Selecting the first Women's Leadership Academy cohort: Phew

By on March 9, 2015

We knew it was going to be hard. But this hard?

Based on events over the past year, it didn’t take superior powers of observation to see that the tuition-free ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media was an idea whose time was way past due. But as the selection committee — myself, Poynter’s Vice President of Academic Programs Kelly McBride, Poynter General Counsel Ellyn Kamke and ONA Digital Director Trevor Knoblich — started poring through applications, we were overwhelmed by the response: 486 very qualified candidates for 25 spots.

So, how to choose?

This being our fledgling class, we left room in our selection process to pivot on the skills and chemistry that would make for a stellar, collaborative and inclusive first cohort. Once we saw the entire pool, we armed ourselves with caffeine to set about defining a clear strategy and military-grade eligibility guidelines.

Immediately apparent was the fact that candidates organically fell into two categories, experienced managers or emerging leaders. In order to accommodate both types of leaders, we agreed to move forward in holding a future leadership academy — more on this to come.

For the April 2015 class, we focused on experience, selecting for:

  • Management experience, i.e. direct supervision
  • Immersion in digital media
  • Practitioners only
  • Diversity, including ethnicity, age, geography and platform
  • Innovative thinking
  • Leadership potential

Implied in the selection was an ability to bring new ideas and unique solutions to the mix to ensure a group that would candidly, sometimes fearlessly, tackle both strategic and operational issues. We’ll be sharing more details on instructors, our talented first class and the program in the lead-up to the seminar.

We know this cohort will have plenty of lessons to take back to their newsrooms, but we’re excited about what we’ll learn as well, including ideas to bring to the next class, or building offshoot training customized for specific future groups, such as educators or developers.

We’re grateful for the guidance of our faculty, Quartz’s S. Mitra Kalita and Facebook’s Liz Heron, and support from the Knight Foundation’s Jennifer Preston. And we congratulate all 25 women in our first class — we’re looking forward to diving in. But most of all, thanks to everyone who applied. We know you’re out there, and we’ll be working to keep filling the tremendous leadership need we see in newsrooms everywhere.


Jane McDonnell is ONA’s Executive Director. She oversees and manages the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, working closely with the Board of Directors. Her purview includes membership, partnerships, global community outreach, budgeting and revenue generation, fundraising and development, the Online Journalism Awards, and providing vision for ONA’s state-of-the-art annual conference.

Jane McDonnell

As executive director, Jane oversees and manages the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, working closely with the Board of Directors. Her purview includes membership, partnerships, global community outreach, budgeting and revenue generation, fundraising and development, the Online Journalism Awards, and providing vision for ONA’s state-of-the-art annual conference.