Karen Dunlap, who has led the Poynter Institute since 2003, announced to staff Monday she plans to retire in January. “We need to take some big steps,” Dunlap told Poynter’s faculty and staff. “And I think it’s time for somebody else to do that.”
Dunlap first came to Poynter for a seminar in the 1980s. “It was wonderful,” she said in an interview. “It was life-changing.”
At the end of that week, Dunlap, who has been a reporter at the Macon News, the Nashville Banner and the St. Petersburg Times, mentioned she was leading a student writing project in Nashville, Tenn. Poynter had just lost the person who headed its own program, and soon Dunlap took on the role.
A lot has changed during her time at Poynter, Dunlap said, including the changes that have most impacted journalism in general — the move to digital.
And like the industry, Poynter’s also undergoing transformation, Dunlap said, and moving to be self-funding.
Back when she first came to Poynter, the institute was located in an old bank building on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. The place was quite unremarkable. But the experience and the work was not, she said.
People visiting now often remark on the beauty of Poynter’s current home, but Dunlap thinks her own experience shows it’s not about the physical space.
“The beauty and meaning of Poynter is not the building,” Dunlap says. “It’s the people.”
Dunlap became dean of Poynter in 1994 after a year as interim dean.
In 2012 Dunlap told the Tampa Tribune’s Richard Mullins the past few years “have been difficult times” for the institute, which has seen lower income from the Tampa Bay Times, which it owns. Later that year Poynter named Christine Martin the president of the Poynter Foundation, aimed at bringing philanthropic support to the Institute.
“Karen deserves a thunderous round of applause from the Poynter Institute, and from journalists far and wide,” Poynter chair and Tampa Bay Times CEO Paul Tash said in a statement. “Building on her superb work, the next president will have the chance to play an enormously important role both at Poynter and in the world of journalism.”
Dunlap intends to “keep working on educational achievement of children and teens, including her 12 grandchildren,” a release from Poynter says. She plans to keep writing and teaching and “spend time each day learning new skills on NewsU.org,’” she says in a statement.
After a decade of leading the Poynter Institute in new paths as president, and an earlier decade as dean, Karen B. Dunlap, 62, said she will retire in January.
“It is a good time for me and for the Institute,” Dunlap said.
“We have expanded our reach to engage citizens, technology innovators, and those in legacy media on matters of journalism practices and values. We help leaders negotiate seismic news media changes and we’ve stayed on mission in the midst of our own transformation. We have raised our profile as a global leader in promoting excellent journalism.“
Nelson Poynter founded the Institute 38 years ago and placed it in ownership of his newspaper, now the Tampa Bay Times. His was a creative step to assure independent ownership of the news organization and to provide on-going education for working journalists. The Institute maintains the spirit of innovation through journalism in its array of in-person and digital programs.
Paul Tash, the chairman of the Poynter Institute trustees, praised Dunlap’s service and said the trustees would soon begin the selection of her successor.
“Karen deserves a thunderous round of applause from the Poynter Institute, and from journalists far and wide,” said Tash, who is also the CEO and chairman of the Tampa Bay Times. “Building on her superb work, the next president will have the chance to play an enormously important role both at Poynter and in the world of journalism.”
In 2005 Dunlap invited New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger to an evening at Poynter for questions from the public.
He came; so did the public and Community Conversations followed. Over the years guests included Tom Brokaw, Gwen Ifill, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Bob Woodward, Soledad O’Brien, Cokie Roberts and Dave Barry.
The Institute offers other programs for the public, some with news organizations in Washington, D.C. and Seattle. The underlying message in all is that journalism is critical to a healthy democracy.
“That message is even more important today,” Dunlap said.
As news and advertising shifted to digital platforms, Poynter added to its industry leading site, Poynter.org, and the array of courses on NewsU.org, the groundbreaking electronic teaching platform founded with support from the Knight Foundation.
Dunlap introduced development efforts at Poynter with individual and corporate support, as well as grants from the Knight, McCormick, Ford, and MacArthur foundations, and others. The Institute formed the Poynter Foundation last year to further garner support.
During the last decade the Institute began taking its courses and workshops to news organizations and other businesses in custom programs. International efforts include regular attendees from Scandinavia, long-term programs in South Africa, and new projects in India. Eye-track and tablet research provide new understanding of user behavior. Courses in leadership, journalism skills and digital tools continue to draw participants to St. Petersburg as do major convenings such as one on The Future of News Audiences scheduled for January.
While reaching out to the world, Poynter continues elementary, middle school and high school programs for its region. Three years ago Dunlap met with owners of the Tampa Bay Rays and created The Write Field to address the high dropout rate of African-American and Latino middle school boys in St. Petersburg. Community involvement and support allow boys to improve writing skills and character. Using what it has learned, the Institute is exploring a digital curriculum to assist other Florida communities in similar programs.
“Life has been busy,” Dunlap said. In retirement she plans to keep working on educational achievement of children and teens, including her 12 grandchildren. She expects to write, engage in some university teaching, consult and “spend time each day learning new skills on NewsU.org.
“I’m very proud of Poynter’s achievements,” she said, “and expect greater things ahead.”