When the Knoxville Journal ceased operation in 1991, a Knoxville institution died. Although the paper’s exact ancestry was sometimes in dispute, the Journal itself liked to claim that it was the descendant of the irascible William G. “Parson” Brownlow’s feisty Whig. The connection between the two papers lies not in their institutional histories, but in the fact that Brownlow’s apprentice on the Whig, Captain William Rule, eventually launched the Journal.
In the mid-1870s the two men joined forces to publish the Knoxville Chronicle and Whig, a Republican paper which revived the old Whig motto “Cry Aloud and Spare Not.” Brownlow died in 1877, but Rule continued to run the paper until it was sold in 1882. Not content to stay out of the newspaper business, Rule launched the Journal in 1885 with partner Samuel Marfield. Rule eschewed the sensationalism which had been creeping into American journalism and announced his intention to concentrate on local news. Throughout his long association with the paper Rule used the Journal to support national Republican policies, but he maintained a neutral position on local political issues–even when Democrat Luke Lea purchased the paper in 1928.
Lea’s fortunes declined rapidly during the depression, and the Journal followed suit. The paper went into receivership in 1930 and remained there until Knoxville mill owner Roy Lotspeich purchased the paper in 1936. Guy Smith, a staunch Republican, was hired as editor in 1937, and his personality dominated and shaped the paper for the next thirty years. He seemed a worthy successor to the crusading Brownlow, using the paper to champion state and national Republican causes while simultaneously influencing Knoxville politics and policies. The Journal pressed the city government to control smoke emissions, renovate deteriorating areas in the business district, and develop new industrial parks to encourage business relocation to Knoxville. In the 1950s Smith launched a crusade for the state legislature to apportion its seats on the principle of “one man, one vote,” thereby increasing representation of populous Republican East Tennessee. In the 1960s he used the paper to fight for the controversial proposal to annex county land to enlarge the city. He also used the paper to raise funds for local causes ranging from the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital to Old Diamond, an elephant belonging to the Knoxville Zoo.
Under Smith the Journal also kept up a bitter feud with its afternoon rival, the Scripps-Howard Knoxville News-Sentinel. The two papers took opposing sides on almost every civic or political issue, with the Journal generally taking the more conservative stance. One of the earliest controversies surrounded the creation of a municipal-owned utility company, which the Journal opposed. Other battles soon followed. The war between the papers abated somewhat when in 1957, to everyone’s surprise, the owners of the papers signed a Joint Operating Agreement in which the News-Sentinel, the financially healthier paper, dominated the partnership. Under the agreement the newspapers combined their production, advertising, and circulation departments but kept separate editorial offices. The Journal published the morning paper, while the News-Sentinel retained the more lucrative afternoon market. The Journal ceased publication of a Sunday paper but received a proportion of the revenue generated by the joint operation.
Smith remained as editor of the Journal until his death in 1968. In 1981 the Lotspeich family sold the Journal to the Gannett newspaper chain. Five years later, Gannett agreed to move the Journal to the afternoon market and allowed the News-Sentinel to take over the increasingly lucrative morning market. The paper was then sold to successive newspaper chains until in 1991 its last owner, a Honolulu-based company, suspended its operation as a daily newspaper and ended the life of the paper. It had been, until 1981, one of the oldest family-owned dailies in the country.
Lucile Deaderick, ed., Heart of the Valley: A History of Knoxville, Tennessee (1976); Michael J. McDonald and William Bruce Wheeler, Knoxville, Tennessee: Continuity and Chang in an Appalachian City (1983)