General Manager of GBH News Pam Johnston announced Monday that she plans to step down on May 31.

Johnston’s four-year tenure, which began during COVID-19 in 2020, saw a significant push into multiplatform journalism, but more recently, those efforts were overshadowed by an internal investigation into newsroom culture.

“I have decided the time is right for me to step aside to make room for a new leader to guide the next chapter at GBH News,” Johnston said in an internal statement.

Johnston said her “mission” had been to bring GBH News content to new audiences — and in particular, she focused on digital platforms.

“Digital is now a key part of our success. We have become industry leaders in podcasting and digital video storytelling. Our YouTube channel is one of the most successful in all of public radio,” Johnston said.

Johnston began at GBH in 2012 as Frontline’s first director of audience development. There, she also focused on moving content across multiple platforms and on audience growth.

“Pam is well-versed in modern audience metrics and a champion for digital innovation, pushing to expand how we deliver news and information to audiences where they are — and that’s increasingly on digital and streaming platforms. Our overall audience reach has doubled in the last five years because of this digital growth,” said Susan Goldberg, president and CEO of GBH, in a joint email with COO Shane Miner circulated to GBH staff.

But also during Johnston’s tenure, questions arose over the treatment of newsroom personnel by management. A three-month investigation into an allegation of bullying by a top newsroom manager resulted in no finding against the manager (Johnston was not the manager involved), but did uncover complaints about the culture in the newsroom. Johnston committed to improve newsroom culture.

A Boston Globe article in February highlighted continued unrest in the newsroom and anger that the investigation’s findings were not shared in a written report with the newsroom, but instead described only verbally in a series of staff meetings.

“Substantial change can lead to confusion, misunderstandings, and impact morale,” Johnston was quoted in the article, speaking in those internal meetings. “It should never make people feel like they haven’t been heard or that their contributions don’t count. … I’ve heard that people felt that way from some of my comments, and for that, I apologize.”

Johnston also presided over the newsroom during a challenging financial time. Goldberg called Johnston “a highly effective fundraiser” for GBH, helping secure a $5 million gift from The Fiducia Fund to underwrite GBH’s The Culture Show, as well as a $750,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to establish an equity and justice unit within the newsroom.

Still, GBH continues to face financial challenges with budget cuts and the potential for layoffs. Boston’s other public media station, WBUR, recently announced a sweep of layoffs and buyouts as it manages a drop in revenues. Goldberg has said she has not ruled out layoffs or more belt tightening, including freezing raises and eliminating bonuses.

And while financial headwinds are hardly new in the news industry, it’s an especially challenging time for the public media landscape, with shrinking donor support and shifting news appetites — driving consumers to shun traditional news outlets.

Debra Adams Simmons, GBH’s senior director of special editorial projects, has taken over for Johnston until a permanent leader is named. Simmons previously worked under Goldberg at National Geographic. In March, not long after the publication of the Globe article, Goldberg appointed Simmons to oversee Johnston’s work to “provide guidance and support” to the newsroom.

Simmons declined to comment on any immediate plans for the newsroom. Johnston and GBH also declined requests for further comment.

Updated: May 24, 2024
This story was updated following a request from GBH News' leadership team to clarify details related to the internal newsroom investigation.