Jennifer Gordon named CEO of WTVP

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Jenn Gordon during the press conference announcing her appointment as CEO of WTVP in Peoria, Ill.

Jennifer Gordon was named president and CEO of WTVP in Peoria, Ill.

Gordon’s appointment was announced during a press conference Thursday at the station’s headquarters. The board unanimously approved Gordon’s selection Wednesday. She starts the job April 22.

Gordon most recently worked as executive administrator of the Grace Presbyterian Church. Before that, she was executive director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois and manager of concert and artist activities for Steinway & Sons in New York. She has also been a host of Out and About, a weekly arts program on public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

Gordon was also a grant reviewer for the Illinois Arts Council and a commissioner on the Peoria Arts Advisory Commission.

She takes over for interim station manager Julie Sanders, WTVP’s marketing and content director.

The station’s previous CEO, Lesley Matuszak, resigned from her position a day before she was found dead in her home. A local coroner has ruled her death a suicide. WTVP officials later disclosed that Matuszak, along with former finance and human resources director Lin McLaughlin, may have engaged in “improper, unauthorized, or questionable” spending while working for the station.

WTVP cut its budget by $1.5 million last year and laid off staff. Board members also resigned from their positions, paving the way for new appointments.

“This is an exciting day for WTVP and Central Illinois,” Board Chair John Wieland said during the press conference Thursday. “This has been a difficult season for our community over the last few months,” he added before thanking the staff “who all stepped up and held things together.”

Wieland described Gordon as the perfect leader for the moment. He said the station’s search committee reviewed 70 resumes, and his hope was that someone who was from Central Illinois or familiar with it would be the top candidate.

The top three candidates were interviewed for two hours each and were graded on their strength in eight categories: leadership, management, grant writing, nonprofit experience, public speaking, fiscal responsibility, engagement in public TV, and courage.

“I think we’re extremely fortunate to have a candidate with such a wonderful combination of business acumen, commitment to the arts and a profound interest in building up people and making teams operate very functionally to the benefit of the organization,” said board member Heather Acerra. “I think that those qualities are going to lead WTVP to have a tremendous impact on the community as well.”

Vice Chair Andy Chiou said WTVP is one of the “crown jewels” of the community and that the board had “found no better person to care for WTVP well into the next generation than Jenn Gordon.”

‘This is a time for listening’

During the event, Gordon said she loves living in Central Illinois, especially Peoria, and plans to raise her family there for the foreseeable future.

“As a mother with three very young kids, I can tell you that the mission of WTVP is near and dear to my heart. Today we have limitless access to a lot of content, but very little of that content is quality,” she said. “WTVP brings us … local quality content that informs, educates and inspires, and it is a wonderful thing to have. When I turn on Passport, and when I turn on WTVP, and when I turn on PBS, I don’t worry about what my kids are going to see, and I enjoy it, and I love it, and it’s so great.”

She said her first task will be to meet with WTVP’s staff and to listen to the community to get a greater sense of what viewers want from the station going forward. She encouraged viewers to become members and donate.

During a question-and-answer period, Gordon said she wanted the position because she’s drawn to nonprofits that are important to their communities but have challenges that need rectifying. She also said the board change helped spark her decision to apply.

Board Chair John Wieland speaks to reporters during a press conference alongside WTVP CEO Jenn Gordon.

“I tend to be drawn to organizations that have a lot of potential but perhaps have recently gone through times of crisis, or even internally or externally, there is something that is amiss, it’s a big challenge that needs some sorting,” she said. “That’s something that makes me lean in. Obviously, this is the case at WTVP.”

When questioned about how to improve the station’s fiscal practices, she stressed that transparency will be needed with all of the station’s decisions. The next six months will be “an invitation for the community to raise their voice, and I hope also their pocketbooks or their credit cards, so they can really speak into the future of WTVP. This is a time for listening.”

Wieland said the station is carefully earning back viewers’ trust. More than 70% of the 600-plus respondents to an online survey the station fielded this month said they’re happy or very happy with the station, he said.

“The percent that said they’re still disappointed? That number is eight-point-something percent,” he said. “We’ve come a long way,” he added, and expressed confidence that WTVP will continue to receive its estimated $800,000 to $900,000 in annual funding from CPB.

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