Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Freelancers sue over new rules on independent contractors
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Nov. 14, 2023, 10:30 a.m.
Business Models
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   November 14, 2023

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has named the newspaper executive Maribel Perez Wadsworth its next president and CEO. Wadsworth, most recently the president of Gannett Media, will join the Miami-based organization in January. She’ll succeed outgoing president Alberto Ibargüen, who led Knight for 18 years before announcing his retirement in March.

Wadsworth is one of the rare journalists who’s spent nearly her entire career with one company. After a brief stint as a news assistant with the Associated Press, Wadsworth joined the Rockford Register Star as an agricultural beat reporter in 1996. (As the Illinois newspaper’s only Spanish-speaking reporter, she was able to cover stories from the migrant worker community and Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.) She stayed with Gannett for more than 25 years, spending more than a decade at The News-Press in Florida before joining the corporate ranks in 2009 as digital news executive. After that, she held roles as Gannett’s VP of audience development and engagement, SVP of strategic initiatives, and SVP and chief transformation officer.

Wadsworth, who is Cuban-American, was celebrated as the first person of color to serve as publisher of USA Today when she took up that post in 2018. When she joins Knight as its seventh president in the new year, Wadsworth will be the first woman to hold the position.

From the Knight Foundation press release:

“Maribel’s passion for journalism, coupled with her staunch belief in the media’s pivotal role as a cornerstone for nurturing well-informed and actively engaged communities, aligns directly with our core values and we are thrilled to welcome her as the new president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,” said Frank Borges, chair of the board of trustees. “We firmly believe that her wealth of experience and unwavering commitment to these values will steer us in fulfilling our mission.”

Knight, a significant supporter of journalism, has invested over $632 million since 2005 in America’s media ecosystem and recently committed $150 million to the Press Forward campaign, which aims to raise one billion dollars for the growth and sustainability of local news organizations. Beyond that, the foundation invests in the 28 communities that once hosted Knight newspapers, the arts and a burgeoning field of research around the impact of technology on society. With a $2.6 billion endowment, Knight’s grantmaking averages $135 million per year.

“Knight Foundation is a leader at the nexus of the things I care about so deeply — journalistic excellence and defense of the First Amendment, fostering engaged citizenry, and building thriving, inclusive communities — all in service of sustaining a strong democracy,” Wadsworth said. “The opportunity to lead this organization is a tremendous honor and an awesome responsibility.”

The release cites Wadsworth’s “unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion” and her experience serving on the boards of the Pew Research Center and the Associated Press.

Her resume, of course, is dominated by nearly three decades at Gannett. When Wadsworth announced she was leaving Gannett a year ago, Gannett CEO and chairman Michael Reed said the company had made “many strides” under her leadership and cited “the recent milestone of hitting 2 million paying digital-only subscribers.” (The number of digital-only subscribers at Gannett has since slipped below the 2 million mark initially reached in October 2022 to 1.96 million digital-only subscribers at the end of September 2023, according to Gannett’s most recent earnings report.) The Knight press release states that, as an exec focused on digital and audience transformation, “Wadsworth spearheaded Gannett’s transition into the digital age, leading the company’s launch of digital subscription offerings.”

Wadsworth’s departure ended up being the first in “a mass exodus of top execs” at Gannett and came as the nation’s largest newspaper chain announced yet another round of layoffs. Over the past four years, Gannett has eliminated more than half of its jobs in the U.S. The company made additional layoffs in 2023 by closing a number of printing locations. Some Gannett papers have no reporters left.

At the helm for Knight, Wadsworth will oversee one of the most important funders in all of journalism. The foundation “supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts” and makes investments in the 26 communities where the Knight brothers once operated newspapers. The foundation, for example, recently invested $5 million in Signal Akron, a new nonprofit newsroom serving the Ohio city where the brothers started their newspaper empire.

In the press release, Wadsworth notes that “Knight’s mission goes beyond headlines and into the heart of how communities work.” Her predecessor, over the course of nearly two decades, oversaw the disbursement of $2.3 billion that variously included establishing the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, helping the City of Detroit out of bankruptcy, and investing tens of millions to “make art general” in Miami.

“John S. and James L. Knight were newsmen who left a fortune to better the American communities they served,” said Ibargüen, the outgoing president, in the release. “They believed that a well-informed community could best ‘determine its own true interests’ and they entrusted future generations of trustees to do just that. I look forward to Maribel’s leadership, evolving the meaning and execution of that mission in the years to come.”

Photo of Maribel Perez Wadsworth by Gesi Schilling.

Show tags
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Freelancers sue over new rules on independent contractors
“Ultimately, what we’re fighting for is the right to freelance.”
Is the news industry ready for another pivot to video?
Aggregate data from 47 countries shows all the growth in platform news use coming from video or video-led networks.
Many people don’t pay full price for their news subscription. Most don’t want to pay anything at all
Is increasing subscriber numbers by offering people rock-bottom trial prices sustainable?