Sarah Ashworth, senior vice president for content at Vermont Public, will be the new director of Wisconsin Public Radio beginning July 17. She will take over from Interim Director Tom Luljak. Ashworth’s 25-year career in media, her communication style and leadership skills impressed the hiring committee.
“The breadth of Sarah’s background – including producing, reporting and editing roles at Minnesota Public Radio, New Hampshire Public Radio and Vermont Public – combined with her experience as a leader who implemented organizational change was compelling,” Educational Communications Board Executive Director Marta Bechtol said. “Her record of collaborating with staff on big projects and her commitment to serving a statewide audience stood out.”
“This was a challenging decision with a very competitive field of candidates,” said Wisconsin Public Media Director Heather Reese. “We’re looking forward to working with Sarah and are confident that she will be a successful partner to staff and leadership as we continue to build our service for the people of Wisconsin.” WPR is a partnership of WPM at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the ECB, the state agency that distributes public broadcasting in Wisconsin.
Ashworth will be the third woman to lead the station in its more than 100-year history. She has been a fellow in leadership programs at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Columbia University, and Public Media Women in Leadership. She will report to both Reese and Bechtol.
Raised in Eagan, Minnesota, Ashworth became interested in public radio while pursuing her journalism degree at the University of Missouri–Columbia. After graduation and a stint in local television news, she returned to the university and became news director of their NPR station, KBIA. Appointed as an assistant professor in the journalism department, she also taught and helped create their public radio curriculum. Ashworth has also taught radio journalism in Russia and China.
During her tenure as news director at New Hampshire Public Radio, the station received multiple National Edward R. Murrow Awards for overall excellence and for news series. When she took up the same role at Vermont Public Radio, they also won National Murrow Awards for overall excellence and innovation and digital work. In her past two years at Vermont Public, she has overseen content for their recently combined radio and television service.
“Public media is an exciting place to be right now,” Ashworth said. “The work we do strengthens communities and democracy and is needed more than ever. I look forward to working to build a strong WPR that connects even more deeply with communities and one that welcomes and represents even more Wisconsinites in its service.”
Luljak, who retired as vice chancellor for university relations and communications at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee before taking on the role of interim director at WPR in 2021, will remain in his role until Ashworth begins her work in July. “We want to thank Tom for his incredible work,” Reese said. “WPR is in a great position to thrive thanks to his leadership over the past year and a half,” Bechtol said.
Ashworth and her family will be moving to Madison this summer. She looks forward to traveling the state and spending time with staff, supporters and listeners throughout Wisconsin. “I’m excited to be part of both building WPR’s work for the next generation and also continuing to deliver a high-quality service to our loyal audience and supporters,” Ashworth said.