A brief history of The Poynter Institute

Seen here in the St. Petersburg Times newsroom in 1975, Nelson Poynter, left, and Gene Patterson, right, created the Modern Media Institute that same year. Then editor of the Times, Patterson went on to become chairman and CEO of Poynter. The Institute was renamed for Poynter in 1984. The Poynter Institute

An early seminar at the Modern Media Institute was hosted by the first president of the institute, Don Baldwin, seated against the far wall; Gene Patterson, at the head of the table; and Nelson Poynter, far right. The Poynter Institute

The Modern Media Institute opened its doors in an old bank building on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The Poynter Institute

Classes in the Modern Media Institute were held near the existing bank vault. Due to limited space, participants sometimes ended up having one-on-one conversations inside the vault itself. The Poynter Institute

Don Baldwin, the first president of Poynter, was a newspaperman who rose to editor under Nelson Poynter. He was executive editor at the St. Petersburg Times when the paper won its first Pulitzer Prize in 1964. The Poynter Institute

Known as the Modern Media Institute for nine years, the institute was often referred to as MMI. The Poynter Institute

The exterior of the old Modern Media Institute building today looks much like it did when this photo was taken in 1977—like the facade of an old bank. The Poynter Institute

Under Nelson Poynter’s leadership, the St. Petersburg Times was one of the first metropolitan daily newspapers to introduce color printing. The Poynter Institute

Small group settings are still a hallmark of Poynter’s in-person seminars, just as they were 35 years ago. The Poynter Institute

Early classes included newspaper design and layout. The Poynter Institute

Seminar listings were sent out primarily to newspaper newsrooms and universities, the major audiences of the institute’s early teaching. The Poynter Institute

Poynter has documented many of its in-person seminars over the years. Hundreds of photographs have been posted on Poynter’s Facebook page. The Poynter Instiute

An early design class at MMI included drafting tables, wax and rubber cement. The Poynter Institute

Cramped quarters at the Modern Media Institute gave rise to plans for Poynter’s spacious new building. The Poynter Institute

Bob Haiman succeeded Don Baldwin as president of Poynter in 1983. Like Baldwin, he had been executive editor of the St. Petersburg Times. The Poynter Institute

Plans for the new building were drafted in 1984, under the direction of new Poynter President Bob Haiman. The Poynter Institute

Roughly seven acres were purchased along the Bayboro Harbor in St. Petersburg and construction began in 1984. The Poynter Institute

Architects Jung/Brannen Associates were contracted to create the designs. The Poynter Institute

The new building at 801 Third Street South formally opened in 1985 and was dedicated to Nelson Poynter. The Poynter Institute

The design of the institute garnered many awards for architecture when it opened in 1985. Poynter’s Great Hall is a notable feature of the building, with mahogany veneer, a marble floor and a 2,500-square foot skylight. The Poynter Institute

The reflecting pool showcases exterior lighting and landscaping. The Poynter Institute

Dr. Mario Garcia joined the faculty in 1983 to create a program that emphasized visual journalism. The Poynter Institute

The graphics lab at Poynter was outfitted with Macintosh computers as Garcia and others quickly embraced new technology for visual journalism. The Poynter Institute

Writing faculty members Don Fry, left, and Roy Peter Clark, right, worked with Bob Haiman to develop a coaching curriculum for writers and editors. The Poynter Institute

In this photo from the 1980s, Roy Peter Clark, now vice president of Poynter, works with participants Karen Cherry and Stephen Buckley. Clark joined the faculty in 1979; Buckley became Poynter’s dean of faculty in 2010. The Poynter Institute

Early eyetracking studies to test the interests of print readers were initiated by Dr. Mario Garcia and Dr. Pegie Stark Adam in 1990. Online studies followed in 2000 and 2003, and in 2007 a large study of 600 readers tested differences between print and online news habits. Poynter’s findings have largely been adopted by the industry. Read more at http://eyetrack.poynter.org Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Well-known and award-winning journalists have been a part of the institute’s regular teaching since it opened. Here, broadcast journalist Dan Rather is seen during a 1995 seminar. The Poynter Institute

Faculty members Mario Garcia and Pegie Stark Adam worked with others to develop the WED concept, which included collaborative processes of Writing, Editing and Design. The Poynter Institute

Current President Dr. Karen B. Dunlap, center, at a 1990 event in Poynter’s amphitheater. Dunlap joined the faculty in 1989 and served as dean before becoming president in 2003. The Poynter Institute

Poynter.org, which launched in January 1995, introduced its readers in 1999 to Jim Romenesko, whose blog continues to be the go-to source for media news. The Poynter Institute

In the late 1990s, Poynter’s Visual Edge series was launched, bringing photojournalists and other reporting colleagues together for an intense multiple media workshop. The Poynter Institute

Former faculty member Chip Scanlan and other Poynter faculty contributed mightily to the National Writers Workshops, which began in the mid-1990s and drew more than 50,000 participants in cities across the U.S. over a decade. The Poynter Institute

