service learning, but it’s also critical to add a level of consciousness to any field that has developed informally and organically. Journalism students don’t need classroom education to BE in the world — they can acquire skills more efficiently just by doing internships. But they do need classroom education in order to EXPLAIN the world and to LEAD it.

Our role as journalism professors in a world where anyone can publish a blog is to develop leadership, not merely train practitioners.

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Does the WSJ’s Online Business Strategy Work for Local News?

Written by Ryan Thornburg April 3, 2009 8:47 am EDT No comments

Be niche. Have very high standards. And find some subscribers to buy it

Good advice for future journalists from Alan Murray, the editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Web site, who gave the Park Lecture at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Thursday night. His approach to online journalism certainly sounded right to me, but what I didn’t hear was any hard evidence that would help support my gut instinct.

The biggest question I still have: Is there any business model for high quality local public affairs journalism?

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The N&O and Online Journalism Students

Written by Ryan Thornburg May 7, 2008 9:47 pm EDT No comments

I had nothing to do with it, but I was happy to see three students I had in my Online News Writing and Editing classes this year get a shout out on newsobserver.com for their work this semester with the Under the Dome blog.

That partnership was a great example of what can happen when good students get paired up with a patient, energetic and innovative journalist like Ryan Teague Beckwith, the reporter who minds the blog.

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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.
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  • 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

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