Q. what is the table stakes programme?

A. The Table Stakes Europe programme is a challenge-centric, performance-and-accountability change methodology using a performance challenge as the vehicle through which participating news enterprises identify and close shortfalls in the core table stakes, the audience-first approach and digital transformation. The core objective of the plan is to revitalize local democracy through revitalizing local journalism. It was initially launched in 2015 as the Knight-Temple Table Stakes project.


Q. What means “table stakes”?

A. “Table stakes” as local journalism strategy asks, “What are the minimum requirements to be in the game of local journalism?”. The phrase “Table Stakes” comes from poker – the amount required to have seat at the table. The Table Stakes manual is for newsrooms, identifying what’s required to play and win the game of news in the 21st century. Developed with major metropolitan daily news organizations, it is meant to accelerate journalism’s shift to digital from print, help newsrooms evolve their practices, reach new audiences and better engage their communities.


Q. what can i expect from my participation?

A. Participating local news enterprises in the US table stakes programs have successfully used the challenge-centric, performance-and-accountability change methodology to identify and then close shortfalls against the 7 core table stakes – and, in doing so, have significantly improved their financial sustainability while, critically, also building the capabilities required to identify and serve local audiences both digitally and otherwise. Importantly, the project gives participants a sense of accountability they otherwise wouldn’t have. Each team spoke about the role of positive peer pressure: Participants were required to show up at each gathering with an update and the last thing they wanted to do was show up without making progress. “I don’t think, without the framework of Table Stakes, we would’ve worked to complete it,” wrote the team in Dallas. “It focused us to keep plugging away at it.” Further, the project connected newsrooms that have much in common but otherwise had no relationship. Participants now have an informal network of fellow newsroom leaders dealing with common issues.


Q. when table stakes will be launched?

A. The Program will begin in October of 2019 and run for 10 to 12 months. In the expected design, there will be at least 10 small and medium local and regional news enterprises that participate. These companies will at least identify one performance challenge that meets the earlier described criteria – then use the methodology, provided coaching to define success against the challenges and, then, commit themselves to achieving that success.

Q. what is included in the programme?

A. The offerings in the Programme include:

  • The 7 core table stakes supplemented by, among other things, the audience funnel and related metrics, data and analytics.

  • The disciplines, tools and frameworks of challenge-centric, performance-and- accountability change methodology.

  • The opportunity to identify, define success against, and triple the odds of achieving success at a core performance challenge confronting the participating news enterprise.

  • Coaching by coaches who use the core table stakes plus the challenge-centric, performance-and-accountability change methodology.

  • Opportunities to partner and learn together with other local and regional news enterprises whose contexts and challenges likely have meaningful similarity.

  • Budget permitting, access to folks whose expertise is directly relevant to the selected performance challenges (some of which might, again budget permitting, be delivered by webinar)

  • Access to case studies/illustrations of successful table stakes efforts elsewhere

Q. how is the programme designed?

A. There are 5 in-person gatherings beginning with a kick-off session. Gatherings might be held at one centrally located location; or, if participants favor it, could also happen at the participants’ own offices. The second in-person gathering is held 7 to 10 weeks after the kick off. The third through fifth gatherings happen in roughly 10 to 14-week intervals. We ask all participants to commit to confidentiality in order to foster the candor and feedback needed for everyone’s shared success.

The in-person gatherings run as follows:

  • Kick-off (3 to 4 days): Through the applications (see below) as well as site visits and/or pre-kick off phone calls, participating news enterprises will identify a possible challenge to make the focal point of the kick off. We use the kick off to help participant teams “learn by doing” – that is, we take them through most of the core methods, disciplines and tools and ask them to apply those methods/tools to shape a “version 1.0” of their performance-challenge as well as begin to reflect on what will be involved in making the challenge successful. At the conclusion of the kick-off, we assign coaches to the teams and provide the teams “Assignment #1”, the specific tasks that teams – along with their newspaper colleagues – must do in order to arrive at the 2d gathering with crystal clear performance challenges and game plans for success.

  • Session 2 (3 days): Teams present to one another their respective performance challenges as well as steps they have taken to get going and/or the steps they will take. We provide teams a template to use for these presentations –one that is designed around the core tools and methods. We ask teams to submit draft updates a week or so in advance so that they can get feedback in advance of the session. In addition to team updates, we provide additional methods, disciplines and, within budget constraints, folks whose expertise is relevant to the performance challenges. At the conclusion of Session 2, teams get the assigned tasks needed to drive forward to Session 3, including, importantly, identifying the shorter-term results and wins that can highlight the story of success the teams will share in the third gathering.

  • Sessions 3 and 4 (3 days each): In these gatherings, teams update one another on progress against their performance challenges including what results have been achieved, who in their enterprises are getting involved and contributing, what is working well, what is not working well, and key next steps needed to deliver more results and get more folks involved. If we have not done so in Session 2, we also use Session 3 to introduce and ask teams to use a discipline for identifying what to stop doing – an essential step required for teams to succeed because, by stopping things that don’t add value, local news enterprises identify resources to deploy toward the challenges as well as other, higher value efforts. As with Session 2, we bring in folks whose expertise is relevant to the challenges at hand. At the conclusion of each session, we assign the tasks needed for identifying and achieving more results, getting more folks involved and contributing and foreshadowing the story of success the teams want to tell in the next gathering.

  • Session 5 (2 days): In addition to final updates on their challenges, we also ask teams in Session 5 to identify the performance challenges they would tackle if they were just entering the Programme. To do this, we go through an entire review of the core methods, tools and disciplines and, as in the kick-off, ask the teams to use those tools/etc. to identify and describe the new challenge.

Q. what happens between the sessions?

A. The in-person sessions are crucial for accountability and learning. Having said that, the real work of the Program happens at the newspaper enterprises themselves between the sessions. Participating teams use the task assignments to guide the work of themselves and their colleagues back at the office between sessions. These task assignments explicitly reference to core tools and methods of the Program, thereby providing participants the structure and discipline needed to make progress.

Coaches guide the challenge teams throughout the Program, both between sessions as well as in preparation for, and during, the sessions.

The coaching happens through regular phone calls. Challenge teams select a team leader (or at most two co-leaders) who will work directly with the assigned coach. While occasionally the coach might work on the phone with the team as a whole, most often the calls are with the team leader (or co-leaders).

These coaching phone calls focus on the work needed to achieve success at the performance challenges. Typically coaches have phone calls more often in the first third or so of the Programme than the latter part, and particularly in between the kick-off and second sessions because of the importance of helping teams shape well-defined performance challenges. As part of these calls, coaches also guide teams in preparing their challenge updates.


Q. can i apply to more than one challenge?

A. Yes, although you will need first to make sure that your organisation has enough capacity and commitment to perform the challenges identified at the beginning of the programme. Our experience proves that the most successful participants usually ran two challenges in the same organisation