Two events to recognize Adolph Ochs’ ties to Knoxville

Maria M. CorneliusDowntown, Feature

Adolph Ochs’ path to running The New York Times started in downtown Knoxville, and local organizations and educators will recognize the historical significance with a panel discussion and dedication of a historic plaque on Sept. 28-29.

The East Tennessee chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (ETSPJ), University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media (UTJEM), Knoxville History Project and Front Page Foundation (FPF) have teamed up for two events in downtown Knoxville that are free and open to the public.

A panel, co-sponsored by UT and ETSPJ and called, “What Would Ochs Have to Say?,” will be held Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the East Tennessee History Center, located at 601 S. Gay St. The panelists will include Alex S. Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian; Jack Neely, author and executive director of the Knoxville History Project; and Dr. Michael Martinez, media historian and assistant professor at the University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media.

The event is billed as “an evening of discussion on the legacy of The New York Times owner and publisher Adolph Ochs and how he might view the current state of U.S. news media.” Following the panel, attendees will gather at Bernadette’s Crystal Gardens on Market Square for appetizers and beverages with a portion of the sales donated to the Front Page Foundation, which raises funds to support journalism through scholarships, professional development and educational programs.

The following day on Thursday, Sept. 29, at noon a historical plaque will be dedicated on Wall Avenue outside 36 Market Square near the site of the Knoxville Chronicle office where Ochs began his career as a carrier boy at age 11. Over the next six years, he became an office boy, apprentice and journeyman printer at The Knoxville Tribune and then left for a newspaper job in Chattanooga at the age of 17. In 1878, he took control of the Chattanooga Times. In 1896 at age 38, he acquired The New York Times and in his inaugural edition made the famous pledge to report the news without “fear or favor.”

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon will be in attendance to present a proclamation in recognition of journalism history in Knoxville and unveil the plaque. The effort to honor Ochs and the historical significance for Knoxville journalism also is being supported in kind by downtown entrepreneurs Scott and Bernadette West, who own the building where the plaque is to be placed and paid for it to be affixed to the wall.

The national Society of Professional Journalists named 36 Market Square as an Historic Site in Journalism last year, one of only two designations in Tennessee. The other is in Memphis and recognizes the Christian Index, the second-oldest Black religious newspaper in the country.

Georgiana Vines, a charter member of ETSPJ and a former national SPJ president who spearheaded the historical efforts to honor Ochs with a plaque, also will attend the unveiling as will Jones; Neely, whose research was instrumental in the process to approve the historical designation; Lou Harry, editor of SPJ’s magazine, Quill, and manager of SPJ’s awards programs; Jennifer Ellis, Region 12 coordinator for SPJ chapters and members in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee; and Celia Walker and Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg, two descendants of Ochs on his maternal side.

Jones also is an SPJ Foundation board member and co-author with Susan E. Tifft of the definitive biography about Ochs, “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times.” Ochs (1858-1935) also owned The Chattanooga Times, now the Chattanooga Times Free Press, before making his way to New York.

“While Adolph Ochs’s greatest achievement was creating The New York Times, his start was in Knoxville and he never lost his sense of gratitude and kinship with that city,” Jones said. “It is fitting that his legendary career should be recognized by SPJ with a National Journalism Historic Marker at the place where it began.”

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