Author of Groundbreaking Local News Crisis Research, Penelope Muse Abernathy, Named as the 2019 Welles Memorial Prize Winner | Columbia Journalism School
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Author of Groundbreaking Local News Crisis Research, Penelope Muse Abernathy, Named as the 2019 Welles Memorial Prize Winner

The Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business at the Columbia Journalism School today awarded Penelope (Penny) Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, the 2019 Christopher J. Welles Memorial Prize, for her unparalleled and widely-cited research “The Expanding News Desert.” 

“We’re excited to recognize Penny, who is a well-respected journalism professional and senior media business executive,” said Raju Narisetti, director of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship. “Her singular body of research on the state of local news as well as her studies on potential business models that could sustain future local news endeavors has driven real-world change and conversations among foundations, national news outlets, policy makers and the tech industry in America.”

Muse Abernathy’s research is being honored by the Knight-Bagehot Advisory Board for its impact on the journalism profession, and its role in raising the alarm and prompting an industry-wide call-to-action about the local news crisis. The Welles Prize is given annually to an alum of the Knight Bagehot Fellowship, now in its 44th year. Muse Abernathy is a graduate of the Fellowship from 1985.

Muse Abernathy—who is also a former executive of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times—provides a detailed analysis of the dramatic and devastating loss of local newspapers across the country, and its implications on the U.S. democracy. The research, conducted over a two-year period, analyzed data on more than 10,000 local news organizations from 2004-2018. The website where the research was published carries more than 260 interactive maps that provide detailed information on local news organizations, down to the county level, in all 50 states.

Since the research was published, three  Presidential candidates and five Congressional representatives, who are working on formulating policies to address the local news crisis have contacted Muse Abernathy and her team for their expertise.  Her team has also received more than 100 requests from academic researchers for access to their database to further examine the implications of local news deserts. The research has been featured in more than 500 publications around the world including the Columbia Journalism Review’s Local News Issue, The Nieman Lab, The Seattle Times,  AP Business, The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, PBS News Hour, Associated Press and The Guardian to name a few.

Muse Abernathy is a trailblazer with more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor and media executive. She specializes in preserving quality journalism by helping news organizations  succeed economically in the digital environment. Her research focuses on the implications of the digital revolution on news organizations, information needs of local communities and the emergence of news deserts in the United States. Learn more about her career trajectory.

The Welles Award honors the memory of Christopher J. Welles, a former director of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship, who was considered “ the premier business writer” from the 1960s to the ‘80s, for his penetrating accounts of “shenanigans, abuses and downfalls.”

Muse Abernathy will be presented with the Welles Prize at the 44th Anniversary Celebration of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship on Wednesday, October 16 at The New York Marriott Marquis; event speakers include Marc Benioff, Chairman and Co-CEO, Salesforce; Co-Chair, TIME, in conversation with Rebecca Blumenstein, Deputy Managing Editor, The New York Times; and Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, in conversation with Matt Murray, Editor-in-Chief, Dow Jones & The Wall Street Journal. The anniversary helps raise awareness and funds for the annual Knight-Bagehot Fellowships. 

The Knight-Bagehot Fellowship offers experienced journalists the opportunity to enhance their understanding and knowledge of business, economics, finance and technology, as well as gain a strong understanding of the business of journalism itself, in a full-time program administered by the Columbia Journalism School.

The fellowship is named for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami, which established an endowment for the program, and Walter Bagehot, the 19th­-century editor of The Economist. 

To purchase tickets for the 44th Anniversary Celebration visit:


About Columbia Journalism School

For more than a century, the Columbia Journalism School has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened in 1912 and offers Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science in Data Journalism, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, The Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism and a Doctor of Philosophy in Communications.  It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, The Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, and the Mike Berger Awards.

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