Education & Outreach

The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media provides current and future media leaders with the tools and analysis to succeed in a rapidly changing environment.

The UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative helps advance media organizations through digital transformation and development of sustainable business models.

UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative

The UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media (CISLM) is a proud partner in the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative. The yearlong program helps media organizations identify challenges and opportunities, as well as create sustainable solutions to survive and thrive in the digital age.

The program is modeled after the  Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, which is a collaborative effort designed to help advance digital transformation at local and major metropolitan news organizations across the country. The program is based on the core principles used to create the Media Transformation Challenge  (formerly the Sulzberger Program at Columbia Journalism School) that has helped approximately 250 participants deliver major performance and improvement to media organizations such as The New York Times, ABC News, the Associated Press, National Public Radio, as well as a number of local market organizations.

The yearlong program includes in-person meetings approximately every three months held on the UNC campus, during which participants work with expert coaches and update one another on progress with their performance challenges.

Program Outcomes

Coaches guide participating organizations through the program to reach the following outcomes:

  • Provide a pathway, based on the principles modeled after the Knight-Temple Table Stakes effort that was piloted in 2015-16 with four major metro newspapers, to transform their media organization into an audience-focused, digital-first, market-leading and sustainable enterprise. (Learn more about the seven Table Stakes here.)
  • Define specific performance initiatives that will significantly advance digital transformation and successfully achieve identified objectives over the course of the year.
  • Identify and address the underlying skill, role, workflow, technology and culture changes required to achieve the objectives of the chosen performance initiatives.
  • Develop the individual skills and organizational capabilities needed to continue the work beyond the project, using the tools and methodologies of performance-driven change.
  • Develop a peer network of news organizations to draw on shared experiences, approaches, tools, technology and other resources.

Application Process

  • August: Applications open
  • August - September: Read through the application and apply; applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. We highly encourage you to schedule an initial meeting with CISLM Director Erica Perel and Program Coordinator Sarah Vassello before submitting your application. 
  • September 3: Deadline for applications

UNC Table Stakes Participants

Latest UNC Table Stakes blogs

On the balcony: Leadership lessons with Sarah Nagem


CISLM is looking back at six years in local news transformation: “Is this a story that really needs to be told, and will it make a difference? And (Table Stakes) really helped me step back and focus on those questions.”

On the balcony: Leadership lessons with Fernando Soto


CISLM is looking back at six years in local news transformation: “One of the most important things to being a leader is to be coachable, to be able to listen and to acknowledge that I don’t have all the right answers all the time.”

On the balcony: Leadership lessons with Hadley Hitson


CISLM is looking back at six years in local news transformation: “It’s definitely made any sort of goal seem more attainable because we have gone through this process step-by-step:”

On the balcony: Leadership lessons with Bill Horner III


CISLM is looking back at six years in local news transformation: “What we learned through Table Stakes was to break things down into pieces and to focus.”

Nuestro Estado and Pasa la Voz merge to better serve Spanish-speaking audiences in South Carolina and Georgia


The goal of Pasa La Voz Noticias is to connect Latinx communities in South Carolina and Georgia with reliable, up-to-date news and information.

How a news org’s Future Black History Makers project builds on community listening efforts


In a partnership between the Fayetteville Observer and the Cumberland County School System, the Future Black History Makers were chosen to celebrate ‘some outstanding young people who are already doing great things in life.’

Table Stakes Cohort 5: Who’s on your bus?


Internal and external factors can speed or slow the journey, and sometimes, the bus – the engine of change – breaks down.

CISLM welcomes 10 news orgs to UNC Table Stakes cohort six


CISLM recently welcomed 10 news organizations from across the Southeast to the sixth cohort of the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Initiative.

screenshot of We the People intro slide, featuring We the People text and photos of reporters interviewing folks

How a newspaper in Virginia is centering readers in its reporting


Journalists at The News Leader in Staunton, Virginia are working with each other and with their UNC Table Stakes coach to engage more readers — not politicians — in the process of watchdog reporting.

How local news outlets are using sports wins as revenue wins


For UNC Table Stakes participants and alumni, recent rivalry games and national championships have brought in much-needed revenue to their newsrooms through innovative fundraising and commemorative merchandise sales.