January 15, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Jan. 15, 2021) —  The Poynter Institute, a global leader in journalism, fact-checking and media literacy education, is pleased to announce the 20 media executives selected for the 2021 Media Transformation Challenge (MTC) Program: A Poynter Institute Executive Fellowship.

The MTC program began as the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University in 2007 under the direction of program architect Douglas K. Smith. It officially moved to Poynter in 2020. Smith retired at the end of 2020, and longtime coach and operating director Charlie Baum is the new executive director.

The 2021 Fellows represent some of the biggest media brands in the world, including The Associated Press, ABC News, BBC and CNN, influential journalism associations, nonprofit news organizations and local news across medium. The incoming class, which completed its first online training session of the yearlong program this week, is the most racially diverse cohort of Fellows in the program’s 14-year history. The program thanks the support of the Google News Initiative, the Knight Foundation, leaders from long-time participant organizations, and program alumni who have led the way in this arena.

“The 2020 class achieved tremendous outcomes and innovation in a really turbulent year,” said Baum. “They leaned right into the program’s challenge-driven approach, tough but caring peer group, and deeply experienced coaches in a period of serious pivoting and huge opportunities. The 2021 Fellows bring similar challenges to the program, and we’re eager to jump right in.”

The executive coaches include Karen Gordon, Quentin Hope and Fran Scarlett.

While there is a core curriculum of tools and concepts that endure and evolve over time, the MTC program is built around real challenges confronting the news enterprises of Fellows in the program. In 2020, that included ramping up essential coverage while working remotely, boosting digital operations and focusing on racial equity in journalism. Outgoing 2020 Fellows met with the incoming Fellows early this week to network and share accomplishments and insights about the experience.

“As a 2019 MTC Fellow, I know firsthand how valuable this alumni network can be as the industry continues to navigate both challenge and change,” said Poynter president Neil Brown. “I’m proud of Poynter’s affiliation with Charlie, the coaches, and this prestigious MTC program — both through our established online learning communities and as a physical meeting place to spark innovation when the time comes to gather together again in person.”

The 2021-22 MTC program has 20 Fellows, several supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Google News Initiative. We welcome the incoming MTC Fellows:

  • Becca Aaronson, Interim President, News Product Alliance (GNI Grantee)
  • Shelley Acoca, Global News Manager, Associated Press
  • David Allan, Editorial Director, CNN Features
  • Madeleine Bair, Founding Director, El Tímpano (GNI Grantee)
  • Cynthia Benjamin, Director of Audience Engagement & Trust, Gannett (recipient of Knight support)
  • Jahna Berry, Chief Operating Officer, Mother Jones
  • Alison Bethel McKenzie, Director of Corps Excellence, Ground Truth/Report for America
  • Meg Coker, Editor in Chief, The Current (GNI Grantee)
  • Emiliana Garcia, Manager, Centro LatinoAmericano de Investigación Periodística (GNI Grantee)
  • Felecia Henderson, Table Stakes Coordinator, Maynard Institute (GNI Grantee)
  • Penda Howell, Chief Revenue Officer / Head of Sales & Adv., New York Amsterdam News (GNI Grantee)
  • Rupa Jha, Head of Indian Languages, BBC
  • Pam Johnston, General Manager for News, WGBH
  • Lisa Matthews, Assignment Manager, U.S. Video, Associated Press
  • Cat McKenzie, Executive Producer GMA3 & ABCNL, ABC News
  • Krishna Nair, Director of Business & Product Strategy, CNN
  • Simon Peeks, Editor, BBC
  • Carolyn Robinson, Regional Director, Newsroom Practice Change, Solutions Journalism Network (GNI Grantee)
  • Naomi Tacuyan Underwood, Executive Director, Asian American Journalists Association (recipient of Knight support)
  • Seni Tienabeso, Executive Producer, ABC News

About The Poynter Institute

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is a global leader in journalism education and a strategy center that stands for uncompromising excellence in journalism, media and 21st-century public discourse. Poynter faculty teach seminars and workshops at the Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and at newsrooms, conferences and organizations around the world. Its e-learning division, News University, offers the world’s largest online journalism curriculum, with hundreds of interactive courses and tens of thousands of registered international users. The Institute’s website produces 24-hour coverage about media, ethics, technology and the business of news. Poynter is the home of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership, the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, the International Fact-Checking Network and MediaWise, a digital information literacy project for young people, first-time voters and senior citizens. The world’s top journalists and media innovators rely on Poynter to learn and teach new generations of reporters, storytellers, media inventors, designers, visual journalists, documentarians and broadcasters. This work builds public awareness about journalism, media, the First Amendment and discourse that serves democracy and the public good. Learn more at poynter.org.


Media Contact:

Tina Dyakon
Director of Marketing
The Poynter Institute


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