Last month, WVLT Assistant News Director and former Daily Beacon Editor-in-Chief Nash Armstrong passed away after a car accident. At only 33, Armstrong, revered for his leadership and journalistic ethics, had already worked at WVLT since 2013 and was also a former staff member of the Knoxville News Sentinel, WATE and The Greeneville Sun.
Zac Ellis, Armstrong’s successor as the Beacon’s Editor-in-Chief, was the Beacon’s assistant sports editor during Armstrong’s stint as editor. Ellis said that Armstrong was an exceptional leader -- especially for a college student -- who knew well how to balance the sometimes conflicting roles of being both a boss and a friend to his peers at the paper.
“He was as impressive professionally as he was personally, and you don’t see a lot of folks that can balance those very well,” Ellis said. “He was just a really, really good guy. He did a really good job of balancing both and being a really good friend and a good leader.”
Ellis actually met his wife, Faith Ellis, while working at the Beacon. Faith, who worked in both the advertising and editorial departments at the Beacon and eventually served as design editor, also praised Armstrong’s diligent leadership.
“Nash was always there when I got to work, and stayed long past time to go home,” Faith Ellis said. “He had a white board plan for each issue, delegating and executing his vision with professionalism way beyond his years. He gave respect to the stories, the writers and those of us patching it all together.”
Together, Zac Ellis and Armstrong tackled one of the most monumental UT sports stories to date: former football coach Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure for Southern California after just one season at Tennessee.
By the time the news broke, just before the start of the spring 2010 semester, the Beacon had already prepped its first paper of the semester, and the Knoxville News Sentinel, which prints The Daily Beacon, had already printed the papers, with a front-page story about a recent basketball win.
But, Armstrong knew that the paper absolutely could not go out without the news about Kiffin, Ellis said. After the dramatic press conference, during which angry football fans clashed with Kiffin, Armstrong called the Knoxville News Sentinel to see if there was any way to add the new story to the paper and was initially turned down. Yet, he wasn’t one to give up that easily, Ellis said.
Armstrong was able to reach a compromise with the printer to create a sort of wrap-around story that included the breaking news about Kiffin, and against all odds and a time crunch, managed to get the news out to the UT community.
“It would have been very easy to just say, well, they said no, but he kind of pushed them, and we were able to have that story, which is still one of the bigger stories in Tennessee history, on the front page of the paper, so that was certainly a memory for me,” Ellis said.
The courage Armstrong displayed in this situation extended to many aspects of his journalistic career, Ellis explained. Even when he was still a student, Armstrong was never afraid to join the crowd of other journalists from a multitude of news outlets at press conferences and ask hard questions, demonstrating that he, as a member of student media, belonged there as much as anyone.
“He kind of displayed a courage to him. … He would ask the tough questions,” Ellis said.
Faith Ellis also endorsed Armstrong’s strong penchant for adhering to journalistic ethics -- especially impressive for a young journalist.
“Even as a young person, he was driven by his love of the journalistic process and never considered cutting corners to sacrifice integrity,” Faith Ellis said. “They say a good boss is one who won't ask you to do something they aren't willing to do themselves, and that was Nash. Quick thinking, vision driven and a natural talent for telling a good story.”
Both Faith and Zac Ellis said that Armstrong was more than a boss -- he was also an incredible friend who did a great job bringing together the group of Beacon staff members, from a variety of majors and backgrounds.
Faith Ellis said that working at the Beacon changed her life -- from meeting her now husband, to spending hours editing with her coworkers, to other sporadic get-togethers. And at the center of the Beacon’s whole operation was, of course, Nash Armstrong.
“I want people to remember Nash not just for his very well documented professionalism and impressive career achievements, but for his kindness, his loyal friendship and his generosity of spirit,” Faith Ellis said.
That spirit ensured that the group of Beacon coworkers bonded as friends, Zac Ellis said.
“When you spend that much time with folks like that, it’s very easy to not want to hangout with them after work, but for us we certainly did, and Nash was always kind of the ringleader of that,” Zac Ellis said. “He was just a really good time, and he did a good job of balancing the kind of professional side of things with the ability to be close with everybody and keep everybody a good group of friends.”
At Armstrong’s memorial service in Greeneville, that same group of former Beacon coworkers got the chance to meet up and swap memories about the editor and friend they all appreciated so much, Zac Ellis said.
“To have Nash as a friend was to always know you had someone willing to fight for you and show up for you, no questions asked,” Faith Ellis said. “He was truly an extraordinary man and what a gift and an honor to have known him in this lifetime.”