The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, have established the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy. This is the third official meeting of the Knight Commission. Drawing from the learnings of the previous meetings, the Commission will hear from various experts on issues such as sustainable business models for local media and journalism, youth engagement with information, journalism in rural America and literacy.
Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics Professor
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism
Penelope (Penny) Muse Abernathy is a journalism professional with more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor and senior media business executive, who specializes in preserving quality journalism by helping the news business succeed economically in the digital media environment. Abernathy, a former executive at the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, focuses her expertise on developing 21st-century economic models that will improve the ability of journalists to produce news in the public interest.
Her book, Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability, published by UNC Press in April 2014, is based on five years of research, involving more than two dozen newspapers around the country. Most recently, she authored a major national report, The Rise of a New Media Baron and the Emerging Threat of News Deserts.
Before moving to the business side of the industry, Abernathy, a Laurinburg, N.C. native, served as a newspaper reporter and editor at several daily newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer, The Greensboro News & Record, The Dallas Times-Herald, The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, and The Fayetteville Times. She was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame in 1998.
Tennessee State Director
National Federation of Independent Business
Author Jim Brown has an extensive background in government, media and interpersonal relations. He is the Tennessee State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee’s and the nation’s leading small-business advocacy association. An advocate for thousands of small businesses, he works with leaders at the state and federal level on general interest issues for entrepreneurs. He was named to NashvillePost.com’s “In Charge” list of 400 influential Middle Tennessee leaders from 2011-2016.
Brown has served previously as NFIB’s Senior Media Manager, Corporate Communications Director at Gaylord Entertainment, the Business Editor of The City Paper in Nashville, and as an Investment Broker at J.C. Bradford & Co.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in Communication in 1987, Brown served in the U.S. Navy as a Supply Officer on a nuclear cruiser out of Norfolk, Virginia, overseeing four separate divisions.
He is active with cancer support services, including as Chair of Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee, and causes dedicated to wiping out cancer. He volunteers regularly at Room in the Inn, a support program for Nashville’s homeless community. He also served in various roles with Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee and Prevent Blindness Tennessee.
WVU Reed College of Media
Dana Coester is an associate professor at the WVU Reed College of Media and creative director for the College’s Media Innovation Center. Previously, Coester served as the assistant vice president for branding and creative direction with WVU’s University Relations division, where she was the creative director for several award-winning interactive campaigns. Coester brings to the classroom more than 15 years of experience in magazine publishing and media design and is a former art director and contributor with Time Inc. Coester’s work focuses on community media, technology disruption, and women in technology with special interests in audience building and new economic models for emerging technology. Her research and creative work experiments with new narrative forms in augmented reality and virtual reality, and includes a series of transmedia works that explore the intersection of neuroscience, computer science and documentary storytelling.
Coester earned her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
MICHAEL CORMACK, JR.
Chief Executive Officer
Barksdale Reading Institute
Dr. Michael Cormack, Jr. is the CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute. In this role, he sets the vision and direction for the Institute and also oversees the Mississippi Building Blocks. Before joining BRI, he served as the elementary principal at Quitman County Elementary School, a BRI partner school. Michael has also served as a teacher and a program director and manager for Teach For America. He received his bachelor’s degree from Boston College, and holds a master’s degree in elementary education from Delta State University, a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, and earned his doctor of education degree in education leadership and policy studies at Vanderbilt University.