Six news organizations from across the country will participate in the 2020 Major Market Table Stakes program, a yearlong innovative learning program facilitated by API that helps news organizations transform their journalism and business through intensive change-management training for news leaders. This year’s cohort includes the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio, the Tennessean in Nashville, The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, The San Diego Union-Tribune and CalMatters.
The Major Market Table Stakes program is supported by a $3.3 million grant to API from the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, a joint initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Cross-departmental teams from the six news organizations will work alongside expert executive coaches to help their news organizations and leaders rapidly adopt the “table stakes” and shift toward sustainability. The metaphor of “table stakes” alludes to the capacities publishers must have to be “in the game” of contemporary news publishing. The program identifies seven specific skills or abilities news organizations must master to thrive.
With coaching, regular peer learning and performance-based challenges, the newsrooms will adapt current strategies and practices in order to deepen engagement with existing audiences, reach and serve audiences new to them and develop new revenue opportunities — all in service of their local communities. Almost 60 people from across these six organizations make up the teams that will take on these challenges.
“Everyone working at the Union-Tribune today is steering the company through the most important period of its history. If we get the next five years right, we will have cemented the company’s standing as a community asset dedicated to and supported by San Diegans. If we don’t, we will face some difficult choices,” said Jeff Light, publisher and editor in chief of The San Diego Union-Tribune. “That’s why Table Stakes is so important to us. It puts the big questions front and center: Where are we going? And how can we get there from here?”
The six news organizations compose the fifth cohort of the Major Market Table Stakes program since it launched in 2015, the longest-running Table Stakes program. Since then, other iterations of the program, which are funded separately by Knight Foundation, have been created in partnership with the University of North Carolina, the Poynter Institute, and Arizona State University.
The yearlong program, which normally includes six in-person intensive sessions, launched virtually this year, due to the realities imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The virtual environment has provided several opportunities for cohort members to connect with and learn from one another more often and more immediately and to receive feedback and guidance quickly in this fast-changing news environment. News organizations can tailor their performance challenges directly to the effects of the pandemic and the social upheaval their communities are experiencing.
“The pandemic was both a challenge and an opportunity. We had to take a fresh look at the pedagogy of this deeply immersive and quite rigorous program. We think there may be some lessons from doing it virtually that we would use in any form going forward,” said Tom Rosenstiel, the executive director of the American Press Institute.
This year’s major market program includes a new emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, which is critical to news organizations’ ability to listen to, connect with and serve new and future audiences. In a partnership with leaders from the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the program is helping each team assess their internal processes and create strategies and benchmarks to implement DEI principles.
This need has never been as essential as in this moment, when news organizations are covering the nationwide protests and calls for action in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, as well as looking inward to examine their own internal systemic cultures and policies about how they support the growth and development of Black journalists and journalists of color.
The teams will also be supported by News Catalyst, which provides news organizations with digital tools, fosters collaboration and promotes experimentation. News Catalyst is also funded and supported by the Knight-Lenfest Fund. Its latest tool, the Table Stakes Challenge Tracker, will help teams track their performance and serve as a way to connect with Table Stakes participants both past and present.
The core methodology used in Table Stakes was developed by a team led by Douglas K. Smith and based on Smith’s Performance Driven Change Management methodology, with which he has 30-plus years of experience working across more than 60 industries. He is also the founder of the Media Transformation Challenge, which now resides at the Poynter Institute and was originally known as the Punch Sulzberger Program at Columbia University.
“Providing a community of practice for news organization to reflect, grow and learn together has increasingly become more important not only for the sustainability of the industry, but also for news leaders themselves to evolve so that news and information increases informed decision-making and agency of communities,” said Roxann Stafford, managing director of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund. “We are excited for Table Stakes to have an equity focus through API, the Maynard Institute and the founding coaches coming together at this critical time.”
In addition to overseeing the major market program, API plays a coordinating role across the other Table Stakes programs and supports the ongoing learning and development among all programs’ alumni. API has also helped coordinate and advise a partnership between the Gannett and McClatchy companies, which have jointly run a corporate version of the program that concludes this summer.
API publishes the lessons of Table Stakes on BetterNews.org, where professionals, educators, students and others from across the news media and journalism industry can learn about how Table Stakes newsrooms have adapted their workflows and made changes to their news and business practices.
About the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund
With a focus on sustainability and equity, The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund is designed to strengthen local journalism at scale, by supporting journalistic excellence and serving the information needs of communities. The Knight-Lenfest Fund collaborates with news organizations, leaders and communities to grow capacity and meet journalism’s technology, business, and audience realities of the future. The Fund believes that journalism is at its best when it is of service.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. It invests in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Its goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which it believes are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.
About The Lenfest Institute for Journalism
The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to develop and support sustainable business models for great local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest. The Institute is the parent organization of The Philadelphia Inquirer, a for-profit public benefit corporation dedicated to serving the people of the Philadelphia region.
About the American Press Institute
The American Press Institute advances an innovative and sustainable news industry by helping publishers understand and engage audiences, grow revenue, improve public-service journalism, and succeed at organizational change. It is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit educational organization affiliated with the News Media Alliance. Its funding comes from several sources, including other philanthropic organizations.