Nicole Avery Nichols, who has reported and edited news in Detroit for more than 25 years, leading coverage that has ranged from culture and the culinary arts to education and the COVID-19 pandemic, has been named the new top editor of the Detroit Free Press.
Avery Nichols, 53, returns to the Free Press following a stint of more than two years as editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat, a nationwide journalism nonprofit focused on education. She left the newspaper for Chalkbeat in February 2021 and continued to reside in metro Detroit with her husband and two children. She had started at the Free Press in 2000 after being recruited from the Detroit News.
Avery Nichols is the first Black woman to become the editor of the Free Press. The previous editor, Peter Bhatia, departed early this year.
“I firmly believe in centering people and their experiences within the heart of journalism, and I am thrilled to be leading one of America’s most powerful newsrooms as we tell the stories that matter most,” Avery Nichols said. “I look forward to engaging new audiences amid our ever-changing and diversifying media landscape.
As top editor of Chalkbeat, Avery Nichols was responsible for newsroom operations and a national reporting team with bureaus in Detroit, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Indiana, Chicago, Tennessee and Colorado.
In her previous roles at the Free Press, she supervised teams of reporters and wide areas of coverage, including music, religion, immigration, federal courts, race, restaurants, public health and the pandemic.
“Nicole’s deep knowledge of the local issues most important to Detroit-area residents, combined with a fearless and unflinching commitment to journalism that is essential in the communities we serve, makes her the perfect fit for the Free Press,” said Kristin Roberts, chief content officer at Gannett, which owns the Free Press, and the USA TODAY Network. “I am confident that under Nicole’s leadership, the Free Press will deliver exclusive and solutions-focused journalism that our readers, viewers and listeners want.”
“Nicole’s commitment to covering the Detroit community and her leadership experience make her the right person to lead the Free Press newsroom as the media business continues to evolve,” said Mary Irby-Jones, Midwest regional editor for Gannett. “I know that she is personally invested in engaging our readers to better understand how our stories reflect their daily lives.”
Avery Nichols grew up on Long Island, New York. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she played trombone in the school marching band, and a master’s degree in newspaper journalism from Syracuse University.
She began her journalism career in 1993 as a weekend reporter at the Utica Observer-Dispatch in upstate New York, and later as a features writer at what was then The Syracuse Newspapers.
Following an editor’s advice that she gain experience working in a two-newspaper city, she applied to the Detroit News in 1997.
She was hired for a job that involved editing and reporting about fashion and style. She saw the twilight of an era of more generous travel budgets in the local news business, and The News sent her on reporting trips to fashion shows in New York City and Paris.
In 2000, the Free Press recruited her away from the News to be a features writer. Three years later, she joined the editing ranks, in time filling a number of positions that included features editor, current affairs editor and senior news director.
She was the founding editor of the Free Press’ popular Top 10 Takeover dining series and led coverage of the opioid epidemic, the early waves of COVID-19 and the racial reckoning that followed the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
As editor, Avery Nichols said she intends to continue the Free Press’ renewed emphasis on community-level reporting that provides critical information and builds trust with readers.
“My goal is to deliver relevant news that matters to people’s day-to-day lives,” she said. “It sounds simple, but it’s not. It requires a lot of eye contact and in-person reporting.”
She and her husband, Free Press contributing columnist Darren Nichols, are parents of 15-year-old twins.
The late Bob McGruder in 1996 became the first Black person to be top editor of the Free Press. Carole Leigh Hutton became the newspaper’s first female executive editor in 2002.