UNC Table Stakes cohort five teams making progress toward north star visions

Social media growth, valuable performance metrics and a radical change in how stories are sourced are among the recent wins that this year’s Table Stakes participants have seen since their initial meetings in December 2021.

In February, the fifth cohort of the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative met and shared their progress since December. The year-long program, hosted by the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media and supported by the Knight Foundation, helps news organizations from across the Southeast identify challenges and implement sustainable solutions through performance-driven change.

One of a handful of programs throughout the country, the Table Stakes Local News Transformation Program helps news organizations tackle their biggest problems.

The 11 media organizations participating in this year’s UNC Table Stakes are a mix of new startups and older legacy outlets. Some serve entire cities and regions, while others have a narrower focus. All 11 though, are connected by their desire to become, or remain, viable in the modern media landscape.

During the Feb. 25 meeting, the cohort had a roundtable in which the 11 outlets shared their “north star” goal, as well as quick wins that they’ve experienced in the past few weeks.

The methods by which they work to reach viability differ, depending on the specific outlet and its goals. Some, such as the Fayetteville Observer and Louisville Public Media, are attempting to strengthen their relationship with their respective Black communities.

The Montgomery Advertiser, a Gannett-owned legacy newspaper in Alabama, was also concerned with not adequately covering certain demographics. Using analysis and performance metrics, the paper determined that its biggest gaps in coverage were with rural communities and the business sector.

The Border Belt Independent and The Current GA, two digital publications serving southeastern communities in North Carolina and Georgia, both found success in launching and growing their newsletters. And UAB Blazer Media, the student media publication of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, continues to work towards its goal of diversifying its revenue streams by establishing an alumni association.

Not every win was necessarily expected. The Athens Banner-Herald saw a boost in revenue and attention towards its coverage after the University of Georgia won the College Football National Championship in January. For an outlet whose north star goal was to reconnect with its community and remind Athenians of who they were, the championship couldn’t have come at a better time.

The News Leader, a daily paper serving Staunton, VA, also worked on reconnecting with its community by radically changing how it sourced local government stories.

The News Leader previously had a government-citizen sources ratio of 6-1. Now, they have flipped that number so that community sources outweigh government sources by a 4-1 ratio. In doing this, the News Leader’s reporting can now put a spotlight on how local government is really affecting its people.

And thanks to the tutelage of Table Stakes coaches, many of the outlets have increased their online engagement by staggering amounts. The Black Girl Times, housed under Mississippi-based nonprofit organization The Lighthouse, increased its engagement on Instagram by 384 percent, Twitter by 158 percent and Facebook by 354 percent. The Fayetteville Observer saw engagement with its Instagram posts rise by 210 percent.

The meetings also fostered collaboration and discussion among members of the cohort. Some of the participants reached out to others to learn more about how they achieved their success. Partnership, after all, is one of the seven Table Stakes.

The cohort will have its third round of meetings on May 24 and 25, with more wins to come. Read more news on the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes, including wins from past cohorts, on the CISLM blog.