Ryan Thornburg, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be joining the Duke community as the visiting journalist for The Chronicle and a visiting lecturer in digital media at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy.
Thornburg will not have editorial control over the content that is produced, but will aid The Chronicle's staff as they continue to strive towards a digital-first model.
“This entire region is becoming increasingly known for its digital media innovation,” Thornburg said in a press release. “This opportunity is not only going to build stronger stories for another segment of the news audience here, but it’s also going to be yet another media [research and development] that shows how our universities are leading the industry.”
Junior Danielle Muoio, editor-in-chief of The Chronicle, said that Thornburg will use his time at The Chronicle to help with training the staff, streamlining editing procedures and improving packaging of online content.
“I am very excited that The Chronicle will have the opportunity to work with Thornburg this year, having both vast knowledge of digital media and having worked with students,” Muoio said. “I think that he is the perfect person to help us forward our digital model.”
The Chronicle has never before had a visiting journalist.
Phil Bennett, director of the DeWitt Wallace Center and a former member of the Duke Student Publishing Company board which oversees The Chronicle, noted that even with a member of faculty on the team, The Chronicle will maintain its independence.
“It is important to note that The Chronicle will remain an independent student organization, and [Thornburg] is here to help organize, speed up and streamline the transition to a digital first news production that has been a difficult change at news organizations nation wide,” Bennett said.
The Chronicle has been editorially and financially independent from the University since incorporating as the Duke Student Publishing Company in 1993.
He added that student journalists often have less resources and time to dedicate to making the crucial transition than larger professional news outlets.
“Transitioning student-run newspaper to a digital first model can be like trying to repair an airplane midflight," Bennett said. “Because you are committing to keep producing your print editions and this new web edition.”
The Chronicle’s General Manager Chrissy Beck said one of the biggest reasons that Thornburg was chosen was because of his understanding of the boundaries when working with an independent student newspaper.
“We—the board and the editorial staff—put a lot of effort into the strategic plan this year, and it is going to require a lot of work by the editorial staff to publish a print edition and 24-hour cycle on the web, so I think having the help and support of a professional journalist is going to be really helpful this year,” she said.
Thornburg was chosen by a hiring committee that included three current members of The Chronicle, three former editors of The Chronicle who are now professional journalists and two professors from the DeWitt Wallace Center.
“Ryan was a clear frontrunner for everyone,” Beck said. “He understands exactly who we are and what we are doing.”
Bennett added that the Duke community as a whole will benefit from the knowledge that Thornburg will bring.
“We are hoping that some of his mentoring at The Chronicle will spill over into training and workshops that we can participate in at the DeWitt Wallace Center,” Bennett said.
Bennett first met Thornburg when the two were working at the Washington Post—Bennett in print media and Thornburg in digital. At that time, Bennett said that he was very impressed by Thornburg’s unique approach to conveying a digital message.
“We are lucky to have him,” Bennett said, adding that Thornburg is a “star” even in the world of professional media. “He is really the ideal person to take this on.”
This article was updated 12:15 p.m. Friday to clarify Thornburg's role at The Chronicle.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Thornburg as the faculty advisor of The Chronicle. He is actually the visiting journalist. Additionally, Phil Bennet is a former, not current, member of the DSPC. The Chronicle regrets the errors.