Updated at 4:30 p.m., Nov. 21
The GBH Educational Foundation announced Monday that Susan Goldberg has been chosen as its next president and CEO, bringing a veteran journalist and news editor who is currently a vice dean at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism to lead the nonprofit best known for its public radio and television programing.
Goldberg will be the first woman to fill the post in GBH’s 71-year history. She previously served as the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Magazine and the editorial director of National Geographic Partners, which manages the brand’s multiplatform content.
“At a time when the media industry is changing at a rapid pace, Susan is a direct, focused, empathetic and visionary leader who has the operational and editorial savvy to understand what resonates with our audiences, along with deep experience in executing a multiplatform transformation,” said Ann Fudge, chair of the GBH Board of Trustees and head of the search committee, in a statement.
Goldberg will begin work Dec. 1 and overlap briefly with outgoing CEO Jon Abbott, who led GBH for 15 years and initiated the organization’s shift from a traditional broadcaster into a multiplatform digital content creator.
“The opportunity to work with a local community, to tell stories that make a difference, to work on national and international stories as well, to touch all of those audiences that I have at various points in different jobs, all in one job. I thought that opportunity just to make a difference was irresistible to me,” said Goldberg in an interview with GBH News, a division of the GBH Educational Foundation.
She will helm an organization that is the nation’s largest producer of public media content for PBS, which includes local news, national programs like “Frontline” and “Antiques Roadshow,” and children's programming including “Molly of Denali.” GBH also provides educational content to teachers nationwide. When schools were closed during the pandemic, GBH partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide broadcasts to support distance learning.
“Susan's vision and breadth of experience will be a great asset to GBH in the years ahead,” said Jim Klocke, CEO of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, a statewide association of more than 600 nonprofit organizations. “The work of GBH is one of Massachusetts's greatest exports," he said, "providing education, enlightenment and inspiration to people around the world.”
Goldberg, 62, was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and at a young age knew she wanted to become a journalist. She began her path as an intern at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before she completed college and continued over the next four decades to work in and lead many newsrooms.
Goldberg has been a trailblazer for women in journalism. Prior to the GBH appointment, she was the first female editor in chief of National Geographic, the first female executive editor of the Washington, D.C. Bureau of Bloomberg News, the first female editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the first female executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News. Goldberg said she’s grateful for the many firsts but also somewhat “conflicted.”
“When there are a lot fewer female ‘firsts,’ we are going to be in a much better place as a society because we will have reached a time when having a woman in charge, whether it's in journalism or banking or law or politics, is just the normal course of doing business. And it isn't a national news story every time that it happens,” Goldberg said.
During her tenure at National Geographic from 2014 to 2022, the magazine won multiple National Magazine Awards and was finalist for the Pulitzer Prize three times. And under her leadership, the magazine published an issue dedicated to race in April 2018, which publicly acknowledged for the first time National Geographic’s long history of racism in its approach to coverage of people of color.
“For decades, our coverage was racist. To rise above our past, we must acknowledge it,” Goldberg wrote in her editor’s letter for the issue.
Goldberg also began the process of diversifying the magazine’s staff and making its culture more inclusive, raising the number of stories written by women and the number of writers of color on National Geographics’ platforms.
Her leadership at GBH comes at a time when the organization has its own effort underway to reshape its culture, including making its storytelling more inclusive and connecting with audiences of color. Lee Pelton, president and CEO of The Boston Foundation and member of the GBH Board of Trustees who served on the search search committee, said Goldberg has shown she’s a “committed advocate” for that work.
“She’s a champion for diversity, equity and belonging,” said Pelton. “I prefer ‘belonging’ to ‘inclusion’ because you can be included but not feel as if you belong. I think the record shows that this is something that is important to her, and she will lead us brilliantly in that direction.”
Goldberg called the work a core value she shares with GBH.
“I can't think of a single media organization that is done with this journey,” said Goldberg. “And I don't think actually you can ever be done with this journey, because we've got to reflect a part of the societies in which we operate, and none of us are there.”
Editor's note: This article was written and edited by the GBH News staff, with no editorial oversight from GBH executives. It has been updated to include reaction to the announcement from the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.