Media Transformation Challenge: A Poynter Institute Executive Fellowship (2023)



Media Transformation Challenge: A Poynter Institute Executive Fellowship (2023)

Since 2007, more than 300 senior media executives have realized critical performance results, built life-long career skills and relationships, and made major contributions to industry transformation through this yearlong program (formerly operated as the original Punch Sulzberger Program at Columbia).

January 9, 2023– January 8, 2024


  • As a senior news executive, identify and pursue the most significant business performance challenge you face.
  • Deliver real results with help from MTC’s world-class tools, concepts, coaches, peer group and alumni network.
  • Build your lifelong leadership capacity through actually achieving outcomes.
  • Join a community of hundreds of alumni, who have made enormous contributions to reshape the journalism industry.
  • Hold yourself accountable with regular coaching calls and online peer group check-ins.
  • Travel to Poynter in St. Petersburg, Florida, for four in-person summits.
  • Apply for this yearlong executive fellowship program by Dec. 2, 2022.


SKU: MTC-23 Category: Tags: ,

Learning Outcomes

With help from highly experienced coaches and deep ties to your peer group, you will learn:

  • A repeatable set of tools and concepts to deliver results and transformation
  • How to build your own leadership capacity as you actually lead the accomplishment of your challenge
  • Pragmatic, carefully curated tools of strategy, innovation, organizational change, racial equity and personal leadership




  • As a senior news executive, identify and pursue the most significant business performance challenge you face.
  • Deliver real results with help from MTC’s world-class tools, concepts, coaches, peer group and alumni network.
  • Build your lifelong leadership capacity through actually achieving outcomes.
  • Join a community of hundreds of alumni, who have made enormous contributions to reshape the journalism industry.
  • Hold yourself accountable with regular coaching calls and online peer group check-ins.
  • Travel to Poynter in St. Petersburg, Florida, for four in-person summits.
  • Apply for this yearlong executive fellowship program by Dec. 2, 2022.

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If you want to steer your organization toward a new level of success, build your lifelong leadership capacity with world class coaching, and become part of an incredible inter-connected alumni network, it’s time for you to join the Media Transformation Challenge (MTC) program at Poynter.

Since 2007, the MTC program has had unparalleled impact on the journalism world.

Virtually anywhere you go, whatever conferences you might attend, MTC Fellows and alumni are prominent in sharing their performance results, insights, and innovations as they help lead industry transformation — in their organizations and across the media world.

Note: From 2007-2018, MTC was widely known as the original Punch Sulzberger Program at Columbia Journalism School. Since 2019, Columbia has operated a substantially different program called Sulzberger, that is unrelated to MTC in tools, approach, leadership, alumni relationships and impact. 

What makes MTC special

MTC alumni include Neal Carruth, Executive VP/General Manager, Freakonomics Radio Network, and S. Mitra Kalita, Co-Founder/CEO of URL Media.

Most executive programs focus on their particular curriculum, with the hope that something will change back home. It rarely does, at least not compared to upfront expectations, and cost in time and money.

Our program turns this paradigm on its head. In MTC, Fellows are required to select and pursue an urgent, compelling measurable performance challenge (not a project or a “pitch,” but outcomes). Everything else — our tools and concepts, coaching, peer relationships, and the alumni network — are there to help you make that happen, with a caring dose of peer and program accountability to reinforce your own commitment. 

Our performance-driven, challenge-centric approach, pioneered by Doug Smith and coaching colleagues, is unique in the media industry and beyond. It helps account for the extraordinary accomplishments of over 325 Fellows, and the common tools, disciplines, language, alumni community, and coaching relationships they share. Meet another Fellow? You will have an immediate connection and common understanding that makes collaboration so much easier.

Many now-common innovations in journalism either got their start or accelerated their development as part of the program. These include NPR’s Code Switch, CIR’s Reveal, the News Revenue Hub, NAHJ’s palabra, Report for the World, ABC News’ use of one-person bureaus, Columbia Global Reports, Gannett/McClatchy’s Table Stakes program, the AP Video Hub, the Pulitzer Center’s education arm, Hearken, The NewStart Alliance, Subtext, News Product Alliance, El Tímpano and others.

