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

DEADLINE: Dec. 1, 2019 
TEACHING DATES: Jan. 2020 — Jan. 2021
LOCATION: The Poynter Institute 
COST: $28,500

For well over a decade now, the media world has confronted the digital tsunami that continues to transform the industry. Doug Smith, with the help of his coaching colleagues, responded to this transformation by bringing his challenge-centric and performance-driven methodology to journalism — a methodology he has used in more than 60 industries facing profound change.

He and his team began the current program in 2007 (from 2007-2018, it was widely known as The Punch Sulzberger Program, now Media Transformation Challenge). Since 2007, hundreds of Fellows from scores of media enterprises have participated and used the program to deliver real performance results, new capabilities and crucial change to their organizations. In addition, Doug and his team are the architects behind the growing Table Stakes movement in the United States and Europe.

We are thrilled to now bring the premier Media Transformation Challenge program to Poynter, with its highly accomplished alumni group and rich history of accomplishment and contributions to the future of journalism and democracy.

The MTC program now has more than 250 alumni, including:

  • Aine Kerr, Co-founder, Kinzen
  • Alfredo Carbajal, Managing Editor, Al Día / The Dallas Morning News
  • Andrew Morse, EVP of CNN US and General Manager of CNN Digital Worldwide
  • Anya Grundmann, SVP of Programming, NPR
  • Christa Scharfenberg, CEO, Reveal/CIR
  • Irving Washington, Executive Director/CEO, Online News Association
  • Jennifer Preston, VP/Journalism, Knight Foundation
  • Jonathan Munro, Head of Newsgathering, BBC
  • Kerry Smith, SVP of Editorial Quality, ABC News
  • Monica Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones
  • Patrick Stiegman, Vice President and Editorial Director, Global Digital Content, ESPN
  • Sally Buzbee, Executive Editor/SVP, Associated Press
  • Susan Smith Richardson, CEO, Center for Public Integrity

[Click here to see more MTC alumni]

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 the core performance challenges and opportunities they face.

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

  • New audiences;
  • Deeper audience engagement;
  • New sources of revenue, and beneath it all;
  • Stronger organizational capacity to transform and change;
  • Innovation in products, services and business models.

Peer interaction and access to the highly 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 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 this program.

From the very first session, Fellows apply pragmatic concepts of strategy, innovation, organizational change, and personal leadership to identify and articulate a challenge — and then quickly and steadily accomplish important outcomes against those  challenges.

Four five-day sessions over the course of the year, plus a two-day wrap-up, are used for participants to share progress and help each other move “up the S-curve” towards final outcomes.

There is a strong emphasis throughout the program on outcomes, not activities.

Each participant receives individualized coaching from seasoned 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 of similar programs
  • Hold participants accountable for their commitment to meaningful results.

“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.”

Executive coaches


Doug Smith
Executive Director

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. Doug’s track record of success is cited as #1 for all consultants discussed in the book, High Impact Consulting.

Doug is also the author and co-author of seven books, including Make Success Measurable, which provides the tools and disciplines required for setting and achieving performance in today’s tough competitive environment; The Wisdom of Teams, globally acknowledged as the best book written on teaming – as well as its sequel and companion, The Discipline of Teams; Taking Charge of Change, a path-breaking book named by the Peter Drucker Foundation as “the best book on change management”; Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented Then Ignored the First Personal Computer; Sources of the African Past; and On Value and Values, which describes the possibilities of ethical life in a world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families.

Charles Baum
Senior Business Advisor

Charlie Baum, the senior business advisor in The Media Transformation Challenge, has been associated with the program since its inception in 2007. He has coached more than 75 participants and now helps manage the daily operations of the program.

Charlie’s work has spanned the public and private sectors, both as a management consultant and as an executive. As a consultant, he collaborated with McKinsey & Company to help over 300 teams, involving thousands of people, to generate early wins in major change initiatives.  He also has coached over 200 executives in the approaches underlying the Sulzberger program. His work has been profiled in Taking Charge of Change by Doug Smith, High Impact Consulting by Robert Schaffer, Masterful Coaching by Robert Hargrove and Vice President Gore’s book The Best Kept Secret in Washington.

As an operating executive, he helped transform a chronically troubled inner-city division of a construction company into a high-performing entity.  This experience is described in the business bestseller The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach and Doug Smith. Charlie also served as the chief operating officer of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a 1,500-person department responsible for managing 5 million acres of land generating $250 million in revenue, regulating forest practices and fighting wildfire.

Charlie holds a B.A. in Economics and Psychology from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He served for 14 years as an executive coach to participants in “Achieving Excellence,” a collaboration between Doug Smith, NeighborWorks America and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University for the affordable housing industry.  He also leads the University of North Carolina’s Table Stakes program, as well as the Gannett/McClatchy Table Stakes program.and is a coach in the Major Metro program.

Karen Gordon

Karen Gordon is the founder of Strategic Horizons, Inc., a boutique management consulting firm established in 1991, providing strategic, organizational, and communication guidance, as well as executive coaching, to a wide range of companies.

Her three decades of consulting experience includes six years at McKinsey & Company, where she led teams in strategic planning and organizational development on behalf of multi-national clients. Karen’s unique set of complementary skills in solving complex business problems and understanding people-related issues enables her to support clients in formulating strategies, generating creative ideas, managing through change, building productive teams, and communicating effectively.  Furthermore, for several Fortune 500 companies and major not-for-profits, Karen has designed and delivered numerous leadership development workshops, addressing topics such as structured strategic thinking, effective communications, presentation skills, and personality profiles. And Karen has served as a coach and faculty member for the MTC Program (formerly the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program) since 2011.

Karen is certified as an executive coach by the Newfield Network, as well as the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. She is also certified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which she masterfully uses in conjunction with personality Temperament Patterns.  She is currently President of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, a community of nearly 500 families. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, Karen earned an M.B.A. from Columbia University.

Tim Griggs

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., then owned by The New York Times Company. 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.

Tim is also the sleep-deprived father of two toddlers and a competitive Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter.

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

His consulting experience includes 13 years with McKinsey & Company as a senior engagement manager, organization specialist 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.  He has served as a coach and faculty member for the MTC program (formerly Sulzberger Media Leadership Program) since 2010.

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.

January 6-10, 2020 is the kick‐off week. The graduating MTC Fellows overlap with the incoming Fellows, so the incoming class can get guidance from the outgoing class. Fellows learn the essential tools, frameworks and insights about strategy, innovation 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 challenges and to identify core issues they will face while working towards success at those projects.

In the first six to eight weeks, Fellows finalize their challenges. They answer the question, “What will success look like?” and they work with people at their organizations to develop their projects. They look for signs of progress and early wins.

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 2021, Fellows present their results 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.

A significant portion of Poynter training — both at Poynter’s campus in St. Petersburg, Florida and in newsrooms around the world — 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 at Harvard 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 serving this marketplace.

Application process

The MTC program regularly reaches capacity. The key step is to email Doug Smith, the architect of the program, at to arrange a phone conversation about your proposed challenge. All applicants must speak with Doug before they are accepted. Typically, it makes the most sense to do this before completing the application.

In addition to the phone call with Doug 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 five in-person workshops and regular individualized coaching sessions over the course of one year. 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