KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Did you know that the modern New York Times has Knoxville roots? Adolph Ochs, the founder of the modern Times, began his career in journalism in Knoxville. To recognize his contribution to journalism, a monument is being placed in downtown Knoxville.
Ochs began his career at the Knoxville Chronicle as a carrier boy at 11 years old. Over the next six years, he would work to become an office boy, apprentice and journeyman printer at The Knoxville Tribune. At 17, he left for a newspaper job in Chattanooga. In 1878, he took control of the Chattanooga Times, and by the age of 36, he acquired The New York Times. His inaugural edition made the famous pledge to report the news without “fear or favor.”
The East Tennessee chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (ETSPJ), students and faculty from the University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media (UTJEM), Knoxville History Project and Front Page Foundation (FPF) have teamed up for two free events in downtown Knoxville. The first is a panel discussion looking at how Ochs may interpret the current state of journalism in the United States.
The panel called, “What Would Ochs Have to Say?,” was on Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the East Tennessee History Center. The panelists 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. After the panel, attendees are invited to gather at Bernadette’s Crystal Gardens in Market Square for appetizers and beverages. A part of the sales was donated to the Front Page Foundation, which raises funds to support journalism through scholarships, professional development and educational programs.
The next day, Sept. 29 at 12 p.m., an unveiling was held at Wall Avenue outside 36 Market Square near the site of the Knoxville Chronicle office, where Ochs began his career. During the event, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon presented a proclamation to recognize journalism’s history in Knoxville.
“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.”
The effort to honor Ochs and the beginnings of the modern New York Times has been ongoing for quite some time. Knoxville journalist Georgiana Vines spearheaded the effort along with assistance from Jack Neely and the Knoxville History Project. Scott and Bernadette West, who own the building where the plaque is to be placed, donated the space and paid to affix the plaque to the wall.
Celia Walker and Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg, two descendants of Ochs on his maternal side, attended the unveiling as well.
“We’re very proud of course to be part of the Ochs family. Certainly, Adolph Ochs is an internationally recognized figure. We’re also proud of our family and its descendants. It’s a wonderful story of immigrants making a wonderful living and making the United States better,” said Sarah Jane. “It’s wonderful recognition not only for Mr. Ochs but also for Knoxville. The city has nurtured a lot of talent, perhaps some of that is unknown and will be better known now.”
In 2021, the National Society of Professional Journalists named 36 Market Square as a Historic Site in Journalism. It is 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.
The New York Times shared that Ochs never left Tennessee entirely. He would remain the publisher of The Chattanooga Times until the end of his life in 1935.