[RELATED: Listen to Benjamin Wagner, 2014 MTC Fellow, talk with NPR’s Neal Carruth, 2019 MTC Fellow, in this episode of the Friends & Neighbors podcast]

Today’s most crucial journalism challenges demand focus and persistence over time. You can’t expect to change your enterprise in shorter-term efforts of three to four months, especially if those efforts dwell only on helping you make a pitch or learning technical skills or tactics. In MTC, you won’t be busy with checklists and technical projects over a few weeks, or tons of reading and lectures. Rather, you will focus deeply on strategic performance challenges right at the heart of your journalistic enterprise, and indeed the industry itself.

The MTC value proposition: Increasing the odds

MTC’s fundamental value proposition is helping Fellows increase the odds of success at the challenges they and their organizations most need to achieve. Early wins – within weeks of the opening session – build insights, momentum, and Fellows’ own confidence to realize larger scale outcomes and change. Additional tools and concepts are introduced in absorbable chunks over the year — such that Fellows are much more likely to achieve success and learn a core set of tools. Your challenges are the program’s yearlong case studies, and everyone’s invested in each others’ success.

Fellows also grow as leaders by actually leading the accomplishment of outcomes that matter to your organizations, of whatever size or type. Not simply by talking or reading about leadership, though we do. Not simply through coaching, which we facilitate with multiple, diverse and deeply experienced coaches. And not simply with curriculum, which we originated and adapted over the last 16 years.

Instead, you will develop your leadership capacity by holding yourself and other Fellows accountable to achieving their own unique strategic performance challenges. Our approach offers Fellows the perspectives, tools, relationships and confidence needed for foundational, career-lasting success. This helps explain why so many alumni hold senior, influential positions in for-profit, nonprofit and public media organizations — and also why alumni have gone on to initiate so many impactful shifts in the industry including, for example, Report for America, STAT, URL Media and Blue Engine Collaborative.

[RELATED: A Q&A with URL Media co-founders S. Mitra Kalita and Sara Lomax-Reese about connecting during the Media Transformation Challenge Program]

MTC leaders and alumni have spawned many other challenge-centric programs that use MTC performance-driven tools and approaches. These include the cluster of Table Stakes programs in the United States and Europe, and various well-known accelerator programs. MTC has contributed to, and draws upon, insights and relationships across all these initiatives.

Our coaching team, with deep ties to these alumni since 2007, fosters alumni connections relevant to your own performance challenge and matches you with leaders who share your personal interests. A spirit of generosity, openness and connectedness is at the core.

So when you enter MTC, you simultaneously enter a broad community of leaders and organizations at the center of journalism’s transformation.

A unique approach to performance-driven change

We build the entire MTC program around real performance challenges confronting the news enterprises of Fellows in the program. Along with our alumni community, this is the differentiator of our program.

Each Fellow selects and commits to unique, outcome-driven performance challenge, using criteria such as “one of the most urgent, crucial challenges confronting the enterprise.” 

Beginning with the first session, Fellows apply pragmatic tools of strategy, innovation, organizational change, racial equity and personal leadership to identify and articulate their overall “from/to” performance challenges — and then quickly and steadily accomplish important outcomes against them. It’s easy to get excited over a set of ideas and plans; it’s entirely different to translate them into outcomes that matter.

Four multi-day sessions over the course of the year, plus a two-day wrap-up, are used for participants to share progress, absorb just-in-time content, and help each other move “up the S-curve” towards performance challenge outcomes.

Each Fellow receives individualized coaching from highly experienced coaches deeply familiar with the tools and concepts in a broad array of applications. Our coaches:

  • Help Fellows select the most appropriate performance challenge for their MTC experience
  • Offer just-in-time assistance with the program tools throughout the year, geared to S-curve progress
  • Serve as confidantes regarding Fellows’ own leadership style and effectiveness
  • Hold participants accountable for their commitment to meaningful results and personal learning — well beyond what could be achieved without the program
  • Connect Fellows to the MTC alumni network and alumni of similar performance-driven programs

Each coach is deeply grounded in the tools of performance-driven change. Each also brings specialty expertise and relationships, whether in strategy, leadership, business models, public media or racial justice. Though one coach will be your “primary” coach, you’ll have access to all coaches, who also deliver much of our unique and curated curriculum.


