Baltimore Sun editor to lead digital news and research initiative at UNC journalism school

Monty Cook, senior vice president and editor of The Baltimore Sun and baltimoresun.com, joined the School of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill April 1. He lead an experimental digital news and audience research initiative designed to help news organizations adapt to the new media environment.

The school transformed one of its classrooms into a digital newsroom where students will produce and distribute news for a variety of audiences. The newsroom differs from digital media efforts at other universities because it will function as a research center that studies products, audiences and communities that form around the news.

The flexibility to test a wide range of theories and share the results is central to the project, which is funded with a $3.5 million gift from the estate of Carolina journalism alumnus Reese Felts.

Cook helped The Sun become an industry leader online with extensive use of social media to boost audience interaction with the news. He led the launch of a free daily publication for young adults and formed an audience engagement team in The Sun’s newsroom that was tasked with growing and interacting with audiences in topic areas online.

“Traditional content, business and distribution models will not sustain quality journalism in the future,” said Jean Folkerts, dean of the school. “Our challenge and Monty Cook’s charge is to work with Carolina’s faculty and students on experimentation and research that will light the way on a new path for the industry.”

“The project will focus on the research and study of evolving economies for digital and traditional media industries,” Cook said. “We’ll experiment with prototypical business models and foster a greater understanding of the roles of marketing, revenue generation and brand-building that every journalist must possess.”

Cook, a 1986 graduate of the school, returns to Chapel Hill after more than 20 years of journalism and news management experience with The Sun, The Washington Post, the Akron Beacon Journal, the Orlando Sentinel and the Myrtle Beach Sun News.

His appointment adds to the school’s growing focus on digital media in recent years. Penny Muse Abernathy, who launched new enterprises and helped increase revenue at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, was named the school’s Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics in 2008. The school recently announced a new Knight Chair in Digital Advertising that will collaborate with Abernathy to create a national resource at the school by expanding community news experiments and innovation in digital advertising.

Carolina is one of the twelve top journalism schools participating in the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. The initiative encourages experimental journalism projects, curriculum enhancement and collaboration with other academic disciplines and institutions.

“We’ll use student-produced journalism to put into play new theories about news and news ecology,” Cook said. “We’ll test emerging platforms and products and identify unique ways of gathering and disseminating news and information.”