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News Opinion

An editor for changing times

Mary Corey believed in Baltimore, and she believed in The Sun. Faith in those two things, like a rooting interest in the Orioles, has not always been easy to maintain. Indeed, The Sun's editor, who died this week of breast cancer at the age of 49, lived through a trying era for her hometown and led her hometown paper's newsroom through some of the most difficult years in its history. But she had confidence in both, not because she was a loyal cheerleader but because she was determined to make them better.

After a long career as a reporter and editor here, Ms. Corey was promoted to the top job in The Sun's newsroom in the spring of 2010, a year and a half into Sun owner Tribune Company's four-year bankruptcy. It was a time of great uncertainty for newspapers — dailies in Detroit, Denver and Seattle had recently cut back print delivery, gone web-only or ceased publication altogether — and there was widespread speculation in the industry at the time about which big city would be the first without a newspaper at all. The Sun had its own challenges; it was a year removed from a major newsroom restructuring, and some critics were questioning the paper's future.

But even in that environment, the paper's leaders believed readers would respond to a more robust Sun, and Ms. Corey set about giving it to them. She resurrected Sun Magazine, first as a quarterly but soon as a bimonthly, added sections and beefed up the Sunday paper. She began rebuilding the staff, with a particular eye toward hiring those who could develop into the next generation's stars, much as she rose from intern to top editor. She pushed The Sun toward greater connection with its readers through social media and wider use of video and photography to tell stories. Her newsroom was one that welcomed new ideas and approaches to the mission The Sun has pursued for more than 175 years.

She did those things not because she loved the rush of newspaper work (though she did) or because she was loyal to the company that had been her home for her entire professional career (though she was). Ms. Corey saw The Sun as an integral part of this community, a chronicle of our daily lives and a force for improving them.

Much of Ms. Corey's background was in features, and she had an unparalleled touch for arts, entertainment, dining, fashion and lifestyle coverage. And she shared Baltimore's passion for sports, pushing to feed a seemingly insatiable appetite for news and analysis about the Ravens, Orioles and Terps. But she also had a sharp instinct for watchdog coverage and a determination to pursue it no matter what. She knew that what would distinguish The Sun in an increasingly fragmented media environment was its depth and breadth of local coverage, and it was in that arena that she did some of her most important work.

Ms. Corey oversaw investigations into the way rape cases in Baltimore were swept under the rug, the distorting effects of the city's property tax and the widespread problems with Baltimore's speed cameras. Federal, state or local policy changes or legislation followed all three. She pushed for dogged beat reporting into the financial mess that was the first Baltimore Grand Prix, mismanagement in the Baltimore schools and the botched attempt to overhaul the city government's phone system.

That kind of coverage doesn't always make people comfortable, particularly not those who are subject to scrutiny. Ms. Corey got more than her share of angry complaints, and while she was mindful of the power of the newspaper and diligent in using it responsibly, she was also not one to back down. She believed in shining a spotlight on things many would have preferred to keep in the shadows. The reason was not because she wanted to tear Baltimore down but because she wanted to make it a better, fairer version of itself.

An overwhelming sense of personal loss has permeated The Sun's newsroom this week because Ms. Corey was the rare leader who could inspire both with her vision and her genuine caring. She knew most everyone in the building by name and had since her days as a young reporter, and she had a unique ability to make everyone from a senior editor to a cub reporter feel that their contributions were vital to the paper's success.

There was no bigger fan of good journalism, and no one who understood better that it comes in all forms and from all corners — she loved not just investigative projects or high-profile breaking news but also the little details from an amusing fashion story or a timely blog about kids or pets. Ms. Corey was exactly what The Sun needed during a challenging era; people believed in her because she believed in them.

Ms. Corey leaves The Sun stronger than it was when she became its editor, a newspaper poised to navigate a media landscape that may have changed more in the 26 years that she spent here than in the 150 that came before. It is in her spirit that we continue to chronicle this community's triumphs and sorrows, and always to remember our mission to provide light for all.

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