A pair of seasoned journalists whose careers have been defined by a commitment to award-winning reporting, innovation and diversity have been chosen to lead our news organization after an extensive national search.
Ronnie Agnew is joining NJ Advance Media in the role of General Manager and Christopher Kelly is our new Vice President of Content, NJAM President Steve Alessi announced today.
Agnew, 60, brings more than two decades of senior leadership to NJAM, including 11 years as executive director or general manager at public broadcasting operations in Mississippi and Ohio. Prior to that, he served as executive editor at The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss.
Kelly, 48, joined NJAM in 2014 and was Senior Director of News and Innovation before being named acting Vice President of News at the beginning of this year. Kelly came to us from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where he led the launch of that publication’s stand-alone arts and culture website.
Alessi said Agnew and Kelly are ideally suited to build on NJAM’s tradition of journalistic excellence while also guiding the company through these times of turbulent change in the news industry.
“This represents a significant investment in the journalistic ambitions and growth of our news organization,” Alessi said. “Ronnie and Chris are proven leaders who bring energy, experience and a flair for innovation to our mission of strengthening and empowering communities across New Jersey.”
As General Manager, Agnew will oversee Content, focusing specifically on journalistic and audience strategy – expansion of our coverage and community outreach to serve more diverse audiences, internal Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, partnership development and managing newsroom business operations.
“I am overjoyed to be joining a team and a company that shares my values,” Agnew said. “I am a strong believer in all forms of diversity. I am a strong believer in community engagement and having an open conversation with audiences. And, of course, I believe in watchdog journalism that speaks for the voiceless and holds accountable those entrusted with power.”
As VP of Content, Kelly will direct editorial content produced by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, lehighvalleylive.com and affiliated newspapers: The Star-Ledger, The Express-Times of Easton, PA, The South Jersey Times, The Times of Trenton and the Hunterdon Democrat.
Kelly said his priorities for NJAM as the state’s leading news organization include building on the organization’s traditions of exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account, and creating a news report that commands attention and tells stories in ways they’ve never been told before.
“We need to lead the daily conversations about New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley, whether that’s with investigative reports or narrative podcasts, special events or viral videos,” Kelly said. “Our competition is no longer just other news organizations — it’s Netflix, Xbox, podcasts and TikTok reels. And to compete, we need to find new ways to surprise, enrage, enlighten and delight users.”
Alessi said the naming of Agnew and Kelly to these top roles reflects not only the company’s commitment to journalistic excellence, but also its desire to be a leader in diversity and inclusion efforts across the newsroom and on behalf of the audience it serves.
Agnew has chaired the national Diversity and Nominating committees for the Public Broadcasting Service, and has devoted himself to the training, mentoring and promotion of journalists of color throughout his career.
“It is not simply a hope and a wish to bring more diversity to our coverage and to our newsrooms; it is an imperative, and it must be intentional,” Agnew said. “We must have representation that reflects our communities. Our audiences should see themselves in our coverage. If they don’t, we aren’t fully doing our jobs. I have devoted my entire career to being inclusive.”
Kelly is the first openly gay journalist to hold the title of Vice President of Content at NJAM. He described diversity and inclusion as defining issues in the industry and in society, and vowed to continue the company’s commitment to build a more diverse staff that better reflects our audiences.
“From my days as a reporter and writer, it’s been absolutely essential to me to tell the stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told and center those people who’ve historically been pushed to the sidelines,” he said. “New Jersey is a state of astonishing diversity — not just in terms of race and ethnicity, but also age, faith, political ideology, gender identity, neurodivergency, and disability. I want everyone in this state to see themselves in our work and in the makeup of our staff.”
Agnew is a native of Saltillo, Miss., and graduated from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor of Arts in English/Radio and Television in 1984. He worked as the metro and suburban editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1986 to 1993 before joining the Dothan (Alabama) Eagle as executive editor.
Agnew returned to his home state in 2001 as managing editor of Mississippi’s largest newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. The following year, he was named executive editor.
During his career, he’s won a variety of major news awards and led coverage of Mississippi’s civil rights movement and Hurricane Katrina. While Agnew was editor, The Clarion-Ledger was named one of the “10 Newspapers That Get It Right” by Editor & Publisher magazine. He has judged the Pulitzer Prizes four times and his Clarion-Ledger staff was named as a Pulitzer finalist three times.
Agnew left newspapers for public media when he joined Mississippi Public Broadcasting in August 2011 as executive director, and most recently served as General Manager of WOSU Public Media at Ohio State University. At MPB, he led the launching of new shows dedicated to early-childhood education, job skills training, healthcare and politics.
Agnew served two terms on the national PBS Board of Directors and currently is on PBS’s editorial standards committee. He also has chaired the boards of America’s Public Television Stations and the National Educational Telecommunications Association.
Agnew has been married for nearly five years to his wife, Melodie, a non-profit professional. He has three adult children from a previous marriage, Christopher, Victoria and Rachel. Two of his adult children are middle-school teachers. His youngest, Rachel, works for a ministry in Newark, Texas. He is an avid sports fan who roots for the Ole Miss Rebels from his alma mater, and the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals.
Agnew is in his university’s alumni Hall of Fame and is also in HistoryMakers, video stories archived at the Library of Congress of African Americans who have made a difference in their community and country.
“My goals for NJAM are to hire the best people and give them the room to do their jobs, with the challenge that we will compete on a national level,” Agnew said. “But while it’s great to go after national awards, our top goal will be to serve our local audience across platforms with coverage that is comprehensive, compelling and informative. We know the challenges facing media companies today. I am joining NJAM because this is an organization poised to change the narrative. I am thrilled that I will play a role in innovation and the development of new business ideas.”
Kelly was born and raised in Staten Island and graduated from Dartmouth College, where he majored in English and was named a Senior Fellow. He joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as chief film critic in 2000 and later led the launch of the Star-Telegram’s dedicated arts and culture vertical, DFW.com.
From 2006 to 2014, he was also a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly. His reporting, essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe, Slate, Entertainment Weekly and numerous other publications.
Kelly joined NJ Advance Media in 2014, overseeing the life and culture team. His editorial responsibilities expanded to include coverage of health, education, politics, climate change and diversity and inclusion.
In 2020, he was named Senior Director, News and Innovation, overseeing all news, features, enterprise and investigations for NJ.com and lehighvalleylive.com. In each of the last two years of his stewardship, NJ.com/The Star-Ledger was recognized with the General Excellence award from the New Jersey Press Association.
In addition, stories and projects he’s overseen have won recognition from the Online News Association, Associated Press Sports Editors, Society of Features Journalism and the Toner Prize for Political Reporting, among others.
Earlier this year, Kelly served as executive producer and director of the widely acclaimed podcast “Father Wants Us Dead,” a revisiting of the John List murders that has generated more than 4 million downloads since its release and climbed as high as #5 on Apple’s list of the most popular podcasts in the United States.
Kelly is also an author of two novels, “A Push and a Shove” (Alyson Books, 2007), which won the Lambda Literary Foundation award for Best Debut Novel, and “The Pink Bus” (Lethe Press, 2016).
He lives in Maplewood with his husband and their two children, ages 4 and 1.
Kelly said that, while there are many reasons he’s excited to lead the organization, he’s most looking forward to continuing to support a team of more than 140 journalists.
“The work of this staff throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of awe-inspiring,” he said. “Virtually overnight, we became a fully remote newsroom, and the doggedness and decency with which these journalists covered every aspect of an unprecedented crisis literally saved lives.”
“Now I get to encourage these incredibly gifted journalists to reach new heights, and tell stories they didn’t even realize they had within them. What a wonderful privilege.”
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