Former Dow Jones and New York Times Executive Named Knight Chair at UNC Journalism School – Knight Foundation

Former Dow Jones and New York Times Executive Named Knight Chair at UNC Journalism School

NC native Penelope Muse Abernathy will focus on digital media economics

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Penelope Muse Abernathy, a journalism professional with more than 30 years experience as a reporter, editor and media executive, has been named the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Her appointment takes effect July 1.

Abernathy, a Laurinburg, N.C., native and former executive at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times who is now vice president and executive director of industry programs at the Paley Center for Media in New York City, specializes in preserving quality journalism by helping the news business succeed economically in the digital media environment.

Her appointment strengthens Carolina’s journalism school’s outreach efforts to working journalists and their readers in N.C. communities and beyond.

“As the digital revolution has unfolded, Carolina has kept up a vigorous dialogue with journalists working at all levels in the new media environment,” said Jean Folkerts, dean of the School of Journalism and

Mass Communication. “Penny Abernathy’s work is to build models for making digital news economically viable, whether the product is attached to newspapers, broadcast operations or stand-alone ventures. She is not identifying problems, she is creating solutions. She will work with many news media personnel in North Carolina and nationally in creating these solutions.”

Changes in technology and business have weakened traditional news models during the past two decades, a trend that renowned journalist and scholar Phil Meyer, the current Knight Chair at Carolina who will retire later this year, detailed in his 2004 book The Vanishing Newspaper.

As an executive, Abernathy launched new enterprises and helped increase revenue at some of the nation’s most prominent news organizations and publishing companies, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Harvard Business Review. At The Wall Street Journal, she oversaw the international division and reversed its declining revenue to profitability in less than a year.

“Penny has done both journalism and business at a high level and in a great variety of situations. She is creative, entrepreneurial, focused and results-oriented,” said Paul Steiger, former managing editor at the Journal and a Knight Foundation trustee. “I have high confidence that Penny will be able to convert her effectiveness in the worlds of business and journalism to success in the academy, and in short order.”

Before moving to the business side of the industry, Abernathy served as a newspaper reporter or editor at several daily newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer, The Greensboro News & Record, The Dallas Times-Herald, The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, The Fayetteville Times and The Laurinburg Exchange.

“Penny brings to every task both the creative and inquiring eye of a seasoned journalist as well as analytical rigor,” said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher of The New York Times Co.

At Carolina, Abernathy will focus her expertise on 21st-century economic models that will improve the ability of journalists to produce news in the public interest. She will create innovative new courses and practical research, and share her work widely online and person-to-person to help journalists and media industry managers take on the industry’s economic challenges.

“Listen to [news executives] for long enough and you could get depressed about the future of newspapers, but there’s nothing that can’t be cured by a meeting with Penelope Muse Abernathy,” said Raymond Snoddy, a prominent British media commentator who has covered the news industry for nearly 30 years, in a news article in The Independent in 2005. “She has read every gloomy prediction and is right on top of circulation graphs around the world, but still insists emphatically: ‘I’m very bullish about the future of newspapers.’”

“From the newsroom to the boardroom, Penelope Muse Abernathy’s seen and done it all,” said James Murphy in a 2005 Media Magazine profile on Abernathy. “The first thing that strikes you about Penny Abernathy is her apparently never-ending reservoir of energy and enthusiasm.”

Abernathy, who attended classes at Carolina’s journalism school, received her bachelor’s degree in history from UNC-Greensboro and earned her MBA from Columbia University. She serves on advisory boards for UNC-Chapel Hill and Columbia University, and she was an executive board member of the Magazine Publishers of America. Abernathy was inducted to the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame in 1998 and delivered the Roy H. Park Distinguished Lecture at the school in April 2005.

The Knight Chair at Carolina is a professorship created in 1991 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The foundation recently added $200,000 to the school’s professorship endowment and expanded the Chair’s role into digital media and economics.

“The digital revolution is turning journalism upside down and inside out,” said Eric Newton, Knight’s vice president/journalism. “Knight Chairs in general, and UNC’s Knight Chair in particular, will help us find this new century’s innovative, sustainable forms of news in the public interest.”

Since 1990, Knight Foundation has endowed chairs at more than campuses across the United States, putting the best journalism practitioners to work teaching the next generation of journalists and furthering research on the expanding role of media in society. Knight Chairs are professional journalists who inspire excellence; collaborators who reach out and innovate; catalysts around whom universities build expanded programs; and visionaries who strive to improve American journalism.

Since 1950, Knight Foundation has invested more than $300 million to advance journalism quality and freedom of expression. It focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change. It has launched year two of the Knight News Challenge, a contest awarding millions of dollars for innovative ideas using digital experiments to transform community news. The foundation plans to invest at least $25 million over five years in the search for bold community news experiments.