Pam Johnston, recently named GBH’s new general manager for news, brings the expertise honed during eight years as senior director of strategy and audience for the PBS investigative series FRONTLINE.
What did you learn at FRONTLINE that you’ll bring into the newsroom?
Johnston: FRONTLINE saw years ago that the television audience was dwindling, the streaming audience was growing and the social media audience was exploding. The question was, how could we get people to know about, care about and watch FRONTLINE online? That’s what I spent the last eight years figuring out. We were always pushing to develop fresh ways to reach and engage with new audiences in places we wouldn’t have thought of before — that became a really fluid and strong muscle we developed. That strategy and approach is exactly what I’m excited to bring to the GBH newsroom.
What are your hopes for GBH News’ future?
Johnston: I want to see GBH News become a much bigger player in Boston and beyond. We will do that by crafting thoughtful, sophisticated, distinctive enterprise stories and investigations — those stories must have time to breathe and can represent many different voices. That’s the value of public media — to really reflect our community with depth, context and engaging storytelling. Trusted, local news will continue to be my North Star, and how GBH News defines itself.
Tell us about the newsroom’s COVID and the Classroom project.
Johnston: This school year will be unlike any other as students navigate remote learning amid a global pandemic, while experiencing political division, civil unrest and deep economic disparities. How will they handle it all? What will it mean for their futures? To find out, we’ll follow three high school seniors from different Massachusetts communities during their entire school year, documenting their struggles and triumphs.
Is this part of a new direction for GBH News?
Johnston: COVID and the Classroom will be a yearlong, multiplatform, newsroom-wide effort, and it definitely provides a template for our future big projects. I’m excited to see GBH News take on major issues and commit time and reporting power to telling these stories in deep ways across every platform — reaching audiences on air and online.
How did you come to choose journalism as your profession?
Johnston: Since I was young, journalism has helped me make sense of the world. As a child growing up in Natick, television news was always on in the background. Tom Brokaw of NBC Nightly News was practically part of our family! We also always watched 60 Minutes together, and my parents were always discussing news of the day. At Natick High School, I took a lot of writing and journalism classes and worked on the student newspaper. That inspired me to major in rhetorical communications at Syracuse University.