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Hill to direct Cronkite’s digital media lab


July 10, 2007

Peek inside ASU’s New Media Innovation Lab, and you’ll see journalism, engineering, business and design students collaborating to build new media products for companies such as Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper publisher.

These students are naturally self-motivated, but they need a strong leader who knows how to produce news products for the digital age.

That’s where Retha Hill comes into the picture.

Hill, a senior executive at Black Entertainment Television (BET) and digital media leader who helped launch the Washington Post’s first Internet news operation, will join ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as director of the New Media Innovation Lab.

As vice president for content for BET Interactive, the online unit of the cable network, Hill oversees content strategy and convergence with the television unit.

She replaces Tom Mohr, who last year launched the New Media Innovation Lab, which serves as a research and development center for media companies exploring new digital media products.

In its first year, the innovation lab conducted a major research project for Gannett Co., a major media corporation and the nation’s largest newspaper publisher. The idea for the New Media Innovation Lab was conceived by ASU President Michael Crow and Sue Clark-Johnson, president of Gannett’s newspaper division. The lab continues to work closely with Gannett executives and the Arizona Republic on digital media projects.

As lab director and professor of practice, Hill will lead a group of about 15 students each semester from journalism, computer engineering, business and design. In its first year as a lab, the students created a music exploration site called tunedig.com.

“Retha Hill possesses the extraordinary combination of a natural teacher, a charismatic leader, an industry leader who treasures the most important values of great journalism, and a true digital media innovator,” says Christopher Callahan, the Cronkite School’s dean.

Hill came to BET in 1999 as the founding chief editorial officer of the award-winning BET.com, the most visited Web site specializing in African-American content on the Internet.

Earlier this year, Hill was honored in Washington by the National Association of Minority Media Executives as the recipient of the New Media Catalyst Award. She also has been president of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and a fellow at the McCormick Tribune Management program and the Al Fitzpatrick Leadership Development Institute.

Hill, an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, is a frequent guest speaker at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, the Poynter Institute, the Online News Association, the American Press Institute, the Freedom Forum and the National Press Club.

Before joining BET, Hill was executive producer for special projects at washingtonpost.com, developing new products for the Washington Post’s Web site. She joined the Post’s early online operations in 1995 as the editor for local news, arts and entertainment.

Hill, a graduate of Wayne State University in Detroit, started her journalism career as a reporter at the Detroit Free Press in 1983. She went to the Charlotte Observer in 1984. Three years later, she was hired by the Washington Post as a metro reporter.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Cronkite School,” says Hill, who will start in August. “The media industry is evolving, and the Innovation Lab can be a resource for editors and media leaders as they consider how to use technological innovations to get information to their users based on when and how they need it.”