The 2021 Media Transformation Challenge (MTC) Program: A Poynter Institute Executive Fellowship

DEADLINE: Nov. 20, 2020
TEACHING DATES: Jan. 2021 — Jan. 2022
LOCATION: Online and at the Poynter Institute
COST: $28,500

(Note: The 2021 program will begin online, adjusting as COVID-19 conditions evolve)

The instantaneous transformation of the media industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic is unmatched in modern history. Everything — not just the news — happens online now. From meetings and collaboration to live broadcasts and events, news organizations are relying on digital innovation more than ever. The pursuit of racial equity also has become central to news organization success, with increased urgency and centrality.

Luckily, there is a proven formula for navigating change and responding to performance challenges brought on by the digital tsunami. For fifteen years, Doug Smith and his coaching colleagues have brought his challenge-centric and performance-driven methodology to journalism through the The Media Transformation Challenge (MTC) Program.

The program launched in 2007 (from 2007-2018, it was widely known as The Punch Sulzberger Program) in response to increasingly severe pressures for industry transformation. Since then, hundreds of Fellows from scores of media enterprises have used the program to deliver real performance results, new capabilities and crucial change to their organizations.

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

Virtually anywhere you go, whatever conferences you might attend, MTC alumni will be prominent in sharing their performance results, insights, and innovations. In addition, MTC alumni and coaches have spawned a number of other challenge-centric transformation efforts.  These include the cluster of Table Stakes programs in the United States and Europe, various Facebook and Google News Initiative accelerator programs, and, more recently, the Oasis project to help local news start-ups gain traction. Insights from these programs also inform the MTC experience.

The fundamental value proposition of the program has been — and continues to be — to help participants and their media organizations substantially increase the odds of accomplishing success at the core performance challenges and opportunities they face. As 2020 Fellows faced the pandemic, plus intense focus on issues of racial equity, the choice became stark — are you better off with a proven methodology, highly experienced executive coach, and unparalleled supportive peer group — or not? Fellow accomplishments in the 2020 program, and going back to 2007, speak for themselves.

Performance challenges are identified by each MTC Fellow and are unique to their organization, but they typically relate to achieving measurable outcomes regarding:

  • New audiences (including previously underserved and mis-served) and deeper audience engagement
  • Innovations in products, services, core workflows, journalism, partnering, technology, and business models to serve these audiences
  • New sources of revenue and growth
  • Stronger organizational capacity to transform and change moving forward
  • More numerous and effective networks and ecosystems

Peer interaction and access to the extraordinarily accomplished alumni network are also essential and highly valued components of the program.

A unique approach to performance-driven change

While there is a core curriculum of tools and concepts that endure and evolve over time, we build the entire MTC program around real challenges confronting the news enterprises of Fellows in the program. This is the differentiator of our program.

From the very first session, Fellows apply pragmatic concepts of strategy, innovation, organizational change, racial equity and personal leadership to identify and articulate a performance challenge — and then quickly and steadily accomplish important outcomes against those challenges. It’s easy to get excited over a set of ideas; it’s entirely different to translate tools into outcomes.

Four five-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 final outcomes.

(Note: See Program Timeline below for modification related to the Coronavirus pandemic).

Each Fellow receives individualized coaching from expert, highly experienced coaches deeply familiar with the tools and concepts. Coaches:

  • Help participants tailor the program to their specific situations and respond to assignments geared to their performance challenges
  • Serve as confidantes regarding participants’ own leadership
  • Refer them to the MTC alumni network and alumni of similar performance-driven programs
  • Hold participants accountable for their commitment to meaningful results and personal learning well beyond what could be achieved without the program

“Through insightful personal coaching and exchanges with our group peers throughout the progress of our challenges, we learned how to think critically about not just what we should be doing, but why we are doing it,” said Susan Daly, editor at “We believe so strongly in the value of the program that we have continued to send group leaders from our organization year-after-year from all departments. And each time, they grow their personal skill set and contribute more fully to achieving our overall company goals of growth, innovation and increased market share. And each time, they tell us it has changed the way they work. It has been nothing short of revolutionary for us.”

Program leadership and coaches

Charlie Baum
Executive Director

About Charlie

Charlie Baum has been associated with the program and its development since its inception in 2007, and has worked for many years across sectors with program founder Doug Smith.  He also leads the Knight Table Stakes Program at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School and is a senior advisor in the Major Markets Table Stakes program.

