The newspaper was formed in 1926 from the merger of two competing newspapers: The Knoxville News and The Knoxville Sentinel. John Trevis Hearn began publishing The Sentinel in December 1886, while The News was started in 1921 by Robert P. Scripps and Roy W. Howard. The two merged in 1926, with the first edition of The Knoxville News-Sentinel appearing on November 21 of that year. The editor from 1921 to 1931, Edward J. Meeman, later was sent to Memphis to edit the since defunct Memphis Press-Scimitar.
In 1986, the News-Sentinel became a morning paper, with the other paper in Knoxville, the Knoxville Journal, becoming an evening paper. The Journal ceased publication as a daily in 1991, when the joint operating agreement between the two papers expired. In 2002, the paper dropped the hyphen from its name to become the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The News Sentinel's president and publisher is Patrick J. Birmingham, and its editor is Jack McElroy, formerly of the Rocky Mountain News. Other management includes Managing Editor Tom Chester, Digital Director Jack Lail, City Editor Amy Vellucci, Editorial Page Editor Scott Barker, Business Editor Amy Nolan, Features Editor Susan Alexander, Entertainment Editor Chuck Campbell and Sports Editor Phil Kaplan. Staffers include photographers Michael Patrick, J. Miles Cary, Amy Smotherman-Burgess, Adam Lau and Saul Young; and writers John Adams, Mike Strange, Dan Fleser, Dustin Dopirak, Ben Frederickson, Frank Munger, Don Jacobs, Jamie Satterfield, Hayes Hickman, Gerald Witt, Megan Boehnke, Lydia X. McCoy, Morgan Simmons, Carly Harrington, Ed Marcum, Wayne Bledsoe and Amy McRary. Knoxnews.com staffers include online producers Will Woodbery and Angela Gosnell.
Knoxnews.com has won many national awards, including winning three 2008 Digital Edge Awards from the Newspaper Association of America for best overall news website, most innovative user-participation and best site design.
The News Sentinel has sponsored four winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee:
- 1940: Laura Kuykendall (now Laura Kuykendall Mullins) – "therapy"
- 1960: Henry Feldman – "eudaemonic"
- 1963: Glen Van Slyke III – "equipage"
- 1994: Ned Andrews – "antediluvian"