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UNC staff awarded $50,000 to increase transparency at General Assembly

Posted January 28, 2015

— Two UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communications faculty members were recently awarded $50,000 to help improve transparency at the North Carolina General Assembly.

John Clark and Sara Peach, who run UNC's Reese News Lab, received the award for their project called Capitol Hound, a web application that allows paying subscribers to search General Assembly transcripts and get email alerts about specific topics being discussed.

With the $50,000 award, Clark and Peach said they can now offer Capitol Hound to all North Carolina news outlets at no charge.

"This award makes it possible to give all North Carolina reporters a tool that allows them to report on their elected representatives and on the stories that impact their communities," said Clark, executive director of Reese News Lab and former general manager of WRAL.com.

"By giving Capitol Hound to reporters, we hope to see an increase in legislative coverage which leads to more transparency in our state government," added Peach, Reese News Lab's associate director.

The C. Felix Harvey Award for Institutional Priorities will also help the Reese News Lab team research the possibility of using Capitol Hound in other states. Clark says several media organizations have approached him about expanding the service in their area.

Clark and Peach led a student team in a pilot launch of Capitol Hound during the 2014 short session of the General Assembly, which ran from May through August.

During the pilot, a political campaign, lobbyists, lawyers and news organizations, including WRAL News, subscribed to the service in order to access transcripts and alerts. The pilot was funded, in part, by a $35,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and its Knight Prototype Fund.

Until May 2014, no transcripts of North Carolina legislative sessions were available. Anyone interested in those discussions had to listen to long hours of audio recordings or attend meetings in person.

To solve this problem, Capitol Hound uses a combination of crowdsourcing, software and human transcription to rapidly generate accurate transcripts of government proceedings. By the day after a session, users can search for exact words spoken by lawmakers. Users can also specify keywords to receive email alerts.

The C. Felix Harvey Award is an annual award recognizing exemplary faculty scholarship that reflects one of UNC's top priorities and addresses a real-world challenge. A selection committee led by UNC's Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost chooses the winner from a pool of faculty applications.

11 Comments

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  • nclgw Jan 29, 2015

    What a joke!! UNC is attempting to increase transparency anywhere!! Try yourself first.....

  • jjackflash Jan 29, 2015

    View quoted thread


    - You mean all 3? LOL.

    UNC's academic standing is in great shape.

    Yah. Check it out:

    http://www.thebestcolleges.org/rankings/top-50/

  • Danny22 Jan 29, 2015

    They might need to spend that money working on their academic standing, with all the former students who are suing because they were short changed on their education.

  • Will Sonnett Jan 29, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread



    ". . . a private grant foundation." This means there is no political agenda?! This means they can hide their political agenda and receive a tax break while they distribute money to supporters who will further their cause. Wake up, Pollyanna, this ain't no "non-partisan" endeavor from any angle.

  • Mr. French Jan 28, 2015

    UNC and transparency used in the same sentence??? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • miseem Jan 28, 2015

    View quoted thread


    Uhh, it's supported by a private grant foundation. And it simply provides an easy way to access comments by our legislators. Is that a problem? Or would you prefer the only information coming from them be via their own media spin doctors?

  • Doug Bogard Jan 28, 2015
    user avatar

    I can not imagine UNC having a political agenda......hold on, state funded school......which means we are supporting UNC's political agenda.......wait a minute....what the......

  • Tanya Rose Jan 28, 2015
    user avatar

    I'm sorry-is this a joke?

  • ce7grant Jan 28, 2015

    this is funny

  • raleighboy524 Jan 28, 2015

    McCrony & Co. will pass a law banning this. Count on it.

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