Columbia Journalism School

History of the Journalism School

In the Beginning
Ten years after Joseph Pulitzer had first proposed a world-class journalism school at Columbia, classes began on September 30, 1912. Seventy-nine undergraduate and graduate students enrolled, including a dozen women. Classes convened at several locations around campus, as the Journalism building was still under construction. The building opened the next year, and in 1917 the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.


1935 - A Defining Moment
Dean Carl W. Ackerman, one of the first nine to graduate from the School in 1913, spearheaded the school’s 1935 transition to become the first graduate school of journalism in the United States. Devoted to intensive, hands-on instruction, the school gave classes of sixty students the lives of journalists, racing around the city on subways to find stories during the day, and drafting articles in a single, large newsroom in the Journalism building well into the night.

A Reputation for Excellence
The Journalism School’s reach and reputation as a unique incubator of talent soared throughout the years, from the foundation of the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes in 1939 to promote inter-American understanding to the establishment of satellite schools in China and Venezuela during the next decade. The school also began to offer coursework in television news and documentary to supplement its traditional focus on newspapers and radio. Approaching its 50th year, the school instituted Journalism Day and the Columbia Journalism Award, and in 1961 established the Columbia Journalism Review, a groundbreaking publication covering trends and developments in the profession.

An Era of Expansion
The Journalism School’s sixth decade was an exciting one, as the building added newsrooms, began to dispense the National Magazine Awards, and created the Alfred I. duPont – Columbia Awards for excellence in broadcast journalism. In 1966 the school brought in Fred Friendly, the legendary former president of CBS News, and opened a new broadcast news laboratory shortly thereafter. Friendly initiated a summer program for minority students, and Luther P. Jackson ’51 became the school’s first African-American professor.

Constant Evolution
Innovation with an eye towards tradition continued to guide the Journalism School through the years. The 1960s and 70s established the blueprint of the school’s basic curriculum and codified Reporting and Writing 1 (RW1) as the cornerstone of the Master of Science experience. The creation of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship to enrich business journalism in 1975 and the 1985 creation of the Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism gave students invaluable opportunities to specialize. Recognizing that computers and a changing media landscape would revolutionize journalism in the twenty-first century, Dean Joan Konner moved decisively in the 1980s and 90s to ensure that the school offered cutting-edge technology and intensive broadcast experience second to none.

The Twenty-First Century
The addition of a Ph.D. Program in 2001, a Master of Arts degree in 2005, and the 2006 opening of the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism have underlined the Journalism School’s continuing vitality as it approaches its centennial. Recently, the opening of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the announcement of a new dual M.S. degree in Computer Science and Journalism have demonstrated the school’s continued commitment to innovation and its endless capacity to evolve along with a field that is always on the move.


Upholding Pulitzer’s Legacy
“A journalist is the lookout on the bridge of the ship of state,” Joseph Pulitzer wrote. “The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.” As the Journalism School moves forward, embracing the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, Pulitzer’s legacy endures. Under the leadership of Dean Nicholas Lemann and a distinguished faculty, the Journalism School continues to educate top journalists, uphold standards of excellence for the profession as a whole, and ensure that the press strives for the public good.


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