November 1, 2017

The Cohort is a Poynter newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Hi there, friends! You might have noticed that I didn’t send out this newsletter last Thursday like usual. And now it’s a Wednesday and you’re getting a Cohort issue and nothing makes sense. I know.

You’re receiving The Cohort today because APPLICATIONS ARE OPEN for the fourth annual Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media! Excuse me while I dance in my office chair.

For the uninitiated, the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media is a tuition-free, weeklong program held here at Poynter in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s where this newsletter originated. The program is open to 28 women leaders who are chosen from a competitive application process. On average, we get 400 applications for those spots.

We get a lot of interest and questions about this program. Should I apply? What does the week look like? Why is it off-the-record? This newsletter — this unexpected Wednesday issue — is here to answer all those questions and more.

Should I apply?

The short answer is: Yes! If you’re a woman working in news, you should. Take it from Sara and Kelsey.

The longer answer is: Most likely, yes. The goal of the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media is to help participants move up the leadership path in their newsrooms. If you have direct reports or other leadership responsibilities (say, training interns or leading project teams), then you’re an ideal candidate for the academy.

We also give preference to candidates who have previously applied to the program. Like last year, the academy is open to English-speaking candidates worldwide.

What else are you looking for?

We strongly value diversity among each year’s class. We look for a group that represents diversity in ethnicity, age, location, newsroom size and focus, and skill sets. We look for women who are well respected by their colleagues and peers — candidates who are committed to improving the places where they work.

We take all aspects of the application into consideration, but judges especially pay attention to the project descriptions (pro tip: tell us how you were a leader with these projects!) and letters of recommendation.

What are the dates I need to know?

Applications are open from now until the end of November. We’ll close applications at 11:59 p.m. ET on Nov. 30.

We’ll announce the 2018 class in mid-January. Applicants will hear whether they were accepted or not before the public announcement.

Next year’s program will be held March 18-23 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Participants are expected to attend the full week.

How much does it cost?

Thanks to the generous support of The McClatchy Foundation, Knight Foundation and Newmark Philanthropies, the program is tuition-free. Participants are expected to cover travel and accommodations, but there are a limited number of stipends available to help with those costs.

What makes this year’s program special?

The faculty lineup is amazing. We’ve got Manoush Zomorodi, Jessica Bennett, Lisa Respers France and Millie Tran on board, with more speakers to come.

We’ll devote more time during and after the week to one-on-one coaching and career development. Topics for the 2018 program will include managing burnout and responding to sexual harassment. Like in past years, participants will receive personalized leadership feedback and focus on the skills needed to move to the next level of their careers.

The week isn’t spent entirely in the classroom. We’ll kick things off with a keynote speech and cocktail hour, host dinners and other special events in the evenings, and organize at least one beach outing. There’s also a chance you might see a baby manatee or play shuffleboard. Florida has its perks, y’all!

Can you give me more reasons this program is awesome?

You bet! Maybe one of the best things about the academy is that it’s off-the-record. That allows participants and speakers to open up and be honest about the challenges they face in their newsrooms and careers. That vulnerability has produced some amazing conversations and lasting connections among participants over the years.

I feel weird bragging about the academy, so I’ll let some participants from last year’s class do the honors.

“Until I participated in the Leadership Academy, I always deferred to others when women asked me to mentor them,” wrote Vera Bergengruen, national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News. “I sincerely didn't think I could help them or had anything to contribute, given that my own career path seemed like a patchwork of trial and error. I laughed off that anyone would ask me for advice. But spending a week with these women leaders — and being able to be there because a female colleague had vouched for me — made me realize how important that is."

“This is the most thoughtful program I’ve ever been a part of,” wrote Chao Li, G9M’s product manager of emerging platforms. “I honestly do not have the words to describe what this means to me. I'm humbled by the experience.”

“I've done things I never would have considered before Poynter. I pitched ideas for two conferences and both were accepted! I started work on creating a copycat Leadership Academy in Iowa so that I can have a cohort of women closer to me,” wrote Sara Konrad Baronowski, editor of the Iowa Falls Times Citizen. “The Leadership Academy finally gave me leadership and management training — something I'd never received. And I use it every single day.”

Running this program is such an honor. It is beyond inspiring to see participants do amazing things in their careers and support others as they navigate their own career ups and downs.

I wish we could accept every single person into this program (we’re working on it!), but in the meantime, please take the time to invest in yourself and your career. It’s an invaluable opportunity.


P.S.  If you have more questions about the 2018 Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, you can email

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Katie Hawkins-Gaar was Poynter's digital innovation faculty member. She ran the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media and was one half of the duo…
Katie Hawkins-Gaar

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