Ryan Thornburg named Reese News Lab director, Steven King to serve as chief innovation officer

Associate Professor Ryan Thornburg has assumed the duties of Reese News Lab director at the UNC School of Media and Journalism. Assistant Professor Steven King will take on the role of the lab’s chief innovation officer.

Thornburg and King work with students in the lab to create a sustainable future for journalism through the research and development of media products. Adjunct Professor Jeremy Gockel's "MEJO 463: News Lab" class will be using human-centered design to bolster this developmental process.

Thornburg hopes to apply these innovative products for local media with a focus on building trust within the community. The lab will be working with Chatham County — a diverse community with a growing Latino/a population — in order to improve how it serves the needs of its audiences. The lab will also look at far-future engineering, such as King's work with 360-degree video drones and virtual reality. 

"Being in a place like the MJ-school where we think about far-future engineering is really important because, if we can find out what's on the cutting edge, we can figure out the opportunities available," Thornburg said. "Associated with that is the research that leads us to better understand how people are using media products to get news and information." 

The lab will conduct newsroom experiments with the use of new digital media products and processes. These tests are designed ultimately to improve the quality of newsgathering while also increasing and engaging audiences. Thornburg hopes to find out what that audience want, and then to change how change news is produced to help the news organization earn community trust. 

"We want to develop a product on how people organize around news information in order to affect change in a community and to stand up for what they believe in," Thornburg said. 

In addition to exploring in engagement, Reese News Lab will seek innovative solutions beyond advertising for how news companies make money on a digital platform. Other media products and solutions that are being developed in the industry will be helpful in this process. 

"Part of what I need to do is keep tabs on the industry, to pay attention to other media experiments," Thornburg said. "I'd like to create an advisory board of people in local media who are doing work around the country and connect with global media innovators." 

King will teach and lead students and faculty in creating new media products that focus on local journalism, while solving issues in the media and journalism industry through design concepts and engaging new technologies in order to enhance storytelling methodologies. He will also be directing the summer Media Innovation Fellows Program in which students are connected with media organizations to solve problems through innovative products. 

The Reese News Lab has been a center for innovative media product development and research since 2010 after a major bequest from alumnus Reese Felts. Addition funding support now comes from the school's Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, established through a major grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with the goal of fulfilling the information needs of local communities. Thornburg hopes that students working with these local communities through the Reese News Lab will take these invaluable experiences into the field after graduation. 

"One of the things I want to do is not measure our success by products as much as by the students that we turn out," he said. "I think that every semester, students do pitches on products they come up with which determines whether they go on to be the next Facebook. That isn't what measures our success. It's how students change the industry with what they've learned in Reese News Lab. Not a focus on financial successes with products, but rather what work they do at future organizations from what they've learned here."