The legacy of Reese Felts

Reese Felts

After graduating from UNC in 1952, Reese Felts spent much of his career with WSJS television (now WXII) in Winston-Salem.

The Reese News Lab, a major experimental student news and audience research initiative at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is funded by a $4.1 million gift from the estate of alumnus Reese Felts.

It is the largest single gift ever by an individual to Carolina’s journalism school, and also funds a distinguished professorship in the school. Jean Folkerts, former dean of the school, announced the gift and project Oct. 1, 2009.

Felts, a 1952 UNC graduate who worked for nearly 30 years as a radio and television broadcaster in Winston-Salem before retiring in 1980, died in 2009. He spent most of his career with WSJS, which is now WXII. “The journalism school instilled Reese with an almost-religious awe of the role of journalism in our society and the profound importance of a free and responsible press,” said Cowles Liipfert, Felts’ attorney and friend.

“Carolina’s journalism school has always been innovative,” Chancellor Holden Thorp said. “It is fitting that a gift from an older generation of journalists will help our students shape the future of news dissemination.”

The school transformed one of its classrooms into the Reese News Lab, where students work with the latest technology and methods to produce and distribute news for audiences across a variety of platforms. The news lab and its digital publications also function as a research center to study audience engagement and communities that form around news and information. The flexibility to experiment and test theories is central to the project.

Graduate and undergraduate students work in the lab, producing digital content and experimenting with news gathering and dissemination.

“Every journalism school in the country is talking about creating multimedia projects and converging technologies,” Folkerts said. “But none, to my knowledge, have created an environment that challenges current models and tests the results.”

The newsroom creates a hub equipped for students in every specialization taught in the school – reporting, editing and design, broadcasting, photojournalism, multimedia, advertising and public relations.

UNC students have benefited from Felts’ spirit of giving for years. In 1996, Felts endowed an annual $3,000 scholarship for electronic communication students in the school. In 1997, he named three editing suites in Carroll Hall.

“Reese’s kindness and generosity were well-known by many,” Folkerts said. “His gift enables us to do something unique and meaningful for our students.”