June 18, 2021


TNJN is the news medium for the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media and was established in 2006 as the centerpiece of the school’s efforts to teach and explore the areas of web journalism.

The site is a part of the curriculum of the School, but day-to-day content and operation decisions are made by a student staff appointed by the faculty.

The Tennessee Journalist is not part of or affiliated with any other student media, such as the UT Daily Beacon (which is independent of the School). It works cooperatively with other media produced by the School such as Scoop magazine, WUTK radio and the Volunteer Channel, among others.

Part of the thinking behind the creation of the Tennessee Journalist is that it does not have a legacy; that is, it is free to explore the developing and expanding world of web journalism without any traditions – except for the tradition of the practice of good journalism. The web is a different medium, different from print and broadcasting just as those two media are different from each other. The audience expectations for news web sites are different than those of print or broadcast audiences; the relationship of the audience to the medium is also different. Consequently, the journalism found on this web site may also be different in content and form from that found on other media.

The site is designed to archive and display the work of students – both work done for classes and work completed as part of the student staff. Each person who contributes to the site as a reporter, editor or producer gets a profile page with biographical information and a list of links to the articles to which they have contributed.

In addition to displaying the work of students, the operation of the site itself gives students a chance to participate in an active news organization and to make decisions about content, display and personnel. The site can be updated instantly as news and other content decisions require.

In the beginning

The site launched in October 2006. During that semester, Johnny Dobbins and Staci Martin-Wolfe began with the idea to create a firm but flexible news web site that would allow students to explore and practice web journalism. They built a content management system using the python-based Django framework.

Dobbins was an Air Force veteran and political science major whose ability to understand and work with back-end systems made him a standout computer phenom. Johnny is now working with TBO.com in Tampa, Fla. Staci was living in Knoxville but completing her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas where she helped develop tools for its digital media curriculum. Staci worked for a while as a multimedia manager for MSN Money in New York City, but she returned to Knoxville and is now working for Scripps New Media.

Their work on the content management system for this site put Tennessee at the head of the pack in developing news web sites as a teaching tool.

Contributing to and backing up their work was John McNair, director of technology for the College of Communication and Information. Bob Stepno, a lecturer in the College, also made substantial contributions to that generation of the TNJN site.

The faculty advisor from inception through 2016, and the person who got some of the balls rolling on this site, was Jim Stovall. The current faculty advisor is Melanie Faizer. The current TNJN site is running on WordPress and technical support is provided by Dan Greene in the School of Information Sciences.

The staff of the Tennessee Journalist

Anyone can join the staff of the Tennessee Journalist. A person does not have to be a Journalism and Electronic Media major; nor does that person need to be taking any classes in the School.

Staff position appointments are made by the faculty advisor to the site and approved by the faculty of the School. Position appointments generally last for one semester.