Roy Peter Clark often uses music to bolster lessons in writing and creativity. The Poynter Institute

Distinguished Visiting Faculty member Gregory Favre teaches in Poynter’s Leadership Academy. Favre has participated in the Academy since it began in October 2001 under the guidance of Poynter faculty Jill Geisler. The weeklong seminar typically brings together 40 to 50 leaders from a variety of media and disciplines to hone their leadership and management skills. The Poynter Institute

Poynter’s News University, which launched in 2005, offers self-directed courses, live “Webinars” and online group seminars. NewsU currently has more than 160,000 registered users in more than 200 countries. The Poynter Institute

Three men have been at the helm of The Poynter Institute since Nelson Poynter died in 1978. From left, Gene Patterson; current Chairman and CEO Paul Tash; and Andy Barnes, right. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Led by former ethics faculty member Bob Steele, the first group of Ethics Fellows was selected in 2001 to explore, advise and write about key issues facing the journalism world. In that first group was Kelly McBride, who joined Poynter in 2002 as part of the ethics faculty. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

For more than 30 years, college journalists have come to the institute to prepare for their first newsroom jobs. Faculty member Sara Quinn has worked with the program since 2003. Currently, the fellowship allows 40 young journalists to spend two weeks in a multimedia bootcamp-style seminar that includes reporting, writing, design, editing, graphics, and photojournalism, for and all manner of print, online and broadcast platforms. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Karen B. Dunlap addresses the institute in 2003 soon after Andy Barnes, then chairman and CEO, right, announces that she would become Poynter’s fourth president. Jim Naughton, Dunlap’s predecessor, is on the right. The Poynter Institute

All of Poynter’s presidents: Don Baldwin, Bob Haiman, Jim Naughton and Karen Dunlap. The Poynter Institute

The Great Hall is used for teaching and for dinners, receptions and social gatherings of all kinds. The Poynter Institute

A portrait of Nelson Poynter is displayed in the main hallway, next to the Royal typewriter he used for years. The Poynter Institute

The facility is situated on nearly seven acres of waterfront property, across from the University of South Florida and Bayboro Harbor. The Poynter Institute

An 2007 aerial view shows the addition to the original building, which was completed in 2001. The Poynter Insitutute

Poynter’s first Community Conversation started with Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s chat with Tampa Bay residents in 2005. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Roy Peter Clark and Mario Garcia, two of Poynter’s first faculty members, often get together to teach. Here, they toast the creativity that went into making Poynter a one-of-a-kind teaching institution. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Large and small groups use the many meeting rooms in various ways. Group discussions are often combined with hand-on teaching and coaching, video cameras and audio gear. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Poynter’s Al Tompkins helps a participant with a setting on a camera. Faculty and staff work hard to keep ahead of the demands of changing technology faced by people in newsrooms. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

A Webinar hosted by Poynter’s Colleen Eddy, columnist Joe Grimm and News University’s Jennifer Dronkers connects dozens of people electronically for presentations in a Q&A format. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Well-known and award-winning journalists have always been a part of Poynter’s schedule. Former Poynter Dean Keith Woods interviewed broadcaster Ted Koppel at a sold-out community conversation at Poynter in 2009. Other recent events have included sessions with Pulitzer winner Nicholas Kristof, broadcaster Dan Rather, PBS correspondent Gwen Ifill and others. Jim Stem / The Poynter Institute

Poynter is a school that exists to ensure that our communities have access to excellent journalism—the kind of journalism that enables us to participate fully and effectively in our democracy.

What we do

To that end, we teach those who manage, edit, produce, program, report, write, blog, photograph and design, whether they belong to news organizations or work as independent entrepreneurs. We teach those who teach, as well as students in middle school, high school and college—the journalists of tomorrow. And we teach members of the public, helping them better understand how journalism is produced and how to tell for themselves whether it’s credible.

  • We teach in seminar rooms on our main campus in St. Petersburg.
  • We teach in newsrooms all over the world.
  • We teach online, allowing those in search of training to choose from hundreds of self-directed courses, online group seminars, Webinars, online chats, podcasts and video tutorials.

We teach management, ethical decision-making and the power of diversity; we teach editing, writing, reporting and new media skills; we teach those in broadcast, print and the Web; we teach those trying to remake their organizations and those trying to remake their journalistic skills set.

Poynter teaching is unique. Guided by a resident faculty that includes distinguished professionals and scholars, our programs are designed to be highly interactive and give participants lots of individual attention. Teaching is both grounded in the extremely difficult realities of the marketplace and focused on the highest standards of journalistic values. Practical and aspirational, it is often referred to as the “Poynter Experience.”

Some call Poynter teaching truly “transformative.” Three testimonies:

  • “Our class changed my life. it gave me hope. it gave me confidence.”
  • “The place changed my life both professionally and personally. At Poynter you don’t simply learn the tools of your trade, you learn to sharpen them.”
  • “When I came to Poynter, I was thinking about leaving journalism. Now I believe I can do it. I’m staying.”

Poynter teaching works. For those in journalism, and ultimately, for all of us.