For questions relating to Poynter or travel, please email

For questions relating to the MTC program, please email

MTC Fellows meet four times a year for four to five days each. These sessions take place in January, March, June and September of 2023, with a final wrap-up in January 2024. Most sessions will take place in person at Poynter’s campus in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Between sessions, we will have periodic virtual small group sessions for Fellows to share progress on their performance challenges. We also will offer content-related pop-up sessions for Fellows who want to go deeper on a particular topic.

Key dates (subject to minor change):

  • January 9-13, 2023
  • March 13-17, 2023
  • June 12-16, 2023
  • September 18-22, 2023
  • January 6-8, 2024

How the program unfolds

January 2023

Jan. 9-13, 2023 is the kick-off week. Incoming 2023 Fellows overlap with the graduating 2022 MTC Fellows to build relationships and learn from their program experience. We then introduce MTC’s essential tools, frameworks and insights about leading performance-driven change, fault lines, strategy, and innovation. This is the first exposure to the key vocabulary and mindset common across all MTC Fellows. In large and small group sessions, Fellows apply tools to their own situation and initial sense of their performance challenges. Fellows also plan for early wins to be achieved prior to the March session, so that they can test ideas, achieve results, and build confidence for more. There also is plenty of time for socializing and building connections amongst your cohort.

Between January and March, Fellows simultaneously “design” (begin developing approaches to their overall challenge) and “do” (achieve wins against initial challenge articulation). During this time, Fellows engage in a series of coaching calls to get a clearer idea of the forces at work for their challenge, key gaps, “from-to” assessments, desired outcomes, who will be involved, and a sense of readiness and resistance. Coaches also will discuss Fellows’ own personal growth objectives for development through their performance challenges.

March 2023

The March session focuses on debriefing early wins and helping Fellows think further about their performance challenge for the year. Curriculum is introduced just-in-time – in particular related to schools of strategy for further challenge development, personal leadership dynamics, and thoughts on building momentum. Also, each Fellow presents their first “update” that helps others understand their organization, their role, progress made thus far, and further observations about performance challenge development.

June 2023

The June session focuses on mid S-curve dynamics. By this point, Fellows will have made substantial progress against their challenges — they will also have run into obstacles and opportunities as their challenges unfold. Roughly half the session will be devoted to challenge updates and peer conversation. The other half is dedicated to concepts of negotiation and influence, performance scorecards, personal leadership effectiveness, and ways to exploit momentum.

By this juncture Fellows also will have built more comprehensive approaches to their challenges, based on our hallmark mix of “design/do” loops. We also work on identifying each Fellow’s “crux” – the dynamics they will need to resolve in order to realize continued success.

September 2023

By September, Fellows are well up the S-curve and enjoying the outcomes of their efforts. We use the September session for sharing progress, showing how the tools come together at increasingly sophisticated levels, and reinforcing Fellows’ confidence in the skillset they now have. This session is also the “last call” for changes in approach, and “first call” for looking into 2023.

January 2024

At the final session in January 2024, Fellows present their results and insights, and receive their certificate of completion. In addition, Fellows describe their “next performance challenge” moving forward, and use this as we review and reinforce the core approaches of the program.

Throughout the year, Fellows are provided detailed assignments designed to drive success at the challenges. In addition, the coaches regularly speak with Fellows to assess progress, identify and address issues and provide guidance.

Who should apply

The Media Transformation Challenge Program is designed for senior news executives selected by their enterprises (of all sizes and types) to lead success against one of the most crucial challenges faced by the enterprise. Our philosophy is that “leaders grow as leaders by leading something real,” and alumni have built on their success as Fellows in the program to go on to positions of ever-expanding opportunity and authority.

Participants are from both the editorial and business sides of many different kinds of news enterprises in the U.S. and abroad, including national broadcast networks, worldwide wire services, local/state/national broadcast stations, national newspapers, social media companies, and start-up businesses and nonprofits serving this marketplace.

