Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund announces $3.3 million grant to American Press Institute to expand Table Stakes 

PHILADELPHIA (Sept. 26, 2019) — The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund on Thursday announced a $3.3 million grant to the American Press Institute to manage the core activities of Table Stakes, the fund’s local news leadership development program. The program advances innovations in local journalism through intensive change-management training for news leaders.

Table Stakes uses an innovative, challenge-based approach to teach change management, in which expert executive coaches help news organizations and leaders rapidly shift toward sustainability. The metaphor of “table stakes” alludes to the capacities publishers must have to be “in the game” of contemporary news publishing, and the program identifies seven specific skills or abilities news organizations must master to thrive.

With this new three-year grant, API will scale the program by making its core lessons more widely accessible, developing new coaches, and creating a stronger peer network of alumni. It will also partner with the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education to include an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of the Table Stakes training. 

“Everyone is a leader no matter what their role is in a news organization,” said Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund Managing Director Roxann Stafford. “With additional tools and frameworks, a cohort of news organization peers, and mentorship from coaches of diverse backgrounds and experiences, the expansion of the Table Stakes program serves to increase journalistic excellence and support communities. Similarly, leadership needs to be developed and shared with the larger community, and that is why incorporating the DEI work of the Maynard Institute is so important. Sustainability and great products and services are dependent on authentic relationships and engagements with communities.”

The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund was created in 2018 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism to help build a sustainable, equitable future for local journalism that serves diverse communities, fosters civic engagement and informs decision making.

Table Stakes was founded in 2015 to support major metro newspapers. Since then, other iterations of the program, which are funded separately, have been created in partnership with the University of North Carolina, the Poynter Institute, and Arizona State University. 

In total, more than 70 news organizations of all sizes have participated in the various forms of Table Stakes. API will coordinate increased cooperation between all the Table Stakes groups, including past graduates of the program. API will also develop a peer-focused learning approach to help alumni news organizations and leaders achieve continued success and spread the change-management discipline more broadly throughout their organizations and the industry. 

“Four years after we funded the launch of this program with leaders from major metropolitan news organizations in Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, we are thrilled that more than 300 leaders are now applying these strategies to accelerate their digital transformation,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “Table Stakes is preparing news leaders to create a vibrant, diverse future for local journalism. The American Press Institute, a key partner from the start, will strengthen the network of news leaders committed to serving communities with great journalism and driving sustainable revenue growth.”  

“Local news organizations need to continually reinvent themselves to meet the needs of their communities,” said Jim Friedlich, Executive Director and CEO of the Lenfest Institute. “Table Stakes has equipped news leaders with the skills they need to embrace these critical challenges. We’re pleased to support the continued growth and evolution of this highly successful program.” 

The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education will also incorporate its diversity, equity and inclusion expertise into the Table Stakes curriculum. Knight recently announced $1.2 million in new funding for the Maynard Institute to create an in-depth transformation program for news organizations to help them better inform underserved communities and establish more equitable and inclusive workplaces.  

Diversity, equity and inclusion are critical elements in helping create sustainable local journalism, and the Table Stakes program will help news organizations improve their cultures and reach new audiences. As Knight’s LaSharah S. Bunting recently wrote, “Many news organizations, now eager to build digital subscription or membership programs, have turned their focus to audience engagement, only to find a need to repair broken connections to underserved communities that no longer trust them.”

In order to broaden the reach of Table Stakes and make its lessons more accessible, API will build a central website where interested individuals and organizations can learn about the program, its benefits, and core concepts. The organization currently runs BetterNews.org, which houses lessons and case studies from the Table Stakes program. People interested in different iterations of the program will also be able to formally register their interest. 

“At a time when news publishers in every quarter of journalism are trying to learn how to navigate disruption and become more innovative, this program has been uniquely successful,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute. “It has materially impacted the course of the industry and the lives of those who have been part of it. API has been privileged to be part of this special program since its inception and we are excited to have the opportunity to expand its impact.”

The core methodology used in Table Stakes was developed by Douglas K. Smith based on his 30-plus years experience with performance-driven change as well as his subject matter expertise in journalism. In addition to fostering real performance and change in more than 60 industries, Doug is the co-author of “Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting Into the Game of News.” He is also the creator of the Media Transformation Challenge, the premier news transformation program in the world.

“Over the past four years, scores of local news enterprises have taken advantage of the seven core table stakes for journalism combined with the challenge-based approach to connect quality journalism to audiences while improving economic performance,” Smith said. “And now with the support of Knight and Lenfest, along with API’s leadership, many, many more will have the opportunity to benefit as well.”

In addition to its support of Table Stakes, the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund’s investments back News Catalyst, a resource hub at Temple’s Klein School of Media and Communication that is building product and technology capacity for local news organizations. The News Catalyst Team — led by Aron Pilhofer, the Temple University James B. Steele Chair in Journalism Innovation — will work closely with the Table Stakes participants. 

The fund also supports journalism innovation in Philadelphia, the Lenfest Institute’s hometown and one of Knight Foundations core focus areas. Ongoing grants have supported ecosystem-wide collaboration, solutions journalism, and product and technology developments at The Philadelphia Inquirer.  

In the coming months, the fund will announce additional grant opportunities. The fund also welcomes contributions from any other organizations who want to invest in expansions of this work. The Facebook Journalism Project contributed $1 million to support News Catalyst.

As part of the new grant, API will hire a director of Local News Transformation to manage the program and a program manager who would work with the director and help manage communications and supervise BetterNews.org, the website where changes and insights news organizations gain from the program are captured so others can learn from and replicate some of those innovations.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe 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 devoted to sustaining and advancing local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by the late cable television entrepreneur H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest when he gifted both an endowment and sole ownership of The Philadelphia Inquirer to the Institute. The Inquirer serves as a live lab for the Institute’s investments in innovative news initiatives, new technology and sustainable business models for local news in Philadelphia and across the country. 

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 philanthropic organizations.

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