Mission Statement

The Poynter Institute is a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. It promotes excellence and integrity in the practice of craft and in the practical leadership of successful businesses. It stands for a journalism that informs citizens and enlightens public discourse. It carries forward Nelson Poynter’s belief in the value of independent journalism in the public interest.

Our History

From its earliest days in a former bank on Central Avenue to its current waterfront home alongside the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, Poynter has made a stubborn man’s dreams come true.

For 40 years, Nelson Poynter produced newspapers in St. Petersburg that reflected his belief that excellent journalism, published independently, could help a community prosper and a democracy flourish.

And he saw no good reason why his passing should change anything about that.

That’s why he founded the Modern Media Institute in 1975 and willed, upon his death in 1978, that his new school would own controlling stock of the St. Petersburg Times Company.

From the beginning, the idea flourished. Not only did the unique ownership model protect his publications from the insatiable demands of the Wall Street-owned chains, it also fulfilled Nelson Poynter’s dream of a school that would help working journalists improve their skills to the benefit of their communities. Today, the paper, now called the Tampa Bay Times, is the largest in Florida and one of America’s best; Poynter is the center for journalism excellence worldwide.

Thousands of journalists, teachers and members of the public have come to Poynter to learn what makes the best journalism work—whether the platform is print, broadcast or online. They come to learn from Poynter’s faculty of accomplished journalism professionals and academics. They come to learn from Pulitzer Prize recipients and Edward R. Murrow Award winners, on-air reporters and syndicated columnists, newsroom visionaries and industry innovators. They come to our campus in St. Petersburg, to sessions held in newsrooms and conference centers around the world, and to our website, www.Poynter.org.

They come to learn in-person, in highly interactive seminars and topical conferences. They come to group seminars and chats conducted online. They learn in News University’s self-directed e-courses and Webinars. They learn in podcasts, video tutorials and blogs.

And no matter how they come to Poynter, they find a curriculum that has changed as much as the world in which they work. Once focused only on print and broadcast journalism, Poynter today offers a full complement of courses in online journalism and multimedia for journalists and academics, as well as courses that help newsroom leaders develop digital and organizational strategies. The institute is also taking a lead role in exploring the emergence of the “Fifth Estate” and how these new providers of information are affecting the way the public receives and uses news.

Today’s Poynter still helps newsrooms; but we assist the independent entrepreneur, too.

Our reach is extensive. Frequently, thousands of newsrooms get a leadership tip from Jill Geisler’s “What Great Bosses Know.” They learn from Roy Peter Clark that they, too, can write better. They learn from Al Tompkins about broadcast and mobile journalism. And they learn from Kelly McBride about how to make ethical decisions.

Strong leadership has helped Poynter establish its reputation for excellence in teaching. Dr. Karen B. Dunlap was named the institute’s fourth president in August 2003, and has overseen the expansion of school’s curriculum into multimedia and faculty-led courses for the public. She introduced Community Conversations, programs designed to give members of the public access to professional journalists and a greater understanding of how they gather and edit news. The Conversations have featured, among others, Gwen Ifill, Dan Rather, William Raspberry, Ted Koppel, Steve Lopez, Tom Brokaw, Joe Scarborough, and Byron Pitts.

Dunlap’s predecessor was James M. Naughton, former White House correspondent for The New York Times and executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Naughton oversaw the most recent expansion of the institute’s main campus and presided over the emergence of Poynter.org as journalism’s most relied-upon Web site for media news. During Naughton’s tenure, the name Romenesko became synonymous with the latest scoops from inside America’s newsrooms.

Robert J. Haiman was Poynter’s president and managing director from 1983 to 1996. It was Haiman, former executive editor of the St. Petersburg Times, who moved the institute in 1985 from the bank building on Central Avenue (seminars were conducted near a former vault) into the award-winning building across Third Street from the bay. Haiman also expanded the focus of Poynter’s teaching beyond newspapers to include broadcast, and solidified the school as a player on journalism’s big stage.

Poynter’s founding president was Donald K. Baldwin, another former editor of the St. Petersburg Times. Baldwin, a longtime colleague of Nelson Poynter’s, recalled in a 1984 interview how he saw the institute through its humble beginnings: “At first, when (Nelson) Poynter was alive, we were very small and we deliberately stayed that way. We had a limited budget, and what we were doing was experimenting. He [Mr. Poynter] was excited. He thought we were on the right track.”

In early 2014, Tim Franklin became The Poynter Institute’s fifth president. He comes to Poynter after being managing editor at Bloomberg News and leading the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University’s School of Journalism. (Read more about Tim here.)

About a year before he died in 1978, Nelson Poynter talked about his vision for his new school:
“Modern Media Institute is going to be something big and important—it has to live modestly for quite a number of years, but its job is to help train the people who are going to help maintain the integrity, the stability, the progress of self-government.”

Those are ambitious goals for the journalists who serve our communities—and ambitious goals for a school founded to help them succeed.

At Poynter, those goals are very much alive.