The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media recently welcomed 10 news organizations from across the Southeast to the sixth cohort of the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Initiative.
Established in 2018, the Table Stakes framework brings together interdepartmental teams representing local news organizations and leads them through tools and strategies for digital transformation. The program rests on seven key pillars of growth areas, teaching strategies for identifying and engaging new audiences to utilizing methods to expanding capacity by learning how to work from a “mini-publisher” perspective and more.
One of four Table Stakes programs across the country, the UNC program takes a regional approach, training and developing news organizations toward sustainability in four parts: executive coaching, performance-driven change, best practices in audience development and revenue growth and cohort accountability.
Because these news organizations include a variety of media formats, ownership models and sizes, the cohort members are able to learn from each others’ distinct challenges while finding unexpected similarities.
“It’s so rewarding to watch the individuals and teams in cohort six come together to learn from each other and help each other along their journeys,” said Erica Beshears Perel, CISLM director. “The teams in this cohort share similar challenges around resources and time while they’re trying to solve different pieces of the local news puzzle.”
Cohort six runs from November 2022 to October 2023, meeting three times at UNC-Chapel Hill and twice virtually.
Meet the teams
Atlanta Civic Circle: This nonprofit news startup seeks to connect grassroots communities with policymakers through news and information and a focus on solutions journalism and in-depth reporting. “Complexity shuts you out, ACC opens the door for you” is its slogan. This nonprofit startup has already established both funded and non-funded partnerships with multiple outlets in the Atlanta and larger Georgia news ecosystems, working to bring their expertise in engagement to other orgs as they grow.
Black Girl Times: A participant of cohort five, Black Girl Times is a publication that serves Black women, girls and nonbinary folks. The outlet is a project of The Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization based in Jackson, Mississippi that works to build power for Black women.
Blue Ridge Public Media: The NPR-affiliate radio station that serves Asheville and points west in North Carolina. Their challenge is related to meeting the news needs of western NC audiences and comes at a time of operational refresh with a new general manager onboard.
City View Media: This longtime lifestyle magazine has begun to invest in a daily news report to counteract the contraction of the daily paper. The daily news email has a high penetration in this important southeast NC city.
Down in the County: This newsletter serves Pamlico County and features reporting and photography by award-winning international photojournalist Andrea Bruce. It began as a Meta-supported newsletter. This part of Coastal North Carolina has seen a hollowing out of its legacy news sources and a growing right-wing local news ecosystem.
Henrico Citizen: This 20-year-old news source serves Henrico County, a collection of unincorporated communities around Richmond, Va. It dropped print in 2020 and has transitioned to all-digital delivery but needs to grow digital revenue to survive. This newsroom’s challenge is compelling because the industry needs a model for serving suburbs.
Knoxville News Sentinel: The Gannett paper is returning to the UNC Table Stakes program, rejoining since its participation in cohort four to serve Black Knoxvillians. Returning editor Joel Christopher is expanding on the work since expanding its audience.
Louisville Courier-Journal: The Louisville Courier-Journal is a Gannett-owned daily with a strong tradition of accountability and investigative journalism.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: A previous participant in another Table Stakes program, the Rochester team is continuing its work on serving Black audiences in Rochester.
Triad City Beat: Triad City Beat is an alternative weekly that serves what’s known as the Triad – Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. Triad City Beat is trying to fill news gaps from the decline of the local dailies, with a focus on amplifying the stories of marginalized communities.
Whiteville News Reporter: The community weekly in Whiteville, whose Table Stakes North Star in Cohort 1 was “Don’t go out of business.” The News Reporter in rural southeast NC is still kicking five years later, but has a new local owner and will use strategic help to continue to transition to a digital future.
Meet the coaches
Charlie Baum is a consultant and expert who helps businesses find success amidst change.
Chrissy Beck is the General Manager of The Chronicle, the independent student media outlet at Duke University.
Nation Hahn is the director of growth for EducationNC, an education reporting nonprofit.
Felecia Henderson is the Director for Cultural Competency at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the oldest journalism nonprofit dedicated to diversifying America’s newsrooms.
Erica Perel is the Director of the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Alesha Williams Boyd is the editor-in-chief of the digital media company, Mashable.