Informed 2024: Maribel Perez Wadsworth Reflections and Remarks

INFORMED 2024: Reflections and Remarks from Maribel Pérez Wadsworth

Photo of Maribel Perez Wadsworth.  There is also a Knight Foundation logo.

Today was my first day as Knight Foundation’s president, and I had the honor of kicking off our second INFORMED conference. It’s a gathering of thought leaders from academia, policy, and civil society—all committed to advancing democracy and ensuring access to the information that empowers communities to shape their future. The room was abuzz with energy and possibility.

The conference struck me as a living testament to the Knight brothers’ values and their commitment to adapting in changing times. The brothers — who, in the middle of the 20th century, built one of America’s great—and most successful—newspaper companies — believed that “only a well-informed community can best determine its own true interests.” Today, as technology continues to redefine how we inform ourselves, the foundation has invested in a growing field of research that seeks to ensure new technologies and media advance the common good. The Knight Research Network—an interdisciplinary community of scholars, technologists, and policy experts representing more than 70 grantee institutions—is at the forefront of this area of inquiry. Their efforts are slowly supplanting conventional wisdom with fresh thinking backed by rigorous science. 

The range of perspectives at INFORMED was remarkable, underscoring Knight Foundation’s belief that no one holds a monopoly on solutions. The ever-accelerating pace of technological change means that what made sense yesterday may not tomorrow. Indeed, this conference is designed to anticipate many possible tomorrows – and to catalyze the independent scholarship that can inform policy and the design of digital services.

Over the next few days at INFORMED, experts will connect, collaborate, and spark new ideas and insights. They will think about those many tomorrows, and how we can secure a healthy, inclusive, democracy-affirming media ecosystem in each of them. I am proud that Knight Foundation is supporting this work. I am pleased to convene these leading thinkers. And I am excited for all that’s to come.

Remarks by Maribel PÉrez Wadsworth at the opening of INFORMED 2024

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to Knight Foundation’s second INFORMED Conference.

This is my first event as Knight’s president and CEO, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my tenure. INFORMED embodies the essence of our mission, reflecting our commitment to democracy and to the information that empowers communities to shape their future.

As a journalist and publisher, I’ve had a front-row seat to how technology is reshaping our relationship with the information that is the lifeblood of our democracy. No doubt – the internet and digital platforms have lowered the cost of distribution, enabling more sources of information to flourish – and more people to access them. They’ve broken down geographic barriers, making it easier to find and connect with community. 

These technologies are the creation of incredible human ingenuity. They also reflect human biases and weaknesses. Biases that have been apparent to many individuals and underrepresented groups for years, and the effects are increasingly discernable and measurable. We’ve seen the impact of viral disinformation in our democratic process, the surging polarization in fractured communities, and the erosion of trust in the institutions that bind us together.

The widespread availability and adoption of generative AI tools promise tremendous advances. They also pose grave threats without better accountability.

At Knight, we’ve taken the view that knowledge is one of the best accountability measures, and that’s why since 2019, we’ve invested more than $100 million in the field of scholarship represented in this room – $100 million to drive the production of knowledge about information technologies and the role they play in our democracy. 

Knight is investing in you to provide the empirical evidence and fresh thinking that can inform how we’ll preserve our democracy in the digital age. We’ve gathered you here this week to celebrate that work and to foster new collaboration for common good. I am inspired by the work we are doing together. And I want to express my commitment to continue elevating your work both in this room over the next few days and beyond. 

Before getting to the rich conversations awaiting us over the next few days, I want to take a moment to introduce myself and talk about what brought me here.

For nearly three decades, I’ve worked in journalism — as a reporter, an editor and most recently as president of Gannett Media and publisher of USA TODAY. 

What brought me to journalism was curiosity, a fascination with the behind-the-curtain view of news events as they unfolded. But what kept me in journalism was experiencing the tangible, positive impact that journalism has on communities. It was the myriad examples of well-informed citizens being better equipped to make quality decisions in their own lives, to take part in civic life, to hold their government accountable, to meet challenges in service of one another and the place they call home. 

The risks to credible, independent journalism today are many, and the need for solutions is ever more urgent. That’s why I’m here. 

Rebuilding trust, providing communities with credible information, and upholding the role of accurate news in democracy… That’s why we’re all here. The Knight brothers established this foundation decades ago with a commitment to informed and engaged communities, but also recognizing the need for adaptive approaches in changing times. I think if they were here today, they would be awed and delighted by what they see.

As your insights emerge over the next two days, we want to ensure they are accessible and useful to society, and those of you who attended the first INFORMED will remember accessibility and applicability as key themes.

Our team at Knight took that as a call to action and worked for the next six months to forge a $30 million partnership with Georgetown University. Last May, we announced the  Knight-Georgetown Institute—a new hub for scholarship and policy insight at the intersection of information, technology and democracy. KGI promises to help elevate the best insights from your work and make them actionable, informing the policies that govern our information technologies and the design of the digital products and services we all use. 

Our partners at Georgetown led a deliberate search for a visionary leader who will build this new institute, and I’m happy that she is joining us here this week. It is my pleasure to welcome Alissa Cooper, whose expertise and deep humanity make her an especially valuable addition to this network. Alissa, please stand.

My colleagues and I are thrilled to be hosting you all this week, and they’ve arranged a terrific program. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn with you and from you, and I hope to be able to say hello and personally welcome each of you to Miami at this evening’s reception.

Now, to help usher us through the program, I’d like to invite to the stage Professor Danna Young.