Charlie’s work has spanned the public and private sectors, as a management consultant, coach, and senior executive — always with an emphasis on achieving early wins and momentum against urgent, major from/to performance challenges.  His work has been profiled in The Wisdom of Teams by Doug Smith, High Impact Consulting by Robert Schaffer, Masterful Coaching by Robert Hargrove and Vice President Gore’s book The Best Kept Secrets in Government.

Charlie holds a B.A. in Economics and Psychology from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Karen Gordon

About Karen

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 companies.

Karen has served as a coach and faculty member for the MTC Program (formerly the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program) since 2011.

Her three decades of consulting experience includes six years at McKinsey & Company, where she led teams in strategic planning and organizational development. Karen has designed and delivered numerous leadership development workshops, addressing topics such as structured strategic thinking, effective communications, presentation skills, and personality profiles.

Karen is an expert in delivering the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which she masterfully uses in conjunction with personality Temperament Patterns.  She is an expert in linking personal leadership to performance outcomes critical to the success of the MTC program.  Karen holds a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from Columbia University.

Tim Griggs

About Tim

Tim Griggs is an independent consultant and advisor to media organizations around the world, primarily on digital subscriptions and membership, audience-centric practices, revenue diversification, newsroom transformation and digital strategy. He’s the global program director of the Facebook-funded Accelerator program, a coach in the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative at both UNC-Chapel Hill and Arizona State University, co-creator of the American Press Institute’s Better News hub, and co-author of Table Stakes: Getting in the Game of News.

Tim began his career as a journalist and was the executive editor of the Star-News in Wilmington, N.C. In 2008, he joined The New York Times as director of strategic planning, where he helped envision and articulate company strategy; one of the most significant of those initiatives was determining whether and how to charge digital consumers for content. In 2011, he became director of paid products, leading the cross-functional team responsible for The Times’s digital subscription business. Tim left The Times in 2013 to be publisher of the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit startup in Austin.

He’s a former board member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a 2014 Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow (studying the application of growth hacking for digital news audience growth), a 2013 Knight Foundation-funded fellow (investigating business models for non-profit news organizations), and a 2010 Fellow at the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University.

Quentin Hope

About Quentin

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 of strategic alignment, organization design, organization effectiveness and change management. He also has extensive experience in public media and digital media management and consulting.

He has served as a coach and faculty member for the MTC program (formerly Sulzberger Media Leadership Program) since 2010.

His consulting experience includes 13 years with McKinsey & Company as a senior engagement manager and senior fellow with the firm’s organization design practice. This work included co-authoring the field research for the book Real Change Leaders and leading the field research for Peak Performance by Jon Katzenbach. He also served as a senior advisor for eight years with Katzenbach Partners LLC working with client teams and developing firm methodologies.

Quentin’s work in media began with his founding of High Plains Public Radio in the 1980s, which he continues to advise on a pro bono basis. In recent years he has consulted for media clients ranging from leading public media organizations to legacy metro newsrooms to digital start-ups.

Fran Scarlett

About Fran

Fran Scarlett is passionate about helping news entrepreneurs and their organizations start, grow and thrive. She is a strategist by training and a pragmatist at heart. Her experience working with small and large media organizations as both a consultant and executive has made her adept at assessing the current situation and recommending efficient and sustainable solutions.

For most of her career Scarlett worked in legacy media, but since 2016 she has worked with nonprofit news organizations at the Institute for Nonprofit News as chief knowledge officer and business coach.

Prior to her return to media, Scarlett served as the regional director of the Small Business & Technology Development Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. For eight years she served as adjunct faculty in the Cameron School of Business where she taught Entrepreneurship, Negotiation and  Organizational Behavior.

Scarlett was a 2019 Fellow in the MTC program, and is a coach in UNC’s Hussman School Knight Table Stakes program. She has a B.S. in Mass Communication from Boston University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


Doug Smith

About Doug

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 thousands of folks lead real performance impact and change in sixty-plus industries and fields across the private, governmental and nonprofit sectors.

Program timeline

The MTC Fellows meet four times a year for one week each. These week‐long sessions take place in January, March, June and September with a final two‐day wrap‐up the following January.

The 2021 program will begin in virtual mode and continue that way until it is safe to meet in person. We will tailor the week long sessions to accommodate the different time zones of Fellows as well as the pragmatic time limits for effective video gatherings. In addition, we will share some content in between the week-long sessions (synchronous and asynchronous) and deploy Slack and other means to facilitate the Fellow-to-Fellow collaboration and social experience that helps everyone succeed.

