Penny Abernathy

Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Penny Abernathy is the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The author of major reports on “news deserts,” Abernathy was previously an executive at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Abernathy shared a case study about diversification in a News Leaders sidebar.


If you rely solely on subscriber revenue, you become very elitist, and it does not get to the people who need it most.

With the smaller and mid-size markets, they’ve got to have a much more creative and disciplined strategy. It’s going to have to rely at least as much off revenue from businesses, because they do not have the scale or in many cases the local economics to support a subscription-based (model).

When we look at where the digital outlets have started, 90 percent of them are in metro areas, and there’s a good reason they are, because most of the money, whether you’re a for-profit or whether you’re depending on foundations, are in the metro area, right? At least for the time being, I do not see a for-profit incubator model working in most of the economically struggling communities that I see where there’s a news desert.

I think that we do have to stop thinking about competition and more about collaboration, but that also has to come, too, from the nonprofits.

What is a business model for the New York Times is not going to work in Moore County, right?

I think that what we’ve lost over the last 20 years especially, but especially in the last decade, is that whole loss of the face to the community. There’s lots of good research going on right now. I’m really thrilled with the number of young scholars who are looking into the political, social and economic effects and the loss of local news, because that used to be a dead man’s land, you know back as much as 10 years ago. Nobody wanted to focus on local news. It was so yesterday. I mean, what they’re showing is that when you don’t have the boots on the ground, it has all sorts of implications for how badly decisions get made at the local level with government officials, how uninformed citizens are.