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Jonathan Abbott to Step Down as President/CEO of GBH

Abbott
(Image credit: GBH)

BOSTON—Jonathan Abbott, President and CEO of public media company GBH, will step down after 15 years as chief executive, and 23 years with the organization. He will remain through the end of 2022 while a search is conducted for his successor. 

Abbott led GBH—the largest producer for PBS—through its transition to digital, built its endowment and vastly expanded service to audiences, the organization said. 

“The mission to share knowledge, inspire learning and strengthen community is why I’ve devoted my career to expanding the reach and impact of public media. There is no more exciting place to do this work than GBH,” said Abbott. “It has been my great privilege to work with an extraordinary group of talented and dedicated colleagues, supporting the creation of compelling, world class content and trusted journalism that helps us understand the critical issues of our times. I am grateful to our community for its enduring support of GBH and public media.” 

A nationally recognized leader and innovator, Abbott reimagined the ways that GBH, the largest producer for PBS, creates and distributes content locally and nationally across new platforms, offering greater access to its award-winning journalism, educational and cultural programs for millions of Americans. He invested in public media’s essential role as a community resource, expanding coverage of local issues with the re-launch of GBH 89.7 as an audience-focused NPR news service, amplifying local arts and performances with the acquisition of all-classical radio CRB, and opening a studio and community convening space at the Boston Public Library, a national first. 

“Jon’s vision and passion for the mission of public media to serve all people and to promote educational equity and citizenship has made GBH both a vital resource and a local treasure,” said Ann Fudge, Chair of the GBH Board of Trustees. “Over more than two decades he has strategically guided the organization to create purposeful, trusted content in the public interest. He leaves GBH in a strong position to continue to serve Boston, the Commonwealth and the nation with programs that inspire us to engage with one another, and with the world around us.”

Under Abbott’s leadership GBH has grown to encompass ten digital and broadcast media channels. He was at the forefront of the launch of digital public TV services, taking the lead on the creation of World Channel, now a thriving source of diverse documentary films. He affiliated GBH with PRI and then with audio technology leader PRX, and supported the merger of GBH’s western Massachusetts TV affiliate WGBY with New England Public Radio to form the multiplatform New England Public Media and expand service across southern New England. He has championed public media’s vital role in education to support teachers and parents, partnering with PBS to expand GBH’s innovative digital learning platform to launch PBS LearningMedia, a free national online service that offers classroom-ready resources for educators in all 50 states and has nearly 20 million users. 

“Jon has boldly re-shaped and re-imagined public media, not only for our Boston community, but for audiences across the country,” said Lee Pelton, CEO and President of the Boston Foundation. “His commitment to the creation of opportunities to close inequity gaps has been both remarkable and effective. He has been a dynamic partner to civic, educational and cultural organizations throughout Boston and New England. His creativity, generosity and peerless leadership will be sorely missed, but his unparalleled legacy will endure for years to come.”

Abbott has driven new approaches to strengthen GBH as an organization, and prioritized making it a more inclusive workplace. He brought on GBH’s first Chief Inclusion and Equity Officer and initiated organization-wide diversity, equity, inclusion and access efforts. Throughout his tenure he added significantly to GBH’s financial stability, creating new services to provide additional revenue for GBH. He partnered with PBS to form PBS Distribution (PBSd), for home entertainment licensing and formed the Contributor Development Partnership (CDP), a collaborative fundraising service to strengthen local public media organizations across the country. Last year GBH completed a $215 million capital campaign, the largest in public media history. Under his leadership GBH’s endowment grew substantially from $63M to $523M.

New productions across television, radio and the web have flourished during Abbott’s tenure, ranging from arts and education programs to a new pipeline of PBS children’s productions including Molly of Denali, the first national series to feature Native American and Alaska Native lead characters. He has supported original broadcast and digital series and numerous special productions, as well as podcasts and programs for social media platforms and apps. In 2020 Abbott rebranded the organization from WGBH to GBH to reflect its expansion beyond broadcast.  

“Jon Abbott is a leader within our public television system whose innovation and strategic thinking have helped propel key initiatives and services that are at the very heart of public media’s mission,” said Paula Kerger, President and CEO of PBS. “His deep commitment to education and serving teachers and students is evidenced every day through PBS LearningMedia, a broadband service built in partnership between GBH and PBS, which has made a pivotal difference to millions of families.”

Abbott began his 34-year career in public media at NPR/PBS station KQED in San Francisco where he helped launch the nation’s first all-news NPR station. He then moved to PBS in Washington, DC as Senior Vice President for Development and Corporate Relations. He joined GBH as Vice President and General Manager in 1998 and was named President and CEO in 2007.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University and an MBA from Stanford University.  

Abbott serves on the boards of GBH, PBS, National Public Media, the Contributor Development Partnership, PBS Distribution and the Business Advisory Council for Childcare Innovation in the Commonwealth. His past board service includes chairing the Stanford Business School Alumni Advisory Board and the Public Television Major Market Group, and serving on the boards of American Public Television, PRI, PRX, Project Healthy Children, the Boston Children’s Museum and ArtsBoston. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of the John Jay Award from Columbia University.