Karen Dunlap


Karen B. Dunlap is president of The Poynter Institute. She is also the co-author, with Foster Davis, of "The Effective Editor."

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Push for Parity: 5 lessons for the next generation of women in leadership

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This essay is the first in our Push For Parity essay series, featuring stories about women in leadership in journalism. For more on our series and details about how you can contribute, see Kelly McBride’s essay introducing the project.

Maya Penn owned the stage when she presented her entrepreneurial businesses last year during her TED Talk. She created animated cartoons with computer viruses and superhero plant pollinator as lead characters and she manufactured eco-friendly clothes and accessories. In addition to showing technological and development skills, CEO Penn also displayed real spirit as she strolled on stage sporting a liberated afro.

When Maya made that talk last December, she was 13 years old.

Yes, we can achieve in amazing ways. Women impress as leaders in a range of interests and disciplines, including journalism, in ways I never would have imagined when I was 13. Read more

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John Seigenthaler was a leader of free speech, civil rights and journalism

John Seigenthaler spent an inordinate amount of time talking about one of his early reporting stories when he sat down for an interview with Poynter last year. The interview May 3 at his office in Nashville was in line with Poynter’s video series on news leaders and I was prepared to talk about his career.

He rose from reporter to publisher of The Tennessean newspaper where he worked with and nurtured excellent journalists as the newspaper drew national awards and recognition. He was beaten while working for Robert Kennedy during the Civil Rights Movement, and experienced transitions as he editorially led a community through the turbulent 60s to the 90s, served as a senior executive with the Gannett company and raised public understanding of the First Amendment. Read more

General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. The committee is looking for answers from Barra about safety defects and mishandled recall of 2.6 million small cars with a faulty ignition switch that's been linked to 13 deaths and dozen of crashes. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Leading Into the Wind: a talk on leadership in challenging times

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from a speech presented by Karen Dunlap, former president of The Poynter Institute, at The Centre for Women in Tampa, Fla., on March 27.

This is a 1975 photo of Katharine Graham, left, first woman elected to The Associated Press board of directors, during a board meeting in New York City. (AP Photo)

Mary Barra warmed a seat this week that represented the downside of executive chairs. As General Motors CEO, she was primary spokesperson and target in a Congressional hearing on General Motors’ delay in recalling cars with a flawed ignition system. The ignitions can shut off the engine on drivers in motion and disable air bags.

Barra, who was named chief executive in January after being at GM since age 18, has apologized for the defect that is linked to at least 12 deaths. Read more


A Poynter remembrance and tribute to Mandela

On a 2010 trip to Johannesburg, I relaxed on South African Airlines and watched the movie “Invictus” starring Morgan Freeman. It was a great way to watch the portrayal of Nelson Mandela’s move to bond his nation by supporting South Africa’s white rugby team. I came away concerned, though, that Freeman would form my lasting image of Mandela.

That won’t happen.

The tributes since Mandela’s death Thursday seal the real image of a man who stands alone as a force beyond South Africa, beyond our times.

His rise as president and as an international figure of grace, political acumen and healing enabled Poynter’s involvement with South African journalists. Allister Sparks, former editor of South Africa’s legendary newspaper, The Rand Daily Mail, met Poynter’s former president, Robert J. Read more

Media Word Cloud

How well-informed are citizens, and how are they getting their news?

Two major news stories, the conflict in Syria and actions on the Affordable Care Act, raise two tough questions for news media and citizens:

  • How do journalists engage the public on public policy?
  • Do we, as news consumers, know enough to have meaningful voice in these matters?

The way the public gets news continues to change with digital — and especially mobile
forms — gaining audiences. Some shifts raise questions about the amount and quality of news consumed. All that leads to the crucial question of what people know about major public issues.

Last week’s Pew study on the Affordable Care Act didn’t inspire confidence in the public’s knowledge of news. Pew’s survey found that “44% of Americans are unsure whether ACA remains the law. About three-in-ten (31%) say they don’t know, while 8% think it has been repealed by Congress and 5% believe it was overturned by the Supreme Court.”

