September 26, 2019

In Charleston, South Carolina, The Post and Courier cut down on the number of stories published each day and grew digital subscriptions by 250%.

In Los Angeles, LAist turned a radio fundraising model into one for digital audiences and raised more than $40,000 in one campaign.

And in Whiteville, North Carolina, The News Reporter changed from a twice-weekly print newsroom into a digital newsroom where revenue lost from advertising has been replaced with revenue gained from circulation.

Those newsrooms all took part in a program that’s about to get a big boost.

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On Thursday, The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund announced a $3.3 million, three-year grant to the American Press Institute to “scale the program by making its core lessons more widely accessible, developing new coaches, and creating a stronger peer network of alumni,” according to a press release. (Disclosure: My work covering local news is funded in part by the Knight Foundation, Poynter receives funding from the Lenfest Institute and Poynter is a Table Stakes — see below — training partner.)

The program, also known as Table Stakes, has worked with more than 70 local newsrooms since launching in 2015. Now Poynter, the University of North Carolina and Arizona State University all have their own versions of the program.

“Amid all the reform efforts in journalism over the last generation, this program has been singularly effective,” said Tom Rosenstiel, API’s executive director, in an email to Poynter. “It has transformed how people work, shifted the culture of a variety of organizations and introduced important concepts to the news industry. The program has even added to the bottom line of any number of publishers.”

Related training: The Media Transformation Challenge Program

The work now, he said, is to scale the program, coordinate partners, train new coaches, “ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are understood as key to transformation,” and create a peer network for participants. API, which hosts the website Better News, will also build a central website for the program.

Under API’s leadership, “the program is being expanded to include new emphasis on newsroom diversity, new product development, and deeper community engagement, each fundamental to sustaining important local news in America,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director and CEO of the Lenfest Institute, in an email.

That emphasis on newsroom diversity includes partnering with the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, which recently got a $1.2 million grant for its diversity and inclusion program.

When the project first launched in 2015, it was clear that a few things really worked, said Jennifer Preston, vice president of Journalism at Knight, in a phone call.

They include:

  • Peer-to-peer learning
  • Bringing business leaders and newsroom leaders together
  • Changing workflows to help newsrooms meet new digital realities

Adding diversity, equity and inclusion into newsrooms is critical, Preston said, because building new audiences requires building trust and serving all the members of different communities, “and that just simply has not been the case in city after city, in town after town.”

In January, the Knight Foundation announced an additional $300 million over the next five years toward rebuilding local news ecosystems. Last week, the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund announced $2 million for News Catalyst, a project at Temple University aimed at helping local newsrooms with technology.

“The seven Table Stakes provide the framework for the ‘what’ of digital transformation and the program’s challenge-centric approach provides the organizational ‘how’, but it’s really the conviction, fortitude and learnings of the scores of Table Stakes teams that have made the program successful in setting their news organizations on paths to sustainability,” said Quentin Hope, the co-founder and co-leader of the program.

Doug Smith, also a co-founder and co-leader, said it’s been a pleasure to work with so many local newsrooms.

“Now, with API’s leadership and the continued support of Knight and Lenfest, many, many more local news groups have the opportunity to benefit as well.”

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news at She can be reached at or on Twitter at @kristenhare

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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