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After a decade of leadership, strategy and entrepreneurship training, KDMC shifts primary focus to consulting

by: KDMC Staff |


Ten years ago, amid massive shifts in news distribution and consumption, the Knight Digital Media Center @USC Annenberg was tasked with helping traditional journalism leaders as well as new actors in the news ecology adapt to a dynamic digital, mobile and social information landscape.

To meet this challenge, the center developed multi-pronged strategies for distinctly different stakeholders. Between 2006 and 2016, the center trained and coached hundreds of news and information providers, including:

  • Executives from newspapers and public broadcast outlets who sought to develop strategies and tactics for newsroom transformation;
  • Journalism entrepreneurs, often laid off in newsroom downsizing, who were determined to launch news sites; and
  • Activists from local foundations and nonprofits seeking to improve access to civic information in their communities by supporting news and information projects to fill voids left as traditional sources contracted.
                   Key learning
                   Journalism leadership & strategy
                   Learning partnerships
                   News entrepreneurship
                   Knight community information challenge
                   KDMC consultancy

Throughout the decade, the center's programs focused on raising digital literacy, fostering strategic thinking, and promoting leadership, entrepreneurship and culture change within organizations large and small.

The year 2007 saw the acceleration of a downward spiral for the newspaper industry. In the recession of 2008-09, the industry shed about 20 percent of its newsroom staff; by 2015, the industry had let go more than a third of its newsroom workforce, according to the American Society of News Editors annual census.

In this environment of crisis, KDMC's signature leadership program helped more than 100 news executives form strategies for transforming their newsrooms into digital operations.

Then, beginning in 2008, the center also facilitated strategic digital planning with news executives and managers from NPR, whose leadership approached digital transformation with urgency. This project led to providing digital literacy and training workshops for the nation’s top news-focused local NPR member stations. This effort was coupled with internal skills training for NPR’s several hundred news staff. The ultimate result: NPR was positioned to be a leader in the digital news revolution.

At the same time, new actors were entering the field of news and information, and the center sought to help them stabilize and grow new ventures.

Journalists who had lost their jobs in traditional newsrooms were starting their own news websites. Many were long on passion for journalism and their communities, but short on strategic thinking and business expertise.  To support these ventures, the center developed entrepreneurship programs for dozens of startup founders operating throughout the country.

These KDMC programs dovetailed with the evolving focus of the Knight Foundation on the role community foundations and local nonprofits could play in the news and information ecosystem. Spurred by the Knight Community Information Challenge, many community foundations also sought to become or support news and information providers in order to inform and engage their communities in important civic issues.

This synergy resulted in KDMC training hundreds of foundation and nonprofit leaders, helping them develop digital, social and mobile strategies for their organizations.

In the last few years, we added an exciting new dimension to our portfolio by bringing the lessons we’ve learned from news leaders and news innovation to “learning partnerships.”  For example, KDMC’s “learning partnership” with the former E.W. Scripps Newspapers (now part of Gannett) developed and facilitated a process for transformation that helped guide their 13 community newsrooms into “digital leads” operations and cultures over a period of years.

We have been gratified to see remarkable impact from our decade of work: From legacy newsrooms that changed their structure, focus and culture to meet the demands of digital and mobile audiences to news entrepreneurs and other local information providers who created new models for community engagement and sustainability.

With a small support staff and a deep bench of expert consultants and trainers, KDMC was able to pivot and adapt its programs as the landscape and the audience for our services shifted.

So it is that on June 30, KDMC pivots again, moving from offering formal subsidized training programs to expanding its consultancy with a focus on development of digital strategy and implementation for organizations -- particularly news outlets, foundations and nonprofits -- seeking to provide news and information for, and deepen their engagement with, defined communities and constituencies.

This report summarizes the center's key activities to date, sharing what we learned over the decade about effective training and coaching to help legacy organizations transform themselves into digital-first operations and to help innovators find sustainability in the evolving news landscape.

The future for news has never been more challenging nor held more possibilities than it does today. We hope what we’ve learned and the resources that will continue to be available at www.knightdigitalmediacenter.org will help news providers as the journey continues. The center's consulting services are described here.

Our thanks to KDMC’s major funder, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and especially Eric Newton and Susan Patterson, as well as the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and The Patterson Foundation, which also provided support. We are grateful for the financial and collegial support of USC Annenberg Dean Ernest Wilson III and Journalism Director Willow Bay and former director Geneva Overholser.

Also, as noted above, [email protected] Annenberg’s success was built on a diverse and talented team of consultants who provided the spectrum of expertise needed to serve such disparate audiences.  That team, led by senior program consultant Michele McLellan, includes dozens of smart people who made our fellows smarter. Most recently, Beth Kanter and Stephanie Rudat, served as our social media and nonprofit leadership gurus. Consistently over the years, Lee Rainie from the Pew Research Center, provided insights into the changing media landscapes that challenged our fellows. Amy Gahran brought mobile literacy and strategy to the table. Janet Coats and Rusty Coats provided solid business and organizational savvy for news entrepreneurs. Lisa Williams and Susan Mernit brought “tech-speak” to trainees who embraced innovation.

And, a very big “thank you” to all of the fellows who took their newly found understanding back to their organizations and sparked the change that continues to occur.

Vikki Porter
Knight Digital Media Center
USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
[email protected]

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