Media Transformation Challenge: A Poynter Institute Executive Fellowship (2025)


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Media Transformation Challenge: A Poynter Institute Executive Fellowship (2025)

Since 2007, nearly 400 senior media executives have realized critical performance results, built lifelong 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 13, 2025– January 12, 2026


  • 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.
  • Convene with other fellows four times in person and multiple times virtually throughout the program.
  • Apply for this yearlong executive fellowship program by Oct. 31, 2024.


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SKU: MTC-25 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


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  • 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.
  • Convene with other fellows four times in person and multiple times virtually throughout the program.
  • Apply for this yearlong executive fellowship program by Oct. 31, 2024.

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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, which is unrelated to MTC in tools, approach, leadership, alumni relationships and impact. 

What makes MTC special

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.

MTC Executive Director Charlie Baum facilitated group work during an MTC session at Poynter in September 2022.

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 , Charlie Baum and coaching colleagues, is unique in the media industry and beyond. It helps account for the extraordinary accomplishments of over 375 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 , CIR’s , the, NAHJ’s, , ABC News’ use of one-person bureaus, , Gannett/McClatchy’s Table Stakes program, the , the ’s education arm, , , , , and others.

RELATED: Listen to 2019 Fellow Benjamin Wagner talk with 2014 Fellow Neal Carruth about how Carruth’s MTC experience helped drive transformation at NPR.

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’ confidence to realize larger-scale outcomes and change. Additional tools and concepts are introduced in absorbable chunks over the year, so 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.

Sabina Allen Ghebremedhin, head of the race and culture unit at ABC Network News, shared her progress with other MTC Fellows and her coach in September 2022. “I’m a different person today than I was in January when I started the program,” said Allen. “I always wanted to be a great leader. I now know how to be a better leader because of MTC.”

Fellows also grow as leaders by actually leading the accomplishment of outcomes that matter to their organizations, no matter their 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 18 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, , , 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 and , 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 a unique, outcome-driven performance challenge, using criteria such as “one of the most urgent, crucial challenges confronting the enterprise.” 

Fellows from the 2021 program celebrate their successes at a Poynter happy hour.

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” toward 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. Collectively, our coaches have over 100 years of experience in journalism — in local, national and international arenas.


For questions relating to the MTC program, please email

For questions relating to Poynter or travel, please email

MTC Fellows meet five times over the course of the Fellowship. These sessions take place in January, March, June and September of 2025, with a final wrap-up in January 2026. The first two sessions take place in person at Poynter’s campus in St. Petersburg, Florida. Other sessions will be held in locations to be determined, with a final session at Poynter in January 2026.

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

Key dates

  • Jan. 13-17, 2025 (St. Petersburg, Florida)
  • March 17-21, 2025 (St. Petersburg, Florida)
  • June 16-20, 2025 (Salt Lake City)
  • Sept. 15-19, 2025 (tentative date, location TBD)
  • Jan. 10-12, 2026 (St. Petersburg, Florida)

How the program unfolds

January 2025

Poynter president and MTC alum Neil Brown (center) talked with his MTC coach Karen Gordon (left) and executive director Charlie Baum (right) during the an MTC happy hour at Poynter in 2022.

Jan. 13-17, 2025, is the kick-off week. Incoming 2025 Fellows overlap with the graduating 2024 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, 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 the 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 2025

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 2025

Fellows in the 2022 program pose for a selfie during a golf outing.

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 2025

By September, Fellows are 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 2026.

January 2026

At the final session in January 2026, 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.

Who should apply

MTC’s Charlie Baum, WGBH’s Pam Johnston, Solutions Journalism Network’s Carolyn Robinson, and BBC’s Rupa Jha reunited after their fellowship year during a happy hour at Poynter.

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. Participants must be able to travel to the U.S. multiple times per year.

Our alumni include:

  • Ashley Suh Alvarado – VP Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives, Southern California Public Radio
  • Amanda Barrett – VP of News, Standards, and Inclusion, Associated Press
  • Madeleine Baer – Founder, El Tímpano
  • Samantha Barry – Editor in Chief, Glamour
  • Mary Walter-Brown – Founder and CEO, News Revenue Hub
  • Monica Bauerlein – CEO, Mother Jones
  • Neil Brown – President, The Poynter Institute
  • Sally Buzbee – Executive Editor, The Washington Post
  • Fiona Campbell – Controller (Head) BBC 3
  • Brian Carovillano – Senior Vice President, Head of Standards, NBC News
  • Margaret Coker – Editor in Chief, the Current
  • Katie den Daas – Vice President of News Gathering, ABC News
  • Candice Fortman – Executive Director, Outlier Media
  • Tim Griggs – Founder & CEO, Blue Engine Collaborative
  • Anya Grundmann – Senior Vice President for Programming and Audience Development, NPR
  • Cierra Hinton – Executive Director-Publisher, Scalawag
  • Mukhtar Ibrahim – Founding Publisher and CEO, Sahan Journal
  • Sara Just – Executive Producer, PBS NewsHour
  • S. Mitra Kalita – Founder of Epicenter and co-founder, URL Media
  • Aine Kerr – Co-founder, Kinzen
  • Chris Krewson – Executive Director, LION Publishers
  • Mark Lacey – Managing Editor, The New York Times
  • Alberto Mendoza – Managing Director for the John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford
  • Andrew Morse – President and Publisher, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Jonathan Munro – Head of Newsgathering, BBC
  • Sara Lomax – President of WURD, co-founder of URL Media
  • Martin Reynolds – Co Executive Director, The Maynard Institute
  • Christa Scharfenberg – Project Director, UC Berkeley Journalism’s California Local Journalism Project
  • Charlie Sennott – Founder, The GroundTruth Project, Co-founder, Report for America
  • Kerry Smith – SVP of Editorial Quality, ABC News
  • Naomi Underwood – Executive Director, Asian American Journalists Association
  • Mackenzie Warren – Director, Medill Local News Accelerator
  • Irving Washington – Senior Fellow for Health Disinformation, Kaiser Family Foundation

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 Baum and completing the application form, applicants are  required to provide a letter of support from their supervisor as well as a financial commitment.

The deadline to apply is Oct. 31, 2024. 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.



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  • Doug Smith
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