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Reese Felts digital newsroom seeks new faculty leader

New staff will replace departed Cook

Two months removed from the sudden resignation of its executive producer, the Reese Felts Digital News Project is searching for its next leader.

Earlier this month, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication posted a job description for the position on its website.

Applications for the position will be reviewed beginning Feb. 15, but search committee members said no candidate had been identified as of late last week.

Search committee members said the search process will be no different than the one that found Monty Cook, who was hired in March 2010 but resigned in November after allegations of inappropriate conduct with a student employee of Cook, the former senior vice president and editor of The Baltimore Sun, was accused of sending sexually explicit messages to a student employee.

The Reese Felts Digital News Project is funded by a $4.1 million gift from the estate of Reese Felts, a UNC journalism school alumnus, the largest gift in the school’s history.

Sara Peach, the senior producer who has assumed some of Cook’s duties following his resignation, said the next executive producer for the project should have a passion for the educational aspect of the job.

“The new executive director should possess a great love of teaching and take delight in generating and testing new ideas,” she said.

Search committee member and assistant professor Andy Bechtel said the committee will look for a candidate who understands the changing field of journalism and can prepare students for a transition that will place greater focus on social media.

Bechtel said the committee will also be constantly thinking of what happened in the past to make sure the candidates understand professional boundaries, hoping to prevent previous issues from recurring.

But there is no surefire way, he said, to avoid candidates who invite legal troubles because the committee cannot legally look into a candidate’s personal life.

“We can’t ask about things outside the bounds of the job,” said Bechtel, adding that the candidate must also possess management experience and a record of innovation.

The Office of University Counsel and the Office of Human Resources have certain rules that forbid asking personal questions, such as whether a candidate has children.

Jean Folkerts, dean of the journalism school, said in November that the University conducted a background check and contacted references both on and off of Cook’s resume. She said neither of those processes raised any concerns.

In May, school faculty received an unsigned e-mail from a man who said his wife and Cook had an ongoing relationship of several years. The e-mail, which included an explicit Gmail chat conversation between the pair, concerned Folkerts enough to contact UNC general counsel but did not jeopardize Cook’s status at the University.

“It was between consenting adults, it did not violate any University policies and it was not criminal activity,” Folkerts said at the time. “We do not police behavior between consenting adults.”

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