UNC staff awarded $50,000 to increase transparency at General Assembly
Posted January 28, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. — 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.