By Ray Sanchez, CNN
Bryan Monroe, a journalism professor and former CNNPolitics.com editor who once headed the National Association of Black Journalists and helped guide the Biloxi Sun Herald to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Hurricane Katrina, has died. He was 55.
Monroe died Wednesday morning of a heart attack at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, where he lived with family, according to Suzanne Malveaux, a longtime friend, and CNN national correspondent.
“He liked to connect people who were in different worlds — whether it was the media world, Hollywood, journalism, academia,” Malveaux told CNN. “He loved to cook. He brought people to be at his house often — well, not this past year, unfortunately. And he loved to bake.”
In a long journalism career that included stints as vice president and editorial director at Ebony and Jet magazine and assistant vice president of news at Knight Ridder Newspapers, Monroe conducted the first post-election interview with former President Barack Obama.
Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, and senior vice president, said he first met Monroe in 2008 after the Obama interview.
“It was an extraordinary interview and was one of the reasons I told CNN’s leadership that we should hire Bryan Monroe as our Political Editor,” Feist said in an email. “I’ve never met someone who was as comfortable in any environment — whether with a group of politicians, students, Black journalists, or white journalists. Bryan navigated those worlds better than anybody and the bridges he built between people and between groups will be around a long long time.”
Monroe had the last major interview with pop legend Michael Jackson two years before the latter’s death in 2009. Bryan Monroe conducted the last major interview with Michael Jackson in 2007 in New York.
“Sure, I was shocked when I heard the news that the King of Pop had left the world,” Monroe wrote in June 2014. “But, in a way, I was not all that surprised. Jackson, even as troubled as he was, had given his all to the world during his 50 years on the planet. And now he was in the hands of history.”
Monroe was the Verizon Chair and professor at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication. Before Temple, he had been named editor of CNNPolitics.com, leading the editorial planning and content strategy for CNN’s online and mobile political coverage from the DC Bureau.
“Bryan often talked about the importance of ‘connecting the dots’ in journalism… the concept of bridging ideas and big picture themes,” Meredith Artley, a senior vice president and editor-in-chief of CNN Digital Worldwide, said of Monroe. “He brought that to work and also to life. He was a connector of people within CNN and the industry at large. He was a magnet at any work or industry event, always surrounded by people and ready with a good story or an introduction. We were lucky to have him as a leader and thinker at CNN, and in the journalism community at large.”
“Bryan was a very social person and he loved to bring people together,” Malveaux said.
“He was really good at that. He was always at the big White House correspondents’ events, the balls and the after parties. He was my partner in crime because I was too shy to approach people or introduce myself and he was like a social butterfly.”
Before becoming editor of CNNPolitics.com in 2011, Monroe was a visiting professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He served as president of the National Association of Black Journalists from 2005 to 2007.
“I am beyond heartbroken,” NABJ President Dorothy Tucker tweeted Wednesday, adding that an official statement was to follow. “Bryan texted me a couple of days ago just to check in and ask if I needed anything. What I need now is to hear this is a dream. My condolences to his family.”
As assistant vice president of news at Knight Ridder, Monroe helped lead journalists at the Biloxi Sun Herald in Mississippi to the 2006 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service for coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Malveaux recalled speaking with Monroe on the phone on Tuesday, when they chatted about their families and excitement over the new year.
During a tumultuous summer of racial reckoning in America after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Monroe lamented the toll the coronavirus pandemic and police violence on the Black community.
“It has set in stark relief how little of this is within our control,” he wrote in a CNN Opinion piece. “We, mostly, are not the cops on the street. We, mostly, are not the CEOs in the board rooms. We, mostly, aren’t the voters electing the prosecutors and judges. We’re not sitting at the dinner tables with the mildly racist cousins and uncles and in-laws who are snickered at or just tolerated.
“This week has shown how much of what has been happening — and how many of the things that must change — are on the white majority. You have the real power. You are in the positions of authority. If this has really affected you at your core, you can actually change white culture. From the inside. We can’t.”
A connoisseur of good food, Monroe was excited about starting life as a vegan about six weeks ago, according to Malveaux.
“He was very happy about all these different recipes,” she said.
But it was socializing and entertaining and creating connections that impassioned him most, Malveaux said.
“He was on a number of Zoom groups and calls where he was talking to R&B and hip hop artists and journalists and he was always excited about bringing guests to speak to his class,” she said. “He was always about how can you be your best, and how can I help people connect to each other so they can encourage each other and support each other in being their best.”
Monroe was the founder and managing director of the Monroe Media Group, a Washington, DC-based media strategy, crisis communication and personal branding firm, according to LinkedIn. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.
Monroe was born in Germany while his father was in the military.
He is survived by his fiancee Abrielle (Abe), his daughter Seanna, son Jackson, a sister and his father.