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Poynter Table Stakes coaches share their advice for local newsrooms

Poynter Table Stakes coaches Manuelita Nadebah Beck (clockwise from top left), Katie Mercer, Briana O’Higgins, Angela Evancie and Tom Huang shared their insights. (Kamaria Roberts/API)

Here’s an idea to steal and adapt: Learn how these Table Stakes coaches are advising their teams and what tools they are using to move them toward progress.

This is a series on Better News to a) showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and b) share replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole. These insights come from coaches in the Poynter Table Stakes 2023 cohort.

During an in-person Table Stakes session at the Poynter Institute, we caught up with several coaches to ask them about their takeaways from supporting the teams. Each coach has done extensive work with a wide range of local newsrooms to help them overcome internal and external challenges. Here are some observations from those interviews.

The coaches are: 

  • Manuelita Nadebah Beck, senior politics editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Katie Mercer, VP Content at Glacier Media
  • Tom Huang, assistant managing editor for journalism initiatives at The Dallas Morning News
  • Angela Evancie, director of engagement journalism and executive producer of Brave Little State at Vermont Public Radio
  • Briana O’Higgins, ​​SVP of audience and content at KERA


As newsrooms continue to work through tough times and meet the ever changing needs of their audiences, we wondered what common challenges these coaches have noticed and advice they would offer those facing them.

Question: What have you recently seen newsrooms struggling with? What advice would you give them?


  • Narrowing down to specific audiences and not trying to serve everyone. Newsrooms should figure out what problem they are trying to solve and then focus on that audience’s needs, Manuelita said.
  • Stop trying to be perfect. Focus less on industry-wide best practices and more on good practices that make sense for your audience, Katie said.
  • Silos across organizations are one of the toughest challenges. The Table Stakes program and succeeding at digital transformation are both based on working across departments. Newsrooms need to break down those silos and change their mindset, Tom said.
  • Prioritization: An infinitude of choice and wanting to go in so many directions all at once. The more organizations can focus and prioritize, the more effective they can be, Angela said.
  • Data work. Access to data used to be the biggest issue. Now, most newsrooms have access but it’s understanding the next steps to segmenting the data. Newsrooms need to learn to ask questions of the data, to use the data and to translate the data so that it can be shared back out, Briana said.


With AI and new technology creating new workflows for both newsrooms and users, we wondered what these coaches are most interested in.

Q: What news products are you most excited about in 2023?


  • The potential out there to rethink the ways we talk to audiences and build community on social media, Manuelita said.
  • I’m monitoring AI more than ever. With things like OpenAI and Google and Bing adopting AI to search, we need to look at that a little more to make sure we are keeping up with it. If you’re going to use something like that, we have to learn how to give it the right prompts and triggers so that we’re getting the most out of it, Katie said.
  • I’m very excited to learn more about ChatGPT and better understand how AI and pattern recognition and machine learning will change how we do journalism, and how we push back against misinformation, Tom said.
  • The 19th. As a newish organization, I’m really interested in following the way that they’re serving specific communities and doing very international audience development and coverage, Angela said.
  • I’m excited to see more midsize and larger organizations use SMS in a really deliberate way, Briana said.


The Table Stakes program consists of many tools that help teams achieve outcomes and move their challenges forward. Most people find they default to a few main tools. We wanted to know which tool that was for these coaches

Q: What Table Stakes tool do you find yourself using the most often?


  • Thinking of things in terms of design-do loops is very helpful. Design-do loops give you a very defined set of tasks and it’s easy to see what did and did not work at the end of your loop, Manuelita said.
  • I use DVP a lot. I love using it in both a pessimistic and optimistic way, replacing the ‘d’ with either dissatisfaction or drive, Katie said.
  • DVP. The idea that we need to help people understand their dissatisfaction and then give them a way to work through that and forward, Tom said.
  • I am a big fan of design-do loops because I think it is so much more productive for teams to just get started and try something and make mistakes and iterate and refine, rather than try to plan it all and then take forever working on something that might not even be what they want, Angela said.
  • My favorite is DVP because I live and breathe change, which is what this program is about. DVP is a formula for change, and a simple one at that. The one I use most often is activities versus outcomes versus outputs. I find a lot that teams will get stuck in activities, Briana said.

Design-do loops are based on the sprint/agile method and are a tool that allow teams to focus on small wins that propel them toward reaching their larger goals. After every loop, wins and outcomes are identified and used to create a new loop that increases progress by identifying how to execute another small win and do something from the last loop better. You can read about how a Table Stakes newsroom applied design-do loops in this piece.

DVP (Dissatisfaction x Vision x Process = Change) is a tool that asks you to consider the dissatisfaction of various stakeholders, the shared vision you’re striving for and the process that will help you achieve that vision. All of that must be present to help you make change. You can read about how a Table Stakes newsroom applied DVP in this piece.


As more journalism programs and conferences return to in-person gatherings, we asked the coaches to reflect on what’s gained from moving away from virtual settings.

Q: What is the benefit of us being able to gather in person again?


  • On Zoom, you lose so much body language and tone and it’s harder to have those in-the-moment conversations. Being able to get to know people socially helps to build those relationships past Table Stakes, Manuelita said.
  • As a coach, I actually get to talk to all of the teams and the teams get to mingle. It’s not the same virtually, Katie said.
  • There’s such power in seeing people face-to-face. That kind of intimacy engenders trust and the idea that we are all working together on this common mission, Tom said.
  • It makes such a big difference, particularly for the peer groups, to have that in-person time to build foundations of their relationships and ask questions and get to know one another. I think that will make their time together in the next nine months feel so much richer, Angela said.

The dinner we’re about to be at, the breakfast at the hotel, the ride over on the shuttle – the side conversations that happen in those places factor into success for a lot of people, Briana said.