After more than 26 years with Gannett – many spent leading the company’s digital transformation and breaking barriers for women of color – the president of Gannett Media announced announced she will leave the company Dec. 31.
Maribel Perez Wadsworth was named president of Gannett Media in June after serving as president of news for Gannett and publisher of USA TODAY and the USA TODAY Network.
Wadsworth, who is Cuban-American, was the first person of color to serve as publisher for USA TODAY, when she assumed the role in 2018.
“As a daughter of immigrants, to have such an opportunity to rise to a position of leadership and influence in this industry has been a great blessing,” Wadsworth said during a Wednesday virtual meeting with staff. But “I really do welcome a moment to catch my breath and prioritize my family.”
She serves on the board of directors of the Associated Press, the News Media Alliance, the International News Media Association and online learning community Skillshare. She also is a trustee of her alma mater, the University of Miami.
After starting her journalism career as an editorial assistant at the Associated Press’s Miami office in 1994, Wadsworth moved to Gannett as a reporter at the Rockford Register Star in Illinois in 1996, where she was the only Spanish-speaking reporter.
She joined Gannett’s corporate team in 2009 , where she spearheaded digital efforts and audience development.
Gannett CEO and Chairman Michael Reed said the company has made “many strides” under Wadsworth’s leadership, including the recent milestone of hitting 2 million paying digital-only subscribers.
“Maribel’s commitment to Gannett, our mission and journalism is second to none,” Reed said. “Her passion has never wavered for a second, despite the really tough macro environment we’ve had to endure in the last three years.”
Nicole Carroll, editor in chief of USA TODAY, called Wadsworth a “once-in-a-generation news leader.”
“She’s incredibly principled, driven, ambitious, and she’s also very empathetic and very caring about her team,” she said.
Carroll recalled meeting Wadsworth 17 years ago at a leadership conference. Both were pregnant.
““We were both women, trying to do our best in a really busy job with busy families,” said Carroll. “Our jobs are hard and sometimes we have tough days, and she’s someone who can help you take it in stride.”
Wadsworth’s commitment to diversity is one aspect of her leadership that stands out for Carroll.
“It influences every decision she makes,” said Caroll. “It’s constantly through that lens of how do we help or raise up someone who hasn’t had a chance at something? How do we level the playing field?”
Amalie Nash, USA TODAY Network senior vice president of local news and audience development said Wadsworth’s background in local journalism helped her connect with Gannett reporters in newsrooms across the country.
“When we talk about the hurricane coverage, she spent a lot of her career in Florida, and covered hurricanes and was an editor on there,” said Nash. “And so she’s really been in the trenches, which gives her such authenticity when you think about the way that she led our business.”
Nash said she’s looked up to Wadsworth as a strong female leader for years.
“She’s so strategic, so smart, asking all the right questions, innovating, doing things that others in the industry weren’t doing, you know, I immediately thought, this is someone that I want to work with more,” she said.
Carroll said Wadsworth showed both men and women how to have a career and a family, too.
“She did both so successfully that she was really a role model for that, as well,” she said.
Even as she rose through the management ranks, Wadsworth never lost her zeal for the craft of journalism, said Carroll.
“She gets genuinely excited when she hears about a story we’re working on, or that a paper’s about to break,” she said. “To see someone at that level get personally excited about news stories over and over is just really inspiring.”
While she’ll miss working with Wadsworth, Carroll said she’s left the company in good hands.
“She has trained a generation of leaders to keep carrying the torch, who care passionately about journalism, integrity, diversity, all the things that she stands for,” said Carroll. “She leaves an army of journalists who are ready to carry on the ideals that she was so well known for.”
Wadsworth’s resignation follows the company’s reporting of a third-quarter loss on Nov. 3.
Gannett, the owner of USA TODAY and local news operations in 45 states, posted a net loss of $54.1 million compared with a net income of $14.7 million in the same period a year earlier. A total net loss of $60 million to $70 million is forecasted for the year.
The company has been taking various cost-cutting measures as it works toward at least $200 million in annualized cost savings. About 400 employees, or 3% of Gannett’s U.S. workforce, were laid off earlier this year.
A Wednesday statement from Gannett thanked Wadsworth for her service and says the company “will leverage the depth and breadth of its talented executives to manage the Gannett Media organization during this transition.” Reed said Gannett will be restructuring its media organization in the interim.
In the interim, Newsquest President Henry Faure Walker will oversee the US News operations. He will continue to run Newsquest, Gannett’s UK-based media business. Carroll will oversee national news. Nash will oversee local news.
Gannett shares closed down 5.7% Wednesday at $1.83 per share.