The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 3rd

New leader of Reese Felts Digital News Project begins July 1

In the late 1990s, John Clark found himself in online journalism when the Internet was moving from a crawl to a walk.

Now, after developing a nationally recognized news website, Clark said he hopes to continue breaking boundaries in his new position as executive director of the Reese Felts Digital News Project.

He assumes the position tomorrow.

“It’s a dream job for me,” Clark said. “I love teaching, especially with the notion of journalism and technology together.”

The digital newsroom is the product of a $4.1 million gift from the estate of Reese Felts, an alumnus of the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Clark, general manager of WRAL.com, said he does not have a specific agenda for when he takes over, adding that he will gain a lay of the land before he offers any major advice or suggestions for the newsroom.

“My role really is to support them, to give them guidance, question them, let them run with the ball,” he said.

Clark said he first became attracted to the journalism field by following how news was progressing on the internet.

“I saw a completely different way of doing media,” Clark said.

Sara Peach, who has served as interim executive producer for the digital newsroom since April 28, said she approved of Clark’s ideas to integrate more work with mobile devices and to consider a new business model.

“Our mission is to experiment with new forms of storytelling and to conduct research,” Peach said.

“We can take the lessons that we learn from producing these stories and distribute that back to the industry.”

The grant that funds the project — the largest in the school’s history — is expected to fund the newsroom for five more years. After that, the project will most likely try to find other grants to keep it running, Peach said.

Clark will succeed Monty Cook, who resigned in November amid allegations of sending sexually explicit texts to a student employee.

Clark grew up on a farm in Townsville. He attended Campbell University as an undergraduate and for graduate school, he said.

Jean Folkerts, dean of the journalism school, said she is very excited to welcome Clark to the faculty, adding that his experience made him a strong candidate for the job.

“He has an enormous level of experience,” Folkerts said. “I think he is going to take it to the next level.”

Clark joins the faculty about five months after the journalism school began looking for Cook’s replacement in January.

Under Clark’s leadership, WRAL.com became one of the most successful local news websites in the country, Folkerts said.

The website won the 2009 Edward R. Murrow Award for best broadcast-affiliated website and garnered more than one billion views in 2010.

Contact the University editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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