News executives arrive at ASU's Cronkite School to innovate local TV news

Cronkite Table Stakes

The Cronkite School is hosting news executives from across the country to take part in a new program designed to spark innovation and change in local TV news. Photo by Marcus Chormicle


Leading local television news executives from across the country are at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to take part in a new program designed to spark innovation and change at their stations. 

The executives are participating in the Local Television News Innovation Table Stakes Project, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through a $1.9 million grant to advance digital and broadcast innovation in local television news.

The Aug. 21-23 session is the first of five over the course of the year in which the executives will work to cultivate effective change-management strategies to promote innovation in areas such as TV news format, digital storytelling and revenue generation.

The participants are senior leaders from top media companies, including ABC, Graham Media Group, Morgan Murphy Media, News-Press and Gazette Co., Raycom Media, E.W. Scripps Co. and Univision.

The Table Stakes Project is modeled after the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, a program designed to help news organizations accelerate the transformations of their newsrooms to produce more compelling digital content, engage readers on multiple platforms, build digital revenue streams and ensure their long-term sustainability.

Douglas K. Smith, who leads the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, is the architect of table stakes. He said the methodology comes from poker, which requires a set amount of money to have a seat at the table.

“It’s a way of thinking about business strategy, and it applies to any industry,” Smith said. “In the game of news, you have to think about what is required to play and win.”

Smith developed the approach for the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative in 2015 for major metropolitan newspapers as a way to help accelerate the shift from print to digital and help the organizations evolve newsroom practices, reach new audiences and engage communities. Table stakes consists of seven common themes involving core work: workflow, roles, skills, technology, tools, organization and culture. 

Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative positioned four major new organizations — The Dallas Morning News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald and Philadelphia Media Network — to become digital-first newsrooms. 

Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato said the Table Stakes Project at ASU is looking to have similar success to the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative. He said this is the first time table stakes has been applied in a program exclusively for local television news. 

“Our objective is for all participating stations to achieve the goals they set — and, in doing so, build capabilities required for success going forward,” Lodato said. “With a high degree of collaboration and trust, the industry will benefit from this process.”

Participants at Cronkite will work to identify a core challenge and define success in terms of results and outcomes. The challenge will serve as the focal point throughout the year, in which the teams and their colleagues back home use assigned tasks with the guidance of coaches to achieve success. 

During the second through fifth gatherings, teams update one another on progress against the challenges, holding themselves accountable for what is working, what is not and what will come next. In addition, teams hear from subject matter experts whose work relates to common themes across the challenges. 

Emily L. Barr, president and CEO of Graham Media Group, is sending three of her top executives to the Table Stakes Project at ASU. Her organization owns local television stations in Detroit; Houston; Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida; San Antonio; and Roanoke, Virginia. She said her team is looking forward to collaborating with industry leaders. 

“We know the stakes are high when it comes to the challenges and opportunities our newsrooms face in this new media landscape,” Barr said. “Television may be our legacy, but it’s just the beginning of the potential our teams embrace as we look at the potential in each of our communities. Our journalists are the connective tissue that brings together the diverse voices in our respective markets. We owe it to our growing audiences to continue evolving with them on the platforms that are most responsive to their needs and lifestyles.”

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