Key dates:

  •     Jan. 11-15, 2021
  •     March 15-19, 2021
  •     June 21-25, 2021
  •     Sept. 20-24, 2021
  •     Jan. 9 -10, 2022

January 11-15, 2021 is the kick‐off week. The graduating MTC Fellows overlap with the incoming Fellows, so the incoming class can build relationships and receive guidance from the outgoing class regarding the experience. Fellows learn the essential tools, frameworks and insights about strategy, innovation, racial equity, and leading change within the MTC program’s proven approach. Throughout the week, Fellows are asked to use these frameworks and tools to help refine their performance challenges and to identify core issues they will face while working towards success at those projects.

Through a series of coaching calls in the first six to eight weeks, Fellows finalize their challenges. They answer the question, “What will success look like?” and work with people at their organizations to refine their efforts. They also actually get started, by “going public” and testing initial design/do loops.

The March session is used to finalize the choice of challenge and identify the early wins that are key to building the momentum needed for success.

In the March session, as well as the June and September sessions, roughly half the time is focused on sharing updates and getting feedback from peers and project advisors. The rest of the time is spent learning additional managerial frameworks, as well as news industry-specific insights and content that can help Fellows succeed.

At the final session in January 2022, Fellows present their results and insights, and receive their certificate of completion.

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

Why Poynter?

Poynter is a global leader in journalism education and a strategy center that stands for uncompromising excellence in journalism. More than 5,000 journalists, business leaders, entrepreneurs, freelancers, designers and educators visit Poynter each year to participate in intensive workshops or seminars. Since 2005, Poynter has also trained hundreds of thousands of people around the world through its e-learning division, News University.

A significant portion of Poynter training is devoted to strengthening leadership in the shifting, audience-centered media industry. This includes bedrock programs like Leadership Academy, diversity-focused initiatives like Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, pilots like SNPA/Poynter Executive Development Program, and exclusive access experiences like the Poynter Media Innovation Tour.

Since 2017, Poynter has also provided leadership training for local news executives through a yearly Knight-Lenfest Table Stakes program. This program was designed by Doug Smith, the architect and founder of the MTC leadership program and the Sulzberger program at Columbia.

Poynter president Neil Brown is also a 2019 MTC Fellow. As the former editor of the Tampa Bay Times, Brown graduated from the Table Stakes program.

Who will benefit

The Media Transformation Challenge Program at Poynter is designed as a tool for senior news executives and managers who are selected by their enterprises to lead or co-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 major metropolitan entities, 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.

The MTC program now has nearly 300 alumni, including:

  • Monica Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones
  • Neil Brown, President, The Poynter Institute
  • Sally Buzbee, Executive Editor/SVP, Associated Press
  • Fiona Campbell, Controller (Head) BBC 3
  • Alfredo Carbajal, Managing Editor, Al Día / The Dallas Morning News
  • Anya Grundmann, SVP of Programming, NPR
  • Aine Kerr, Co-founder, Kinzen
  • Mark Lacey, National Editor, NY Times
  • 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
  • Jennifer Preston, VP/Journalism, Knight Foundation
  • Sara Lomax-Reese, President WURD
  • Susan Smith Richardson, CEO, Center for Public Integrity
  • Christa Scharfenberg, CEO, Reveal/CIR
  • 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 email Charlie Baum, the Executive Director, at to arrange a phone conversation about your program and interest and proposed challenge. All applicants must speak with Charlie before they are accepted. Typically, it makes the most sense to do this before completing the application.

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.

Program Cost

The MTC program is an investment of $28,500. This includes four week-long sessions, one two-day graduation session, and regular individualized coaching sessions over the course of one year — as well as inclusion in the alumni network. Here’s what some graduates say about the value of the program:

“When I was thinking of applying, I worried about the size of the investment for a small enterprise like West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Now, I can give you 10 ways I have earned that investment back with substantial interest, not to mention the friendships and soul‐supporting experience of being with people who have the same passion for telling stories.” 

— Scott Finn, Executive Director, West Virginia Public Broadcasting 


“Taking part in [this program] was challenging and inspiring in equal measure. It helped turn a back‐of‐a‐napkin idea into a reality which is now generating many millions of dollars annually and gave me skills that I still use daily.” 

— Sue Brooks, former director, Associated Press (now at Reuters)


“I applied to help save my business. My biggest customer was teetering on bankruptcy. I needed a strategy to survive. While my personal background was in journalism and general management, I didn’t have an MBA. [This program] gave me the business skills necessary to develop strategy, manage change and measure results. The program helped me define my core business challenge and then, through classroom instruction and persistent focus, taught me the tools necessary to succeed.” 

— Steve Jones, former VP & General Manager, ABC Radio (now at Skyview Networks)


We’d love to hear from you.

For questions relating to Poynter or travel, email

For questions relating to the MTC program, email