Julian Harriss earned a place in Tennessee newspaper history by stimulating the development of the statewide Tennessee Press Association and the establishment of the School of Journalism at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Harriss was born Aug. 15, 1914, in Augusta, Ga., and died Jan. 3, 1989. He was instrumental in helping the Tennessee Press Association gain the influence it has today, and providing a work force for the state's newspapers. Harriss earned bachelor's and master's degrees at UT. After a stint as a reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, he joined the staff at the university in 1937. Nine years later, Harriss ascended to the position of public relations director, and for the next 30 years he made numerous contributions to Tennessee journalism.
In 1945 UT and the TPA formalized an agreement to benefit both institutions. This plan provided for a university staff member to serve as a field manager for TPA, improved statewide newspaper coverage for UT, and enabled newspaper editors and publishers to advise the university's fledgling journalism program.
Harriss served as field representative twice in the 1940s, and was instrumental in getting the UT Board of Trustees approval for a TPA-sponsored resolution to create a full journalism program at the university. In the 1946-47 school year, Harriss headed the journalism curriculum that would lead to status as an academic department the next year.
In addition to teaching various journalism courses, Harriss also contributed to the education of journalism students by writing, with Stanley Johnson, the first edition of The Complete Reporter in 1942. Harriss consulted on five editions of the book for Macmillan Publishing Co.; the sixth edition, written by dean emeritus Kelly Leiter, is still used at UT to teach basic journalism skills.
The intent of The Complete Reporter, Harriss noted in the preface to the first edition, was to provide the necessary foundation for a journalist entering the newspaper profession. There cannot be a better introduction to journalism than a year's practice of the reporter's whole task, and that was Harriss' intent with this textbook.
"The most common reward of all newspaper men and women from the most mediocre to the most talented is the close contact with what is usually called life," he noted in the first chapter. "This exposure to reality is what shapes a reporter's character and gives the perspective and insight needed to perform the job well."
Harriss was influential in the rest of the university as well. Under his direction, the UT public relations staff grew from a two-person operation to a cluster of divisions providing a wide range of services. At the time of his retirement in 1976, Harriss directed the UT News Bureau, Publications Service Bureau, University Press, and the Photographic and Graphic Arts Service staffs.
At the time of Harriss' death, Horace V. Wells Jr., veteran publisher of the Clinton Couriers News, said Harriss "probably contributed more to the founding of the present day Tennessee Press Association than any other person." Meeting with a group of weekly newspaper editors in the early 1940s, he worked out a plan for UT to cooperate with the newspapers and provide office space for their organization on the Knoxville campus.
Harriss helped organize the annual UT-TPA newspaper contests with the first awards being made in 1940. The plaques were provided by UT while TPA arranged for judging of the contests. Through Harriss' efforts, top UT officials were on hand annually to make the presentations.
Julian Harriss was not a newspaper editor, and was not connected with newspapers directly. Yet, his gifts to Tennessee journalists are used by newspapers and their staffs every day.