Meet UNC Table Stakes Program Director Charlie Baum

 In December 2021, the newest group of Southeastern local news organizations will begin the UNC-Knight Table Stakes transformation program. In this program, newsroom leaders will define and tackle challenges using a performance-driven framework to craft innovative solutions.   

In anticipation of the fifth cohort’s kickoff, the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media talked with each of the new coaches, independent advisors who will help guide the news organizations throughout the process.   

Meet Charlie Baum, program director for the UNC Table Stakes Initiative. 

CISLM: You’ve coached teams across many industries on transformation and performance-driven change. What have you learned in applying this approach to local news? 

Charlie Baum: It works!  At multiple levels.  The tools of performance-driven change help to break down huge challenges into smaller pieces; to focus directly on performance outcomes; to generate confidence-building wins along the way; to build individual and team skills and confidence for more; to begin to see promise against pretty overwhelming odds; to build and connect a community, with rich stories of successful adaptation. 

When we first began in this industry with the Sulzberger Program (now the Media Transformation Challenge) in 2007, Doug Smith (the Table Stakes program founder) and I were nervous!  We had deep faith in the tools of performance-driven change — across many industries and similar legacy organizations — but we knew there was a lot at stake.  Could the approaches help hugely valued organizations move fast enough, given the steep revenue declines in print subscriptions and advertising?  We, and really nobody else, knew the answer.  There was a whole lot of talk — endless panels and the like on the future of journalism.  We tried to provide a forum for action and rapid experimentation — what works, what doesn’t, try stuff out, learn and move on.     

The various programs that have emerged — MTC, all the Table Stakes programs and other offshoots — have deepened our experience and given us the opportunity to learn and experiment, and to meet incredible people along the journey.  For example, in 2016 there were only two coaches in the Table Stakes world.  Now there must be over 40, with the UNC and the internal Gannett/McClatchy programs allowing us to experiment in building coaching capacity.   

So has our/my involvement with others in helping newsrooms bridge Fault Lines and create more equitable coverage and welcoming newsrooms. For me, that has been the most challenging and deepest part of the experience, and I owe deep gratitude to the folks who have helped me and the programs along the way.   

CISLM: What are you looking forward to in working with a new team of coaches this year?   

CB: I have been in the world of performance-driven change for 40 years.  My role at this point is not to coach, nor to be the sole lead of programs anymore. It is to share whatever I’ve learned with others such that these approaches become even more widespread.   

Part of this is technical to the tools, such things as the four different types of wins or terms like RAOOI!  More of it is related to issues that sit outside of the specific tools, like building individual team momentum and growing overall program momentum.  Some is related to how to build the right atmosphere and spirit in a cohort.  And finally, some relates to the interconnections amongst all the performance-driven change programs and the opportunities for deeper connections and outcomes. 

(UNC cohort five Table Stakes coaches) Nation (Hahn), Felecia (Henderson), Chrissy (Beck) and Alesha (Williams-Boyd) are super talented and enthusiastic, and clearly are committed to this process — and they’re really nice people!  They will have their own “touch” and bring their own skills and differences to the UNC program.  Same with (CISLM Director) Erica Perel, who brings tremendous energy, experience and commitment to program success.  

CISLM: In our UNC Table Stakes program, we love to celebrate our wins, big and small. What’s your best win recently? 

CB: It happens every day.  This morning I woke up here in Portland, Oregon to this e-mail from (Table Stakes graduate) Mike Shearer, executive editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, that read: “Good news! Akron and our sister paper in Canton both passed 10,000 digital-only subscribers in the past week.” 

My arcane answer to the question “what do you do for a living” is to say we’re in the hope business.  How about that for some hope today?  That’s what it’s all about.