Timothy A. Franklin, who has led The Baltimore Sun through five award-winning and tumultuous years, announced yesterday that he would step down as editor to take a job in academia. He will be succeeded by J. Montgomery Cook, who for the past year has been director of content development for The Baltimore Sun Media Group. Cook will begin Jan. 1.
Franklin, 48, will start a sports journalism center at Indiana University, his alma mater, and hold an endowed chair. As editor, he said he was proud of the investigative and watchdog journalism the newspaper has produced and its moves to bolster its online presence. He also took on Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. when the governor banned his staff from talking to Sun journalists.
But Franklin also was editor during a turbulent period for the newspaper industry, which has seen its business model erode and advertisers dwindle. Franklin said it was "gut-wrenching" to preside over the reduction of the newsroom staff, from 384 when he started in January 2004 to about 225 today.
"When I got here, I don't think anybody saw the economic storm that was coming or fully saw the changes in the industry that were coming," said Franklin, who said his departure was voluntary. "It's been gut-wrenching. It's been painful."
Franklin said the paper has an innovative leader in Cook, who joined The Sun in 2004 after working with Franklin at the Orlando Sentinel. Cook, 44, was The Sun's deputy managing editor for presentation until last January, when he became the company's director of content development and oversaw the launch of b, a free daily aimed at young adults.
Cook said he will focus on extending The Sun's brand to the widest audience possible, reaching new readers in a variety of forms, from print to online to mobile devices. He said he expects the paper's readership to be larger, across all platforms, in five years than it is today.
"Daily journalism must survive, in whatever form or platform it can exist on," he said. "I want to be a part of finding a way to make that happen."
Cook said he is considering restructuring the newsroom to make it more nimble in responding to breaking news and getting news online. "We will still bring the best local daily journalism to [readers'] doorsteps and computer screens every single day," he said. "The mission and the values do not change."
Cook, a native of Lenoir, N.C., and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he was humbled to lead The Sun.
"We have a readership that demands the quality reporting and compelling storytelling you do," Cook told staff members yesterday while acknowledging they are working harder than ever. "We will be smart about the things that we do, and we will beat the hell out of the competition on the things we do best."
Cook was the architect behind b, which launched in April and now has a circulation of 76,000. b Editor Anne Tallent described Cook as a strategic, "big-picture" thinker who is always looking beyond the next day's paper to six months or a year down the road.
"He's really attuned to readers - how they read, how they process information," Tallent said. "I think he can push an organization to be innovative and to look at things in a new way."
Timothy E. Ryan, publisher of The Sun, said in a statement: "Monty Cook is a bold thinker, bringing the kind of leadership The Baltimore Sun and the industry need in this rapidly changing media world. He's a true innovator who will help The Sun grow audiences in print and online."
Yesterday's announcement came shortly before 2 p.m. In an emotional meeting with newsroom employees, Franklin praised their talent and dedication. He said he had not expected to leave at this point but was approached about a job he could not pass up.
"I'm leaving because of an opportunity that came my way. I'm not leaving for another reason. There's no grand backstory there," he said.
Franklin was initially greeted with skepticism at the paper, replacing an editor, William K. Marimow, who had been fired after differences with a former publisher. For his part, Franklin vigorously fought for newsroom resources, said his friend Michael Tackett, the political editor at Bloomberg News.
"I think he has kept a great institution focused on doing high-quality journalism in an unbelievably difficult economic climate," said Tackett, who has known Franklin since they were students at Indiana University.
In his new job, which begins Jan. 12, Franklin will establish a sports journalism center to train journalists to look at sports in new ways, said Brad Hamm, dean of the Indiana journalism school.
"Tim was and is one of the stalwarts of our craft," said David Shribman, editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's always a loss when a great journalist leaves a great paper."
Ken Paulson, the editor of USA Today who has served with Franklin on the board of visitors at the University of Maryland journalism school, said, "These have been tough years for the newspaper business and Tim and I have often compared notes, and yet no matter how many cuts he had to deal with, the journalism always came first. He was determined to maintain the quality of The Baltimore Sun day in and day out."
As editor, Franklin devoted resources to national stories such as the 2004 election, Hurricane Katrina and the shootings at Virginia Tech. The paper earned two National Headliner awards this year and was a Pulitzer finalist last year. Other national honors included a George Polk award and a Loeb award.
Franklin took on Ehrlich after he had banned his staff from talking to a Sun reporter and columnist whose work he didn't like. The paper sued in federal court, eventually losing its case. But Franklin never flinched in backing his staff, observers said.
"Reasonable people could disagree about whether that was the best tactic politically to take on the governor like that, but what you can't argue about is the courage it took to take a stand like that and push as aggressively as Tim and The Sun did," said Thomas Kunkel, former dean of the Maryland journalism school.
J. Montgomery "Monty" Cook
Birthplace: Lenoir, N.C.
Professional: The Baltimore Sun Media Group, director of content development; The Baltimore Sun, deputy managing editor; the Orlando Sentinel, assistant managing editor/presentation; The Washington Post, assistant sports editor.
Education: B.A. in journalism and communications, University of North Carolina
Personal: He and his wife, Wendy, and their two children live in Towson.