Mid-career fellowships offer a chance to sharpen leadership skills and broaden professional knowledge. And SABEW’s new Xana Fellowship helps female journalists do just that. It also honors one of our own.

Xana Antunes, a SABEW board member who served as a top editor at Quartz, the New York Post, CNBC Digital, Crain’s New York, and Fortune CNN/Money.com, passed away last year from pancreatic cancer. Xana was a terrific leader known for her ability to manage through disruptive change. She was also a mentor and supporter of other journalists, particularly female journalists. The Xana Fellowship carries on that tradition.

The program kicked off at our virtual conference in November, with 10 female journalists participating in an invitation-only leadership program. Since then, the Xana Fellows have been meeting virtually with distinguished speakers like New York Times Business Editor Ellen Pollock and Quartz Editor-in-Chief Katherine Bell. It’s phenomenal access in a small-group setting, and the fellows have used the time to ask about everything from showing resiliency in the face of setbacks to making themselves more visible in a work-from-home environment.

The fellows also share an active Slack channel and hold no-agenda meetings, where they discuss topics like work-family balance and leading a digital newsroom. They’re sharing what they’re reading, bouncing ideas off each other, and turning to the group for advice.

“Sometimes the best advice about how to approach a situation comes from a peer who has encountered something similar. It’s incredible that we have this built-in network to pose those questions to,” Xana Fellow Erin Zlomek, AI and automation for news program manager at Bloomberg, wrote me in an email. “I always leave our virtual meetings with the sense that it was a really valuable investment of time.”

The fellowship program, which is unique among news leadership programs because it’s designed specifically for business journalists, was developed through SABEW’s Xana Fund. Thanks to a generous $15,000 match from Xana’s family and donations that are still coming in, this fund works to elevate the voices of female journalists and help women rise. It builds on SABEW’s commitment to fostering excellence in business and financial journalism, while also paying tribute to Xana. I hope you’ll continue giving to this fund. You can send a check to SABEW, P.O. Box 4, Fountainville, PA 18923, or use this easy donation link.

Lisa Gibbs, director of news partnerships at the Associated Press, has played a leading role in developing the fund and the fellowship program. Suzanne Woolley, who writes on personal finance and wealth at Bloomberg, has also been deeply involved in this important initiative.

“How do we supercharge these women to go further?” Gibbs says of the goal of the fellowship program. “What is it that they need to do that?” As part of the application process, fellows were asked about both their dreams and their professional needs. Their responses helped determine the shape of the program.

Long-term, and once more financial support is in place, Gibbs would like to build the program’s leadership development capabilities, helping fellows become better managers and developing their leadership styles.

Becoming a newsroom leader doesn’t always mean ascending through the reporting and editing ranks, and this fellowship program recognizes that.

“Many women are leaders in areas such as product management, operations, strategy or audience engagement. These leaders are still working in service of quality journalism, but the day-to-day tasks and challenges faced are different,” Zlomek wrote. “I love that the program administrators go out of their way to include these perspectives.”

Joanna Coles, former chief content offer for Hearst who’s now running her own investment firm, will speak to the group later this month. Sara Edelson, director of Original Documentary Series at Netflix, is also scheduled to meet with the group.

Xana Fellow Kelli Grant, senior editor at CNBC, said she has considered other leadership training and fellowship opportunities. But the Xana Fellowship caught her eye, in part, because she was hired by Xana at CNBC. Grant also had high expectations for the program because of its tie to Xana.

“It’s just been an amazing program,” Grant said. “In any newsroom, you’re going to find mentors, but it’s great to find outside perspectives and have relationships” with others in the industry, she said. The fellowship program helps foster that.

Xana would be proud.

Kim Quillen
2020 SABEW President
Chicago Tribune
kquillen@chicagotribune.com