Business basics, strategic frameworks and pursuing diversity: Lessons from the Executive Program

Members of the 2020 cohort reflect on some of the program’s most memorable seminars and classes.

Participants recently took part in a Jobs To Be Done Workshop. The class brainstormed using sticky notes in Mural.

By Elise Czajkowski

Members of the 2020 cohort of the Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism have been adapting to the pandemic — while being part of a program that also had to adapt.

Participants said that the program, which went online in the spring, has given them not just a solid foundation to grow their careers, but a thoughtful place to process the events of 2020, including the pandemic and racial justice protests across the U.S.

For the cohort, lessons from J-School instructors like Anita Zielina and Jeff Jarvis, as well from professionals in the field, turned abstract concepts into usable strategies and moderated meaningful and productive conversations.

Below, four participants from the 2020 cohort — Ana Arriagada, Thierry Backes, P. Kim Bui and Styli Charalambous— share some of the lessons and topics that particularly resonated with them.

2020 Participants: Ana Arriagada (top left), Thierry Backes, P. Kim Bui, Styli Charalambous.

Ambidextrous Organizational Design

Styli Charalambous — CEO and Publisher, Daily Maverick

“Three words that seem so out of place when thinking about a media business. But that’s the point. To change our fortunes we need to change our thinking, and equip ourselves with strategic knowledge to innovate out of our current crisis mode. These three words embody everything that will be required of us: strategic planning, innovation and designing an organization to successfully incubate the continuous reinvention required to survive. It was also one of the very first lessons we did and it was a fresh knowledge slap across the face that I think about often. These were totally new concepts to me. I was humbled by how little I knew.”

Budgeting and Finance

P. Kim Bui — Director of Audience Innovation, Arizona Republic

“You get to management and there’s this automatic assumption that somewhere along the way someone taught you how to manage a budget. We pulled up the Gannet term sheet for the year, which is my company, actually. And we just went through, line by line, this is what this is, this is what this is. It’s the kind of stuff that will sit in this notebook and will reside in my brain. Not that long ago, I was in a meeting where someone used some of these terms, and I think everybody else had deer-in-headlights eyes, and was afraid to ask, but I was like, ‘I know what this is! Secret language!’”

Business Fundamentals

Ana Arriagada–Cofounder and Executive Director of El Soberano

“Realizing something that now seems obvious to me — that profit and loss responsibilities in the business world measure your importance as a manager. As journalists, even if we are in leadership positions, normally we do not have this kind of responsibility on our shoulders. So, taking them on is an important step not only to learn, but also to be taken seriously by boards and investors. I also understand a lot of decisions managers took in the companies I worked for. Money is not an easy topic for most of us. But it’s key if you want to take control to innovate. And I mean REAL control.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

P. Kim Bui — Director of Audience Innovation, Arizona Republic

“It’s been a super hard year. Being a person of color, in a newsroom and a leadership position, I understand and completely live the pain that people are talking about, and wanting change for. And I want that change too. But I also understand the mechanisms by which they’re not happening, and how that happens. We had a super frank discussion [about it.] It’s helped shape my thinking. Hiring is great, and you want to hire correctly. But retention is also a problem. And then also, how does this boil down to coverage, the kind of decisions you make, and how to deal with that, and then to deal with your own burnout over it.”

Framework for Innovation

P. Kim Bui — Director of Audience Innovation, Arizona Republic

“What I found super fascinating was talking about product cycles in terms of innovation, the kind of brass tacks. What does innovation really mean, when we talk about it? And how do you do that? And there’s this chart that I refer to all the time now. It’s about the Innovation S-Curves. There’s a lot of work to get up to the innovation point, and then there’s this sort of plateau. You have to know when the plateau is.

And there’s this nexus point. Like, it’s going, it’s doing its thing, it’s fine. But at that point, you have to go seek out the next thing. Because you can’t just sit and rely that that thing is going to hold you up. So you have to constantly be testing. And in order for there always to be an upward curve, you need to be constantly testing multiple things, because not everything is going to do well. So it’s sort of a plate-spinning test.

And that is something that I have felt but never really had a way to describe in terms of managing innovation, and it’s really helped me kind of crystallize what my job is.”

Jobs to Be Done Framework

Thierry Backes — Managing Editor, Süddeutsche Zeitung

“What I found out is that I actually want to move to product. Just because of this class. We all understand product wrongly. Product people should be the diplomats in [newsrooms] because they have the clear focus on the customer, and they have the clear focus on business opportunities. And that’s why they should play a way more important role, if not the dominant role, in legacy media companies. That’s something media companies have not understood up until today.”

New Membership Models

Thierry Backes — Managing Editor, Süddeutsche Zeitung

“As media companies, we often tend to say we are user-centered, but most of the time, we are not. And the membership model is so much more about your users. Do you see them as your partners in crime, or at least at eye level? That’s where you meet your audience.”

Elise Czajkowski is a writer/editor who regularly writes about the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s executive and professional education programs. Based in New York, she was previously a Tow Knight Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Newmark J-School. She launched a non-profit called Sidewalk News, which uses outdoor advertising to distribute local news.

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