Mary J. Corey, a 23-year veteran editor and writer at The Baltimore Sun, was promoted Thursday to the job of senior vice president and director of content, the news organization's top editorial position.
She is the first woman in the 173-year history of The Sun to lead its newsroom, overseeing all print and digital news operations in a role that was long titled editor when The Sun delivered news only through the newspaper.
A former features editor and national correspondent who joined The Sun in 1987, Corey was named head of print a year ago and has led The Sun's newsroom since the departure in March of her predecessor, J. Montgomery Cook.
She takes over Maryland's oldest and largest news operation at a time of uncertainty for American journalism in general and big-city newspapers in particular. With print and digital products that draw 1.2 million readers each week in the Baltimore area, The Sun remains the region's most widely read source of news.
Corey, who grew up in Cockeysville and has worked for her hometown newspaper nearly all her adult life, said she is eager to preserve and grow that position.
"It's a dream job for me — and a privilege," said Corey, whose promotion took effect upon its announcement in The Sun's Calvert Street newsroom Thursday afternoon.
"I enjoy leading at a time of change in the industry," she added. "These are uncertain times, but I think they are the times that will define us."
Corey, 46, who graduated from Dulaney High School and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, grew up in a family that subscribed to — and pored over, she said — three daily newspapers: The Sun and its now-shuttered competitors, the Evening Sun and the News American. Of her interest in news, Corey said: "It's just in my DNA."
Timothy E. Ryan, The Baltimore Sun's publisher, called Corey "a talented, experienced journalist, with significant knowledge of Baltimore and the surrounding region. She is an exceptional leader who brings out the best in her team of reporters, designers and editors."
Corey was hired as an editorial assistant at what was then the morning Sun, became a features reporter soon thereafter and remained a reporter for almost 10 years. She also served as assistant managing editor for features, deputy national editor and lifestyle editor.
Corey's first byline appeared in the paper three years before she was formally hired, on Sept. 2, 1984, atop an article she wrote for the newspaper's now-defunct Sunday magazine while working as a college intern. It was published after Baltimore's NFL football team departed for Indianapolis, and was titled "25 ways to get through countless Colt-less Sundays." Her father had it framed, and it hung for years on her bedroom wall, she said.
Susan Baer, editor of the magazine at the time, recalls speaking to a class at Notre Dame and meeting Corey, who was a student. Soon thereafter Baer's telephone rang and it was Corey, asking for an internship.
"When I think back about how she came to The Sun, it was really just her initiative. There was no formal internship program or hiring process. She just called up and asked if she could work there," said Baer, a longtime Washington correspondent for The Sun and now an editor for Washingtonian Magazine.
"I immediately liked her and thought she was impressive and that she would be a great asset to The Sun, and she was."
In her first assignment after being appointed national correspondent, Corey travelled to Chebeague Island, Maine, in January 1997, to report on the community's efforts to persuade Nabisco to bring back the island's cherished Crown Pilot cracker. She describes the trip as "the coldest I've ever been on assignment," and said she wrote her article from the kitchen of a bed and breakfast, the only room in the house with heat.
"When she came back, I told her, 'You book Maine in August. You book California and Florida in January,'" said Sandy Banisky, who also was a Sun national correspondent at the time and is now a professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Banisky, who still frequents The Sun's newsroom in her role as the university's Abell Professor in Baltimore Journalism, described Corey as the rare newspaper veteran who has explored and embraced the news business' digital future, promoting alternative methods of delivering content online and through newer platforms like tablets and mobile devices.
"She writes such great features, and knows news, has a great sense of humor, a great sophistication and an understanding of how the industry and the profession are changing," Banisky said. "How could they not give her the job?"