Our alumni include:

Ashley Suh Alvarado – VP Community Engagement, Southern California Public Radio
Amanda Barrett – Deputy Managing Editor, Associated Press
Samantha Barry – Editor in Chief, Glamour
Monica Bauerlein – CEO, Mother Jones
Neil Brown – President, The Poynter Institute
Sally Buzbee – Executive Editor, The Washington Post
Fiona Campbell – Controller (Head) BBC 3
Alfredo Carbajal – Managing Editor, Al Día / The Dallas Morning News
Brian Carovillano – Managing Editor, Associated Press
Andrew DeVigal – Chair, Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement, University of Oregon
Tim Griggs – Founder & CEO, Blue Engine Collaborative
Anya Grundmann – SVP of Programming, NPR
Sara Just – Executive Producer, PBS NewsHour
S. Mitra Kalita – Founder of Epicenter and co-founder, URL Media
Aine Kerr – Co-founder, Kinzen
Mark Lacey – Managing Editor, The New York Times
Alberto Mendoza – Managing Director for the John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford
Ben Monnie – Director of Global Partnership Solutions, Google
Andrew Morse – EVP of CNN US and General Manager of CNN Digital Worldwide
Jonathan Munro – Head of Newsgathering, BBC
Sara Lomax-Reese – President of WURD, co-founder of URL Media
Christa Scharfenberg – CEO, Reveal/CIR
Charlie Sennott – Founder, The GroundTruth Project, Co-founder, Report for America
Kerry Smith – SVP of Editorial Quality, ABC News
Patrick Stiegman – Vice President and Editorial Director, Global Digital Content, ESPN
Mackenzie Warren – Senior Director of News Strategy, USA Today Network
Irving Washington – Executive Director/CEO, Online News Association

Click here to see a complete list of participants since 2007.

Application process

The MTC program regularly reaches capacity. The key step is to complete the interest form which will be reviewed by the Executive Director Charlie Baum. Charlie will contact you to schedule a brief conversation in which you will discuss your interest in the program, any questions you have about it, and a proposed challenge you face that can serve as the focal point of your participation. If both parties think you would benefit from the program, you will be invited to apply.

In addition to the phone call with Charlie and completing the application form, we require a letter of support from the applicant’s supervisor as well as a financial commitment.

The deadline to apply is Dec. 2, 2022. Fellows will be accepted on a rolling basis. Therefore, we encourage interested candidates to inquire and apply early.

Program cost

The MTC program is an investment of $29,750. This includes multi-day in-person sessions, multiple “pop-up” content and peer meetings, and regular, highly individualized executive coaching over the course of one year — as well as inclusion in the alumni network. A limited number of scholarships are available.


Program Leadership and Coaches

  • Charlie Baum
    Executive Director
    Charlie Baum has been associated with MTC since the very opening dinner of the Sulzberger program in January 2007.  While helping build the foundation, accomplishments,...
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  • Amanda Barrett
    Amanda Barrett is passionate about serving audiences and ensuring that journalism reflects the wide diversity of the world we live in. She is vice president...
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  • Karen Gordon
    Karen Gordon is the founder of Strategic Horizons, Inc., providing strategic, organizational, and communication guidance, as well as executive coaching, to a wide range of...
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  • Lauren Gustus
    Lauren Gustus became executive editor of The Salt Lake Tribune in the fall of 2020. The Utah news organization was the first and remains the...
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  • Quentin Hope
    Quentin Hope is an independent consultant with over 25 years of experience serving clients across a broad range of industries and organizations in the areas...
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  • Stéphane Mayoux
    Stéphane Mayoux is an executive coach whose professional DNA is rooted in 25 years of BBC international journalism. Stéphane has been closely supporting media companies...
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  • Robyn Tomlin
    Robyn Tomlin is a veteran journalist, media executive and leader with a passion for using performance-driven change efforts to help news organizations transform and grow....
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  • Tasha Wilmore
    MTC Admin Support
    Tasha Wilmore, is the owner of Help On Deck, a virtual administrative and event logistics support company. Wilmore, a US Army veteran, is passionate about...
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  • Doug Smith
    Doug Smith is the founding executive director and architect of the Media Transformation Challenge. His challenge-centric design draws on more than three decades of helping...
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