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

How a partnership with the Economic Development Authority grew revenue for a local news org and local businesses in VA


Henrico Citizen’s Small Business Boost program chose 20 small businesses to receive a three-month email and social media ad campaign and training on how to improve ad reach.

New wins from UNC Table Stakes alumni organizations


The wins keep coming for news organizations that recently completed the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Initiative.

‘Tar Heel Bus Tour’ stop spotlights rural news solutions


The Whiteville News Reporter and High’s Border Belt Independent co-hosted the stop about rural local news on the 2023 Tar Heel Bus Tour East.

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.