Should we cheer because more than half those surveyed (57%) knew that the law is being implemented? Read more

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Boston Marathon Explosions

4 takeaways from journalists’ coverage of the Boston explosions

Last week began with a spotlight on excellent journalism. Newsrooms quieted for the 3 p.m. ET Pulitzer Prize announcement, but minutes before word came, two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. At 2:59 p.m. the Boston Globe tweeted of two “powerful explosions” near the finish line.

Before the champagne could be circulated in Pulitzer-winning newsrooms, staffers plunged into coverage of a big story. As the week progressed, recognition of award-winning journalism faded, news media lapses mounted and a barrage of criticism followed.

With suspects accounted for in Boston and most of the missing located in West, Texas, now is the time to consider the media’s performance, build on what worked, and take steps to improve future coverage.

Here are four lessons.

1. Report information you’ve verified

Accuracy is rule number one in credible journalism. Read more

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4 lessons for media leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. and Gene Patterson

Martin Luther King Day 2013 occurs a day after memorial services for Eugene Patterson, an editorial voice of conscience at the Atlanta Constitution during King’s crusade for justice. Patterson died Saturday, January 12. Services were in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he had been CEO of the St. Petersburg Times company (now Tampa Bay Times) and chairman of the board of The Poynter Institute.

I thought the conversation would be about journalism and The Poynter Institute when my husband and I met with Gene Patterson at the Institute last March. Although he had been diagnosed with cancer and friends knew the end might be near, Gene looked as a robust as ever. Our chat in the Patterson Collection of Poynter’s Library lingered on civil rights, a man named Cook, another named King and on two men’s memories of war. Read more

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When breaking news confuses: Citizens may be as undecided as the Pulitzer board

Some years ago, deadline reporting was declared a dying craft. Reporters would gain muscle in long-form journalism and engrossing narratives, but lose the ability to quickly report a story, some feared.

This year’s Pulitzer Prizes — especially the decision to award no one the honor for Breaking News reporting — could be the product of that decades old forecast.  Except the weakness today is not in quickly reporting breaking news, but in presenting facts to tell a cohesive story.

We are surrounded by “breaking news.” News screens use the phrase to alert and infuse urgency and significance in reports throughout the day. Tweets spread headlines and follow-up bulletins that outline a breaking news story. We are a society of bits and bytes. Could it be that so many bits of news do not a coherent story make? Read more


FCC Testimony: Media Cross-Ownership Bears Watching, but is Not Most Critical Issue

The remarks below were prepared for testimony offered April 20, 2010 at the FCC workshop, “Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Impact on Competition and Diversity in the Media Marketplace” and have been adapted for this format.

In 2007, you invited the people of this region to give their views on media ownership and more than 100 responded. I am pleased to have been among panelists then and I thank you for the opportunity to participate today.

In greeting you, I also welcome you on behalf of The Poynter Institute. Our mission and structure are important to this discussion on media ownership, so let me tell you a little about Poynter.

The Institute was created 35 years ago by Nelson Poynter as an unusual school for working journalists. Read more


Barrow’s Life Offers Quiet Lesson in Leadership

E-mails began to fly after January 23 as word spread of the death of Dr. Lionel C. Barrow Jr. Friends sought to honor a man who packed a lot into 82 years of life.

Barrow was a major force in integrating college and university communication faculties, a former dean of the Howard University School of Communications, a news reporter, advertising executive, Korean War veteran, jazz and poetry advocate, and a social activist inspired by his Morehouse College classmate, Martin Luther King.

His style was low-key in spite of impressive achievements. In sum, his life offers lessons in quiet leadership. Here are three.

Focus on a Worthwhile Goal

Academics spend a career building a body of related research. Barrow built a body of civil rights work over the course of his career, with academics as his main focus. Read more

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