by FERN SHEN
Baltimore Sun editor J. Montgomery “Monty” Cook, who presided over massive layoffs of veteran staffers and shifted the paper’s emphasis toward online operations, is leaving the Sun for an academic job.
Cook is heading back to his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to “lead an experimental digital news and audience research initiative with the goal of helping news organizations adapt to the new media landscape,” wrote Tim Ryan, in a memo sent to staff today.
Staff members’ reaction was somewhat muted and even “blaise,” according to sources who were at the meeting today.
“They gathered the staff and at the end (Cook) asked if we had any questions and no one had any questions, really,” said one person who was in the room. ” There were just two people asking the same thing: ‘When does this take effect?’” (Early April is the answer, according to Ryan’s memo.)
The lack of curiousity several said, was a reaction in part, to Cook’s “remote” management style.
“He was not real hands-on, as far as the newsroom goes, though I have no idea how he was behind the scenes or in other capacities,” said the source. “We kind of laughed about it that at five or six at night he’d be gone.”
Still, the source allowed as how absence from the physical newsroom may not mean as much in the era of the “platform-neutral” newsroom, as Cook famously explained the merging of the paper’s print and online operations, not long after taking the top job at the paper in January.
Cook took over after his predecessor, Timothy A. Franklin, made the same sort of move, leaving the Sun for an academic post. (Franklin left to launch a sports journalism program at his alma mater, Indiana University.)
According to the Sun’s story today on Cook’s departure, he joined the paper in 2004 as deputy managing editor. “His journalism experience includes stints at The Washington Post, The Akron Beacon Journal and The Orlando Sentinel,” according to the piece.
The other reason for the cool reception, of course is the still-raw memory of the drastic staff reductions that occurred in April under Cook’s regime: 61 employees, nearly a third of the newsroom, were laid off in May.
Some cast Cook as the unfortunate mid-level manager, saddled by his superiors with the odious job of shedding payroll in the midst of a recession, shrinking circulation and ad revenue and the bankruptcy of its corporate parent, Tribune Company.
The Sun story today mentions some of the significant big stories the paper broke last year, such as investigation of the Baltimore City Foundation. It notes that total page views to baltimoresun.com increased 8.4 percent in 2009 under Cook to more than 434 million.
Others, however, held him responsible for the abrupt and harsh manner with which veteran journalists were shown the door in April. Cook described the downsizing of not only the staff but of the the physical paper as “transition,” but many readers saw only a shrunken product, with fewer sections and less local, national and international news. They had nothing but scorn for “b,” the giveaway tabloid aimed at young people which Cook launched as deputy managing editor. (Check out the most infamous “bthesite” cover!)
Still, the mood has lightened a bit lately at Calvert Street with the recent hiring of a couple of reporters and a content editor.
“They had to do some hiring. I mean, they didn’t have a city schools reporter,” the source said. “”The way things have been around here, three new people is like a hiring binge.”