Karen Dunlap

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

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. She said GM will cooperate with government investigations.

Big questions remain about the extent of human loss and corporate misconduct, but in the midst, Barra practices a familiar form of leadership.

She spent her career rising through the ranks at GM and reached the top, as CEO, just in time for what might become one of the biggest smackdowns of a major U.S.… 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. Haiman, in 1991 and asked for support in starting a journalism institute. Patterned after Poynter, the institute would train non-white journalists to take important roles in the South African news media now that it was being desegregated. Haiman told him that if Sparks found the funding, Poynter would provide visiting faculty and other academic support.

Sparks found the funds for the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism housed at Wits University, Jo’berg. Haiman spoke at the opening in 1992, two years before Mandela became South African president, and Poynter faculty have taught in the nation every year since then.… 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? Should we allow slack for those who didn’t know, since the Act is complicated and changes have been made and proposed? Is the study evidence of separate and unequal societies, one informed and one uninformed?… Read more

1 Comment
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. Legacy organizations incorrectly reported a suspect’s arrest. Some speculated about his race and ended up being incorrect. These reports reflected a failure of basic journalism accuracy. General references to race or ethnicity that single out groups of people — and that don’t tell us much about the suspect — stir anger and fear.

Candy Altman, vice president of news at Hearst Television Inc., offered three suggestions for improving the reporting of facts.… Read more

1 Comment

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. Four lessons from the conversation offer advice for news media leaders today.

Get to know the whole community

As a journalist at the Atlanta Constitution, Patterson followed his mentor, Executive Editor Ralph McGill, in taking a stand against racial injustice. Gene said he and his family were ostracized by many whites but quietly embraced by the Jewish community of Atlanta. He and his wife, Sue, took tentative steps across racial lines in attending meetings and informal gatherings in the black community, something that just wasn’t done in the late ’50s and early ’60s.… Read more

1 Comment

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?

The Pulitzer category calls for “a distinguished example of local reporting of breaking news, with special emphasis on the speed and accuracy of the initial coverage using any available tool.”  The year 2010 did not lack big events. It began with an earthquake in Haiti, then moved through natural disasters from snow and flooding to human acts of mayhem, including a Gulf oil catastrophe.… 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. Poynter’s mission is to teach those who practice the craft of journalism and those who lead news organizations. Poynter also promotes the essential role of journalism in a democracy.

One reason it is unusual is because the school owns a newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, or, as I like to call it, the Pulitzer Prize-winning St. Petersburg Times. The school’s mission is to inspire journalistic excellence; the newspaper’s mission is to produce quality journalism and maintain a sound business.… 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. His goal was the inclusion of more women and non-white educators in journalism and communication faculties.

During a memorial service at Howard University, Communications School Dean, Jannette L. Dates, described a moment that signaled Barrow’s commitment. She describes it:

It was in the summer of 1968 that Lee Barrow found his voice and began to make others aware of his commitment to diversity, his courage and his candor.… Read more

Profits from Poynter Election Book Will Supplement Scholarships

Join me in celebrating some good news for newspapers amid the sea of bad press. Poynter’s book of newspaper election front pages is in its sixth week on The New York Times bestsellers list and that’s good news for Poynter and news media.  /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

The book is “President Obama: Election 2008,” a collection of front pages from 75 newspapers, including major dailies, international, community and college papers.

Andrews McMeel and Poynter produced the bestseller, but newspapers helped produce sales. Yes, Obama euphoria played a big role, but people didn’t stand in lines for T-shirts or commemorative plates. They stood in line to buy newspapers with familiar nameplates, designs and bylines, newspapers that shared a sense of local communities and put a stamp on historic events.

Newspapers benefit as the collection celebrates their work. Poynter and media benefit from sales as Institute coffers need replenishing. Poynter’s major income sources are: tuition, dividends from the St. Petersburg Times and interest on investment accounts. You know the story. This is not a good time for the industry or the market.… Read more


Standing up for Journalism as Staffs Continue to Shrink

When Joe Grimm leaves the Detroit Free Press today, he will take away far more than whatever he’s accumulated in his office over the years. So will thousands of other journalists who are leaving newsrooms this year.

They take away experience, community contacts and a sense of place. But most of all, they take away a passion for journalism and a commitment to news that serves individual communities and democracy at large.

Like Joe, we’re all trying to find a way to keep those journalists in journalism. Poynter wants to help. We’ve already enlisted Joe to join a Poynter initiative we’re calling Standing Up for Journalists. We need your help, too.

The idea, in brief, is to get displaced journalists — as well as business-side colleagues — some of the career advice, coaching on craft and values, and hands-on training they need to forge a future in journalism.

Poynter may seek foundation funding to expand the effort, depending on demand.

But first, we need to get a clearer picture of what people need.

So if you’ve left a journalism-related job in the last couple of years — or face a layoff or buyout in the near future — please click on coaching@poynter.org and provide us with as much of the following as possible.… Read more