Alum Creates Endowment for the Daily Beacon Staff
Jeff Copeskey’s (‘82) first journalism class at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, changed the trajectory of his future. Copeskey had been studying business at UT before switching majors in 1979 and entering the College of Communication and Information.
His basic reporting class was sent to cover the aftermath of a fire on The Strip on Cumberland Avenue as an initial assignment to learn the art of asking questions, taking notes, and marshaling the facts into a story on deadline.
“I came back and wrote my little story and turned out I had an extra something in there that nobody else had,” Copeskey said. “Just that idea that you could find out what was going on and tell people about it was very exciting to me. I knew right then I wanted to keep doing that.”
Copeskey’s desire to help other students discover a similar passion prompted him to fund the Jeff Copeskey Editor in Chief Endowment. The financial donation benefits the Daily Beacon, the editorially independent student newspaper serving the UT campus and surrounding community.
Through Copeskey’s generosity, the Beacon will be able to recruit and retain editors or leadership positions within the newspaper.
Copeskey spent two years as a staff writer, news editor and, ultimately, editor for the Beacon. He graduated with his journalism degree in 1982, and received his juris doctor degree from the UT College of Law in 1986.
Copeskey worked at various news outlets primarily covering politics after college. It eventually led to his current position as the head of US Government Relations – Southern Region for Exxon Mobil Corporation.
“I really owe my professional career to my experience at the Daily Beacon,” Copeskey, a member of the CCI Board of Visitors, said. “The ability to gather and synthesize information and communicate an issue concisely to somebody are critical skills that I have carried with me. I hope through this endowment somebody in some way can benefit in the way I did.”
The Beacon’s current editor-in-chief, Abby Ann Ramsey, was thrilled when she heard about the financial donation to the paper.
“It’s kind of hard to put into words how much that means to me, but also to student media in general,” Ramsey said. “It’s very hard for student journalists to get paid for their work at all. The Beacon pays its writers and staff members, but it’s not like that everywhere.”
Ramsey is a senior with a double major in journalism and media and religious studies with a concentration in religion and nonprofit leadership. The Knoxville native had an early interest in writing and began learning more about the media industry by watching journalism movies.
Ramsey started working at the Beacon at the end of her freshman year. She has risen from staff writer to managing editor to editor-in-chief.
Ramsey believes it’s vital for student journalists to be compensated for their work to encourage them to get more involved and foster an environment that creates a more diverse staff.
“A lot of students can’t write for free or participate in student media because they are juggling part-time jobs and trying to pay for tuition and rent,” Ramsey said. “Being able to pay students brings in all different viewpoints and all different people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate. That is really important.”
Copeskey began working at the Beacon when reporters were still using manual typewriters and physically rearranging their stories by cutting and pasting their work onto sheets of paper. Later he was part of the first generation of Beacon staff to keyboard stories on computers.
“It was really a labor of love to get the paper out every day and we had a lot of production support. It was different back then,” said Copeskey. “I don’t want to romanticize it, but we had some pretty phenomenal people who were dedicated to getting the paper out every day.”
Even after all these years, Copeskey still keeps in touch with some of his former colleagues and classmates.
“The people I worked with at the Beacon are doing some amazing things right now,” he said. “We all had a really great time together on staff and built really close relationships in the newsroom. They are all good folks and I was very fortunate I got to spend time with them. I miss them.”
Copeskey will have a chance to be reunited with some during the upcoming Daily Beacon alumni weekendSeptember 29-30. The weekend festivities include an alumni reception on Friday night and a tailgate three hours before kickoff for the UT vs. South Carolina game Saturday.
Ramsey is eager to meet the former Beacon staff members when they return to campus. She wants to hear about their experiences working at the newspaper and how things have evolved over the years. She expects to discover many similarities in how much they benefited from the opportunity.
“The Beacon has definitely enhanced not just my journalism skills, but my leadership skills and professional skills so much more than I could have ever imagined,” Ramsey said. “We also have the most incredible group of people. That is honestly my favorite part; the community we have in our little office. There are wonderful people working there and everyone is doing fantastic things day in and day out.”
Ramsey feels that same sense of community camaraderie on a daily basis throughout the college.
“CCI has been an incredible experience for me. Everyone has been incredibly helpful but also incredibly passionate about what they do,” she said. “There is a very palpable passion in CCI about communications and about journalism and about ethics and training students to be the very best journalists they can be.”
Ramsey wants to stay in the journalism field once she graduates. She feels prepared to handle any opportunity because of her education at UT. Knowing other students will get the same chance in the future through Copeskey’s endowment fills Ramsey with pride.
“Working at the Beacon has been the most beneficial for practical journalistic skills. That is the closest thing you can come to having a real full-time job in journalism,” Ramsey said. “We try to match the experience to a real workplace as much as we can. I really can’t imagine going into the career field without having this experience.”
Anyone interested in giving back to UT student media with a financial donation can make a contribution at utk.edu/studentmedia.
Written by Rhiannon Potkey