June 21, 2019

“Are we going to be bought and sold? Are we going to be dismantled? Will this organization even survive?”

Those are the questions deputy editor/online Vicky Ho asked herself in 2017 when the Anchorage Daily News filed for bankruptcy. At the time, Ho and her colleagues had recently begun Poynter’s nine-month Table Stakes program.

“We came out of that summer of uncertainty with new ownership,” Ho said. “We also had layoffs. So there were a lot of distractions for us that first year, that first round of Table Stakes.”

The leadership team at Anchorage Daily News decided to try the program again. Last month, they completed their second year. The result?

“I think there’s buy-in across the organization,” Ho said. “And we’re making money now.”

Poynter’s marketing team caught up with Ho on the final day of Table Stakes to see how the experience impacted her organization’s transformation.

The final day to apply for the 2019/2020 Poynter Table Stakes program is Monday, June 24. Learn more.

It’s the last day of Table Stakes. How was your experience overall?

It’s been really positive. There are a lot of lessons that I think all of the news organizations have come away with. Our challenges are different. But we also face a lot of the same struggles.

It’s been really great to come back after a year and see how much progress everyone has made and the success stories they’ve had through the challenges of layoffs, downsizing and disruption of the business.

How has the culture shifted in your newsroom?

We have a shared vision now across all departments that we didn’t necessarily have a year ago, two years ago. It’s such a radical change in how we operate: We think about what goals we are setting and how what every person does at every level of the organization contributes to that overall goal. It all kind of fits together a little better.

And I think with that, you have more people invested in its success and in its future.

What was your No. 1 takeaway?

That this is hard! It’s really amazing to see what kind of transformative change can happen. But it is really hard. It takes a lot of work.

From your perspective, what makes this program unique?

You have a lot of different organizations in the room that you normally wouldn’t have … people representing different sides of the operation: editorial, advertising, circulation, you might have the publisher. To get all these people in a room talking to each other, I think that’s something that’s really unique. Even if you go to conferences, you don’t often see publishers at the same conferences as producers or editors.

And to kind of cross-pollinate ideas is fascinating and hugely productive. I find that the more people I talk to, the more ideas that I come away with for how our own organization can improve and be sustainable.

Would you recommend the program?

I would totally recommend the program. Our industry is a fascinating place. I know there’s a lot of uncertainty out there. But this kind of helps give you a path forward, and a way to address challenges and overcome them head-on.

Is it worth the time and money to do this?

Yes. But I will say it is a lot of time. And it is work. But it is worth that investment. I mean, it pays dividends on the amount of time I put into this.

In fact, the Anchorage Daily News came back for another year. What was the benefit?

We were so glad we did because you get the support from the groups. We are an independently owned organization. We’re not part of a chain. We don’t have the resources that come with being part of a chain, so often it’s like, “Do you know how to do this?” “No, I don’t know how to do this.” “Do we know someone who does?”

That question was a lot easier to answer after participating in Table Stakes.

The final day to apply for the 2019/2020 Poynter Table Stakes program is Monday, June 24. Learn more.


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Mel Grau is the senior product specialist at The Poynter Institute, focusing on Poynter's training experiences and newsletters. She previously edited The Cohort, Poynter’s biweekly…
Mel Grau

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