November 9, 2022

Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of Gannett Media and publisher of USA Today, will be leaving the company at the end of the year,

Her departure was announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday and later in a town hall she conducted for the staff of USA Today and Gannett’s 200-plus regional papers.

She will be succeeded on an interim basis by Henry Faure Walker, CEO of Gannett’s United Kingdom subsidiary Newsquest, according to a source  who listened to the virtual town hall.

Faure Walker will continue to run the UK papers, chief communications officer Lark-Marie Anton told me. The SEC filing said, “The Company will leverage the depth and breadth of its talented executives to manage the Gannett Media organization during this transition,” but did not indicate whether Perez Wadsworth’s job will ultimately be filled.”

Perez Wadsworth, who began her career as a reporter in Rockford, Illinois, has been with Gannett for 25 years. For most of the last decade, with varying titles, she has run the business side of USA Today and more recently its regional group of newspapers as well. 

She has been Gannett’s No. 2 executive to CEO Mike Reed and is currently chair of the newspaper industry’s trade association, the News/Media Alliance.

The company has had deep financial difficulties this year, laying off 400 and leaving 400 more positions open. It recently announced a new wave of cost-savings including mandatory one-week unpaid leave for all but essential employees this quarter.

In a statement, Reed said that Perez Wadsworth “has served Gannett with passion and conviction” and praised her as “an indefatigable defender of journalism in our democracy.”

In a farewell message, Perez Wadsworth said, “Our company and leadership are strong, and our strategy is sound.”

Besides the cost-cutting, that strategy has been focused on building paid digital subscriptions, now standing at just over 2 million.

Most of the regional dailies still produce print editions six days a week and USA Today five, despite setbacks to its hotel distribution in recent years.  Perez Wadsworth told me in a May interview, “The print edition of USA Today is a profitable product, which we will continue to publish as long as readers want it and it continues to make financial sense.”

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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  • Gannett is falling apart. The leadership left doesn’t know how to handle a digital transition and have kicked the can down the road for decades. The “print” mindset continues to be pervasive throughout the company, affecting every decision. There has been lots of talk about digital subscribers, but the services offered continue to be neglected. Top leadership at the company lacks any real keen understanding of digital technology and treats its products and engineers like widgets. I’ve explained in vain to my immediate leadership that unlike reporters, engineers do not need to work at a media company for employment, and if they aren’t treated well, then the best ones will leave and all that will be left are the mediocre. Maribel, for as much as she was a wonderful journalist and dedicated leader, was not someone that natively understood digital technology or product. It’s very telling that product will now report directly to Mike Reed, but I remain skeptical that even Mike will how to cut through the baloney that will inevitably be delivered to him and make the right decision. Nothing short of a completely cleaning out the existing leadership stack for all things tech and product, then bringing in fresh talent from competitive companies outside of the media industry will work. When I sit in design meetings, I’m baffled by the fact that we continue to discuss desktop based web designs instead of mobile-first designs, when nearly 90 percent of the traffic that engages with our content is mobile first. Our IT group continues to function like it’s the early 2000s, creating walled silos around their departments and making it difficult for product teams to integrate. Meanwhile, corporate leadership with their corporate mentality won’t make the tough decisions to push out dinosaurs and people that play weird corporate politics. The net result for our readers is a terrible digital experience. Gannett needs to go lean and they need to plant a flag in the ground to say that from this point forward they are a digital, mobile first content company, and anyone that isn’t onboard or wants to cling onto the past can go.

    By the way, there was zero mention of the fact that the the Chief Data Officer, Nate Rackiewicz, just resigned from the company. It’s like he never existed. His post on LinkedIn discussing the problems with leadership is worth the read. Seems the rest of the Gannett leadership would rather bury the discussion than objectively embrace the hard realities of their situation.