Reese News Lab plays matchmaker for journalists and students

Story by UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media Communication Manager Madeline Brown
Originally published on Dec. 1, 2017, on

When UNC School of Media and Journalism Reese Felts Distinguished Associate Professor and Reese News Lab Director Ryan Thornburg was approached by WUNC’s Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting 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 — an MJ-school senior from Millington, Maryland, studying interactive multimedia — 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.

Schlemmer graduated from the MJ-school in 2017 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Thornburg and the Reese News 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.

See Chance's data visualization graphics:

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 we are doing this include:

  • Ryan Thornburg’s NC Votes is looking for coders and journalists interested in giving feedback and collaborating on 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 News Lab, please contact Thornburg at the MJ-school.