Reese Innovation Lab plays matchmaker for journalists and students

When Ryan Thornburg was approached by WUNC’s Fletcher Fellow Liz Schlemmer for help on interactive graphics, he knew exactly how to help. Schlemmer was working on a story about teacher retention rates in North Carolina and wanted help using data to add context and visual elements to the story.

One of Thornburg’s students, Peyton Chance, a senior in interactive multimedia at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media from Millington, Maryland, wanted to improve his data visualization skills to demonstrate for prospective employers. Thornburg connected Schlemmer and Chance, and they collaborated on this story, turning Schlemmer’s data into visually captivating maps and graphs.

Visual communication is a powerful tool often missing from local media. “You don’t often see interactive charts and maps paired with local reporting, because they require time and specialized skills,” said Chance. Small newsrooms simply lack the resources and time to develop these skills while keeping up with the pace of change. The benefit of such collaborations between students and journalists is clear.

“Students either have or want to build those skills and partnering with local media is a win-win-win for students, reporters and readers,” said Chance.

A data visualization Peyton Chance made for a WUNC story shows percentage of lateral entry teachers by county in North Carolina.

Schlemmer graduated from the Hussman School in 2017 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Thornburg and the Reese Innovation Lab team hope collaborations like this continue to strengthen the relationship between the university and the public via local media. “I hope that when they see this, more data students and more journalists in small newsrooms will let us know that we can play a good matchmaker,” said Thornburg of the collaboration.

The mission of the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media is grounded in creating opportunities for the university and local media to work together. Some of the ways that we are doing this include:

    • Thornburg’s NC Votes is looking for coders and journalists interested in giving feedback and collaborating on the use of 46 million public records of voting and election data in North Carolina.
    • Knight Chairs Penelope Muse Abernathy and JoAnn Sciarrino are preparing to publish a book and a series of how-to guides to help local media rethink their approach to digital entrepreneurship to adapt to drastic changes brought by revenue shifts.
    • Eight North Carolina news organizations are halfway through the CISLM-sponsored Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative. The organizations have shown remarkable progress in questioning their techniques and assumptions and building new strategies to face economic and cultural disruptions in media.

For reporters looking to connect with the Reese Innovation Lab, please contact Ryan Thornburg at the Hussman School.