Penny Abernathy

Knight Chair in Digital and Media Economics

Penelope (Penny) Muse Abernathy, a former executive at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, is the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina. A journalism professional with more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor and senior media business executive, she specializes in preserving quality journalism by helping the news business succeed economically in the digital environment.

Her book, "Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability," published in 2014, is based on five years of research, involving more than two dozen newspapers around the country. This research (available at became the foundation for UNC’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, which works with news organizations to investigate and develop new business models and tools. Most recently, she was the author of a major report, issued by the center, "The Rise of a New Media Baron and the Emerging Threat of News Deserts," which can be downloaded at or She is currently working on a second book on digital media entrepreneurship with her colleague, JoAnn Sciarrino, Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing.

As a senior executive, Abernathy was responsible for both creating and implementing strategies at some of the nation's most prominent news organizations and publishing companies, including the Harvard Business Review, as well as The Journal and The Times. She oversaw the successful launch of new multimedia enterprises that increased both revenue and profit at all three organizations. She also served as vice president and executive director of industry programs at the Paley Center for Media, which counts as its members some of the world’s leading media companies and executives.

Before moving to the business side of the industry, Abernathy was a newspaper reporter and editor at several daily newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer, The Dallas Times-Herald and The Wichita Eagle-Beacon. She was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame in 1998. She has MBA and M.S. degrees from Columbia University and a B.A. from UNC at Greensboro.